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|A SimHQ Book Review:|
“Speed Secrets” by Ross Bentley
A few months ago, one of our SimHQ members and on-line driving buddy sent me a copy of the now hard-to-find EA’s F1 Challenge ’99-’02, along with a CD-R containing the superb RH2004 mod by EMAC’s Ralph Hummerich (and others). I tore into my new sim, and discovered like so many have that the physics modeling of modern race cars varies slightly from developer to developer. I was turning laps just fine in my Williams/BMW, but not very smoothly or consistently.
Early this year, while shopping at my local Barnes & Noble, I came across a small, unassuming book in the transportation section called “Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques” by Ross Bentley. It looked like the title would be more at home in the “self help” section than the transportation section, with lots of graphs, graphics and bulletized ‘tips’ strewn across its pages. Realizing that the book is not written for the virtual driver, but that the sims I drive are fairly realistic in their depiction of race car physics (not to mention my dabbling in SCCA Autocross), I figured, “ah, what the heck, I’ll give it a go” and plunked down my $12 for the title with the cashier. Let’s just say I was skeptical, but looking forward to a read that was outside my usual tastes in books.
Little did I realize at the time how much of a profound difference this little book would have on my virtual driving technique, which is why I wanted to share this little gem with the members of SimHQ.
First, a little about the book: Printed by Motor Books International (MBI) in a small, 6” x 8” format, the book comprises only 160 pages of text (including appendices and index) and was copyrighted in 1998. The author, Ross Bentley, is a professional race car driver with experience in many types of cars and series, including Indy cars and IMSA 24hr endurance events. And, he’s knows what it takes to win, with many victories over his 20 year career, including standing on the top tier of the podium at the 2003 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. He’s also a high performance/race car driving instructor and coach, and his talent for teaching the straightforward yet subtly complex elements of max-performing a race car on a road course is quite evident in his book.
Since almost everyone in the PC simulation genre has owned and operated a car for years, and logged many miles behind the wheel on all sorts of roads. Because of this, deep down inside we often think we know what it takes to drive a car smoothly, and that there are no ‘surprises’ or new concepts to grasp when it comes to driving, including a race car. But you’d be wrong, sort of. Fundamentally, we know how to operate a road vehicle. But to drive one consistently at the limit, and do so competitively, takes driving to a whole other level. What Ross Bentley does in this book is to take those simple concepts you might think you already have mastered and shows you how much more depth of knowledge and finesse can be had with some study – and in our case, some virtual practice.
As a teaching text, I found “Speed Secrets” to be very well formatted, with sections on:
All along the way, each chapter will have a few bold-type phrases or sentences that summarize a discussed concept in to a “speed secret” sound bite. All in all, there are 34 of them in this book. If you’ve driven a race car, or are a veteran virtual racer in the Papy or ISI sims, then scanning the pages to find and read these “secrets” you’ll find that most of them aren’t so secret. You already have exposure to them. What you may not have, and don’t realize you lack, is a firm understanding of these secrets’ relationship to physics, to other aspects of the car, or to yourself. That’s in the meat of the text, and it’s done in such a clear and concise way you will often find yourself saying “Ah Ha! Now I get it!”...and each such discovery will allow you to refine your technique further.
So really, if there’s nothing new or earth-shattering in this book, why buy it? Buy it for what makes “Speed Secrets” special: The HOW. How the author frames each topic, how he relates it to previously discussed concepts, and how he explains it all in a way that leaves you with a greater understanding of driving at the limit than you had before.
I grew up, academically, in the finishing school that is naval aviation. During my 18 months of flight school, 9 months in the F-14 replacement squadron, and 5 intense weeks at TOPGUN, the subject at hand was ‘how to fly and fight your jet to the limit with confidence, and win in the air combat arena.’ Learning to drive a race car isn’t much different, really – you’re piloting a high tech machine with multiple subsystems, in a fast-paced and demanding environment. It requires athletic ability and rapid mental processes, as well as a good bit of homework study to understand the details of the technology involved. So for someone with my background, I found the author’s wording, format and sequence of topics in this book to be very similar to the way I was trained to operate a high performance aircraft. That made absorbing “Speed Secrets” prose a comfortable experience for me.
As I finished reading the book, I drove road course sims in Practice or Test session modes, just turning laps and working on my lap times while I thought about the latest tips and concepts I had read in the book. As I did in flight school as a student NFO, I tried to visualize the things I’d read and learned as I applied them in real time to my actual driving technique as I worked the corners of various tracks.
At first, I figured that with 2+ years of GPL under my belt, not to mention a full year of NR2003, the PWF PTA mod, and ISI’s F1 Challenge/RH2004 mod, that I wasn’t going to see the contents of this book doing much to improve my lap times. To my surprise, what I found was that I was immediately shaving tenths off my lap times at a rate faster than I ever had before. It was amazing. With each lap, I was analyzing my technique from within the style and context of Bentley’s text, and instead of saying “well, I hosed that turn up” I was thinking, “next lap, I’ll do a little more of this and shave some time off.” The book was really working! In a matter of days I was setting personal best times at a slew of tracks in F1C/RH2004, and then bettering those times as well.
To put it another way, in a sense the book reminded me of the Navy Fighter Weapons School’s (TOPGUN) texts and lectures on “graduate-level” tactics. In aerial combat, the basic concepts, principles and techniques for success haven’t fundamentally changed since the early days of WW I and Oswald Boelke’s “Dicta Boelke” guide for air fighting, so at its most basic level any new text on the subject is merely a rehash of already explored territory. But what TOPGUN has done over the decades is to find new and better ways to explain the art of air combat, and thereby improve the aviator’s depth of understanding of what’s really going on, and how to maximize his strengths and minimize the weaknesses. Essentially that’s just what Bentley’s done for race car driving in this small, unassuming book. I highly recommend it.
Note: If you’re interested in finding out more about Ross Bentley and the driving programs he offers, his website is located HERE ( http://www.speed-secrets.com/aboutus_rossbentley.cfm ). To get your own copy of Ross’ book, you can find it at Amazon.com, HERE ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0760305188/qid=1107554975/sr=2-1/ref=pd_ka_b_2_1/103-3398573-0053423 )