As we grow at SRC HQ, we’ve been lucky enough to be involved in some very exciting partner relationships with sim racing championships, leagues and of course, teams. One of those teams is Positive SimRacing, and today I’m very happy to be talking to Javier Álvarez, who founded the team in September 2012.
Javier established Positive SimRacing to be able to compete online and eventually enter the Formula SimRacing (FSR) World Championship. By 2013 (and several driver acquisitions and partnerships later) they were winning races, finishing 2nd in the FSR World Trophy Championship. As you might imagine, Positive Simracing has built a huge amount of history and experience across multiple platforms winning in multiple formulas.
Today, Positive SimRacing are a professional iRacing sim racing team with a roster of Pro licenced drivers. After 5 consecutive Championships in FR 3.5, Javier is reflecting on the next move for the team.
How were you introduced to sim racing?
I consider myself a practitioner of racing games since the late 90’s when I had my first set of pedals and steering wheel connected to the old “gaming ports” in the PC.
In 2007, I discovered the excitement of online competition. By then, the Internet connections required a dedicated modem blocking the phone line, and the race days were an absolute event at home was the competition blocked the line for other uses.
I took part in different national leagues until 2012, where I decided to take a step forward to the international scene, founding Positive SimRacing.
Some people say that sim racing “isn’t real”. How would you respond to that?
I would talk about “level of immersion” instead of going into a fruitless discussion on if it is real or not. Then, talking about the level of immersion, it is certainly increasing.
If you want to be competitive today, you need to develop the same skills for sim racing as real drivers. You need the racecraft, mental performance, concentration, optimising eye focus during braking zones and turns – it’s real racing.
Technologies that 10 years ago were only exclusive of top racing teams can be now affordable for general practitioners, thanks to advances in software and hardware available in the market.
The increased level of immersion has brought a lot of racing drivers to the sim racing world, expanding the market and therefore bringing more business opportunities, and this is also boosting the implementation of new technologies to sim racing.
As far as the software is concerned, some people may say that a particular software “isn’t real”, but usually that is not a failure of the simulation technology, but how the models are implemented (tires, aerodynamics, suspension, etc.).
The models implemented by amateurs, without calibration and validation against real telemetry data, are expected to fail when compared to real cars. But this is a standard rule of simulation: a model must be calibrated (against known real data) and later validated.
The same can be said about tracks: laser scanned tracks provide exact electronic replicas of the real circuits, and provide a better immersion. In conclusion, I would say that immersion can be very good, and technology is enhancing it all the time, but your setup, track and car models must be at the highest standard to maximise immersion.
What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome to creating Positive Sim Racing?
Building a team is a task where every team member must be engaged and aligned, and this is probably the most difficult task. But this is particularly difficult in an international team, where you may find people from very different backgrounds and cultures. I think this is the same in every team, beyond the sim racing or e-Sports scene.
But, beyond that, one of the main barriers to creating Positive SimRacing was the lack of a legal basis. Specifically, the lack of an international sanctioning body regulating teams and drivers hinders the development of teams’ championships, and therefore the development of teams.
Currently, the sim racing business is understood as something between the software producers and the users (drivers). An ideal investment scenario would develop a full “value chain” covering “drivers->teams->competitions->broadcasts->audience”.
PSR has been the dominant championship winning team in iRacing FR 3.5 since it began 8 seasons ago – but you are shifting focus to the Dallara iR-01. Why have you decided to make this change?
Our vision is to be a leading team in international competitions, particularly in open-wheel (we need to focus if we want to be really good at something). This explains why we started in the Formula Simracing World Championship (rFactor) in 2012 and we decided to move to iRacing in 2014.
In iRacing, we reached the last three editions of the Grand Prix Series World Championship (2016-2018). This WC was discontinued, probably because of the cost of the FIA F1 licenses, currently exploited by other platforms developing “games” for the general public.
But iRacing has recently put in service the Dallara-IR01, which is the candidate for a world-class championship in the near future, and we decided that it is the place where PSR must be. We want to know well the car and acquire experience to be prepared for the next WC!
You have a roster of very fast sim drivers! How do you recruit them, how do you develop their performance and help them improve?
Adding a driver to a team is probably the most difficult decision! When you are starting a team, you want to add fast drivers, but other aspects are even more relevant, such as teamwork, vision, communication skills, leadership, sportsmanship and a good team image (in track, in social media, etc.) All of these factors are critical to success, and you need a lot of time to find the right people. Also, for the drivers, it is important to join a team where they can feel comfortable and maximise their performance.
Driver’s development was at our DNA since our beginning, with a Drivers’ Academy and Junior teams starting in 2012. We helped drivers who were later among the best in the world. However, as I mentioned before, unfortunately there is no an appropriate legal framework to have a long term return of the investment on these drivers, and despite our efforts, we discontinued that line.
However, and even if we now have only very experienced drivers, mutual learning, benchmark and communication to boost the performance is one of the reasons why we are in the team. In other words, development of the performance of the drivers is the reason behind our work as a team!
How do you plan for a sim race ? Do you test tyre pressures, setups? different track conditions? Is there a magic excel spreadsheet at your HQ or do you use software to help you plan?
Race preparation is 98% of the work, and the idea is that you want to go to a race with everything under control, including the best car, the best pace and the best strategy.
This means strong work on setup development (a long term work, which brings an in-depth knowledge of every aspect of the car), driver preparation (testing under different conditions), strategy (under different scenarios), and every other minor aspect that can have an influence in the race.
It should be taken into account that in sim racing, you may find 10 – 20 drivers within the same tenth, and therefore every minor aspect counts!
Here, I would like to highlight the role of the spotters, helping the drivers during the race. A good and experienced spotter allows the driver-focused only on racing at his/her best every lap, while the spotter analyses every other aspect surrounding the race.
Are there any apps that you couldn’t live without as drivers and as a team?
First of all, you need information while racing, and for that reason, we would not go to the track without Z1 Dashboard Suite (one of our partners). This software provides a dashboard, but also a basic telemetry sharing/analysis tool and remote broadcast of data for the spotter/engineer; and it works with several sims.
In iRacing, we also use Joel Real Timing, which is particularly useful to monitor the timing and provisional scoring of the grid, also with a long set of interesting features (even generating nice pictures).
A team also needs a system to share telemetry and information. Sharing information is at the core of the team. We even developed our own FTP-based tool to share telemetry files and setups, and to provide a better organisation for endurance races, when we took part in them.
What changes do you make during a race session? (practice, qualifying and race)
It depends on the characteristics of the race. If possible, you need specific setups for Qualifying and Race (some cars/championships may allow a specific setup for qualifying). Joining soon and checking the track state is important to decide the setup, and later, depending on your Q results, you may have additional decisions on the strategy or even the setup. Ideally, a good driver has in mind all the possible scenarios, therefore there is no much room for improvisation.
I would say that 90% is talent, or, in other words, the capabilities of the drivers to develop a good car (setup) and to maximise their performance. But this does not mean only a 1-lap fast driver: I am referring to drivers with a good mindset (performance thinking, mental preparation for long races with battles, smart, and consistency).
I would like to emphasise that the best drivers are prepared to overcome unexpected difficulties during the races, and therefore the mind-set is crucial for a winning team. The remaining 10% is about team environment, mutual references, teams’ tools, experience (team’s and driver’s experience). This may be only 10%, but this 10% is essential when you want to be at the top!
With the nature of sim racing being remote, lockdown was almost a blessing for the growth in sim racing. How do you overcome communication hurdles given face to face meetings aren’t really possible?
Differences in time zones are probably the most important barriers, and you can only overcome them by enhancing asynchronous communication (chats, for example) and making an extra effort to keep periodically some joint meetings or internal events.
But cultural differences are also very important. You can realise how different are the cultural point of views on teammate relationships in Denmark, Australia or Brazil, as they see life from different perspective and cultures.
The Team needs a strong culture to transform this barrier into a generating value aspect. Once achieved, the links built are really rewarding from a personal point of view.
– Many thanks, Javier!