Spotlight On… – Donnchadh MacGarry (part 1)
The man behind the wheel: a short interview with Sim Racing System racers. Let’s know a little more of the guys that are always one place ahead.
Would you briefly introduce yourself for the site’s readers?
Hi, my name is Donnchadh MacGarry and I’m a 26 year old from the south west of Ireland. For those struggling with the Irish name (because all non-Irish people have trouble with it), it is phonetically pronounced “Done” “ah” “kah”. You can always call me Don, Donna or Donny like all my friends do.
What’s your racing wheel?
I’m using a Thrusmaster T300RS and the T3PA pedals that came with it, which is also still my first and only wheel and pedals. Most importantly I use a squash ball stuffed behind the brake pedal, as I find that a lot better than the rubber conical mod that comes with the brakes. I also use the Thrustmaster TH8A as my H-pattern gear stick, but I’m planning on swapping it out for the SHH shifter as that has a nicer feel in my opinion.
Which are your favourite simracing games?
Assetto Corsa is the one I play the most, so it has to be that and it was the first sim I really got stuck into. Because of things like SRS and the abundance of mods for the game, it has not got boring to me. I do try other sims a bit, but not as much as I’d like to due to time. I think Dirt Rally 2.0 in VR is an amazing experience. I don’t race on SRS in VR as I find it a bit tiring on my headset (Lenovo Explorer), but I always use it for Dirt Rally 2.0. It makes that game more terrifying when on stages with a sheer drop to the side of the road and I also spin out less when playing it in VR compared to when using a flatscreen, which is a nice bonus.
I pretty much always enjoy the open wheel F1 cars, new or old it does not matter to me. I especially like the F1 cars from before the aerodynamics revolution, such as the Lotus 49, since they are really fun to drive and slide around the track. The Mazda 787b has become a new favourite thanks to the current SRS series, it is a really rewarding experience to drive that well. I also really like racing the 90’s DTM cars on SRS, I always pick the BMW M3 Gr.A 92. I find those DTM cars have the right balance of speed and grip that give great wheel to wheel racing and are still fast enough to be really fun to drive alone in practice.
I feel any track with some elevation is one that I am going to enjoy. I am loving Imola since I’ve been getting good results there with the Mazda 787b. Spa is an obvious favourite for most, myself included. Tor Poznan and New Jersey Motorsports Park were ones I really enjoyed back in the Estonia 25 series. My absolute favourite though is the original layout of the Charade circuit, and I think the mod for it on Racedepartment is outstanding. I used to always drive the 60’s F1 cars around it before I got into SRS.
“I practice the car and track combination a lot before a race, often too much.”
Since when are you playing simracing games?
I started playing simracing games when I got my wheel in early 2017 and started online racing on SRS in mid-2018. I didn’t really play racing games in the ten years before that when I was a teenager, apart from Mario Kart. I played plenty racing games as a kid though with Need for Speed Underground 2 and especially Most Wanted being my favourites.
Which was your first racing game ever?
My first non-sim racing game was either Lego Racers on PC (they really need to make a new one) or Micro Machines V3 on the Gameboy colour, I can’t remeber which it was. My first sim racing game was technically Project Cars, which I played for a few hours on controller because I got it for dirt cheap during a Steam sale. Really, I would say Assetto Corsa was my first proper attempt at driving a sim racing game, as that was the first one I played with a wheel and was the game I used to learn how to lap a car around a track consistently.
How do you prepare for a race and/or a championship?
Lots of practice. While I can get some good results on SRS, it is definitely because I practice the car and track combination a lot before a race, often too much. I am the type of person that likes to practice a good amount for one, maybe two, SRS series in a season, rather than trying to participate in all/most of them. I create a practice session that uses the same settings as the races on SRS. I generally take the first few laps handy enough to learn the car and track layout. Then I begin upping the pace to find where the latest brake points are for each corner. At this stage I pay close attention to the parts of the track that are either causing me or are most likely to cause me to spin or crash so I know that’s where I need to be a bit more conservative and cautious. To figure out my expected average lap time, the tyre wear and the effect of using up fuel, I do a long stint. In this long stint I try to keep a decently quick pace that is still safe, consistent and achievable in a race, rather than going flat out trying to break my fastest lap record that will most likely cause me to spin. I do a 20-minute stint if that’s the length of the race.
If it’s an hour-long race I’m practicing for, I load up the fuel tank and drive until the tyres fall off completely or I’ve reached the hour, whichever comes first. After that, I’ll try tweaking the setup if the series allows it, since by this stage I’ll have a consistent pace and will know immediately what a change to setup has done to the car’s feeling and lap times. When I sign up to an SRS race, I like to do a warmup for at least half an hour before the server opens up. In the last ten to fifteen minutes of the warmup, I practice my starts and opening lap against AI where I don’t make any overtakes, so I know where the dangerous corners regarding pileups are and how much earlier I need to brake to avoid other cars on the first lap.
If it’s a daily race, I always watch the replays of the quickest drivers after the race to see what they do different to me and where I need to improve most. I then try to do what they did in the next race. I found watching replays was the quickest way I improved when I was a beginner, but even nowadays I’m still learning new things when watching replays.
All of this can be a lot of work, for the hour-long series especially. Generally, if I get that work done in the first week of a season, then I don’t need to spend nearly as much time preparing for the other tracks in that series as a lot of the information carries over to the other tracks, apart from the track layout of course. Sometimes I either come close to or do end up burning myself out and need to take a few weeks off sim racing, so I need watch out for that. I nearly did it in the first week of this season for example.
“I am quite good at tweaking a setup someone else put up.”
Are you good in setupping cars? 🙂
Not as good as I’d like to be. I have watched and read plenty of tutorials for learning how to setup a car. If a car needs obvious changes then I generally know what to do, the Estonia 25 is a good example. That car’s default setup had chronic understeer and a terrible gear ratio so I made a few changes to the suspension and gearing that reduced my laptime by 3 seconds on Tor Poznan. For cars with lots of options in the setup, like the modern F1 cars, I find it a bit overbearing and intimidating. At the very minimum, I will adjust the gearing and tyre pressures as that is pretty easy to know what to change after driving a few laps in any car. Depending on the car, I’ll play with the suspension and aero setup as I have a decent idea at what I’m doing there. I struggle with dampers, drivetrain, alignment and (what might be unusual to some) brake ratio, as I often find it very hard to feel what’s changed in the car’s behaviour with those. What I feel that I am quite good at is tweaking a setup someone else put up, that might get a small bit more performance and make the car’s behaviour suit me more. This is because it will only need minor changes to the tyres, gearing, aero and suspension. I really appreciate those who put up their setups, and I try to give them credit and explain the changes I made if I put up a setup in the forums that uses their one as a base with some adjustments from me.
(End of part 1 – continue)