Spotlight On… – Donnchadh MacGarry (part 2)
You seem to have a deep and analytical approach to simracing. Where did you came up to that?
I have a degree in Maths and Applied Maths, so anything that has to do with numbers will interest me, I’m one of those weirdos. I was also in a Masters in Race Car Aerodynamics in Southampton University back in 2018/19, although unfortunately for personal reasons I never ended up doing my thesis to get my full degree there. It’s a bit ironic that in the earlier question I said I like the F1 cars before the aerodynamic revolution the most. During the Masters I did a group project where we created a CFD simulation of a hill climb car in a wind tunnel, and then used that to simulation to test our designed aero parts to improve the car’s performance. It was working in that course and group project that I learned how to create spreadsheets in Excel to analyse the data we collected and the different ways to present it. There were some very smart people I worked with during that time and they thought me a lot, two have gone on to work for Mercedes F1 and one with Williams.
I’ve applied this knowledge to create an Excel workbook that can collect lap times for a stint with a car and track combination on a sim like Assetto Corsa. The workbook can take times copied in from SRS standings or read the csv files Assetto Corsa creates when using the PRINT times option in game. With the times correctly inputted into the workbook, it can instantly calculate things like the average time, fastest laps, the lap deltas from the average, etc. and presents the information numerically in a colour coded fashion and on easy to read graphs and bar charts, it can even compare the times from multiple stints.
This workbook has allowed me to quickly analyse the lap time data from my practice session to formulate potential race strategies, it is far quicker than doing it by hand like I used to before I made it. I haven’t finished this workbook and the tutorial document for it yet, but when I do I intend to put it in the forums of SRS so anyone can use it to suit their needs. It might be another while yet though as I’ve taken a break from the tutorial document for the moment.
Since I’m willing, able and more importantly, when I have the time to do a deep analysis on race strategies, like for current the Mazda 787b series, I enjoy writing about it in the forums so others can find out about what I have learnt. Not everyone has the free time to create and rigorously practice, formulate and test a strategy for these SRS races, so by letting everyone know about my results, I think it leads to more enjoyable races since more people have a competitive strategy. I try to write these posts that outline all my thoughts in a way that is understandable for people with only a small bit of knowledge. This means that I might try to over explain some things that might be very obvious to others and go a bit overboard in the length of the post, so the key information gets lost in the waffle (like I’m doing right now in these questions).
“I will generally have a good strategy for the hour-long races which is a huge advantage.”
Do you race in real life too?
Nope, but I really want to do something like karting at some point, even if its only once in a blue moon. There’s not really many official race tracks for cars in Ireland. Mondello is the only one I know of, although I’m pretty sure there are some in Northern Ireland too.
What is your best result in SRS?
I’ve won a few races here, most recently I’’ve been getting some wins in the Mazda 787b Europe races on Imola. I’ve never won a championship or come close as I often miss a week due to real life commitments. Maybe the Mazda 787b series might be a chance to do well in a championship, although I’ve never raced at most of the upcoming tracks so I probably won’t get as good results as the ones I’ve had at Imola.
What you do like and what you don’t like in SRS races?
I like how there is an organised timetable where I can sign up to the races I want to drive and am available for, without having to feel forced to commit to a multi-week thing like in a private racing league. While I like to try and complete a season, sometimes things change in my real-life schedule and I don’t have time to race. It is nice to know I can drop out for a few weeks and then easily return without worrying that I will lose my spot in the group. I would have moved on from Assetto Corsa a long time ago if it wasn’t for the structure that SRS provides. I think every racing simulation should have something like it, even though I know it’s not exclusively or officially an Assetto Corsa thing. It would make it far more likely for those games to increase and retain their player base.
One thing I wish was available on SRS is some 30-40 minute races. I feel this is a sweetspot as it is longer than the 20 minute races so it gives more race time, but short enough that the qualifying and race can be done in under an hour which is an important factor for people who don’t have a lot of spare time. Ideally for me it would be 40, but I think 30 minute races would allow time for people to sign up for the race that’s on immediately afterwards. I would like one of the three daily 20 minute races to use this slightly longer format instead, the other two can and probably should stay at 20 minutes. I especially would like for all the once a week (and Youtuber) races to use this longer race length, since a longer race would allow for more recovery time for a driver who got hit unfairly at the start of the race.
Since it isn’t possible to race the next day in that series to get a better result, this extra recovery time allows a driver to regain some positions and not lose as much ground in the championship if they were expecting a better result that week. I think this would really improve these once a week series, while keeping the races from being too long for most people.
“One of the biggest lessons that I have learned, is to not be afraid to be passive at the start of the race.”
Is there a particular moment in SRS races – funny, dramatic, adrenaline-filled – that you like to remind?
I was on track to win the 70’s F1 race at Fuji a few weeks back. I had a comfortable lead and was driving at a pace that was nice and safe. With three laps to go I realised I had underestimated the race length and thus had under-fueled. In my “preparation” I accidentally rounded down in my calculations and thought the race would last 12 laps, when it was really 13. In my panic of what to do, I got distracted and crashed the car receiving damage to the point where I needed to retire, although since I under-fueled I wasn’t going to win so the crash didn’t matter to me. I will never forget that race.
On a more positive note, I had a race at Tor Poznan with the Estonia 25 where from about 7 minutes of the race to the checkered flag I was racing side by side with another driver (can’t remember the name, sorry). We were exchanging positions pretty much every lap, sometimes two or three times in the same lap and we never hit each other. I ended up losing out at the end and finished behind that driver, but I didn’t care too much as it was one of the most fun and engaging races I had been in.
Which are your strongest and your weakest points in racing?
My strongest must be my preparation, as I probably do it more than most. I will generally have a good strategy for the hour-long races which is a huge advantage. Even in races where I am not the fastest, I am unlikely to spin out the car as I know what to expect and how to adjust my braking points as the tyres wear out and can make up positions that way.
My weakest point might be my adaptability, which is why I feel the need to practice so much as I like to get a good result. I could be wrong, but I reckon I wouldn’t perform as well if there was a race series where no one knew what the car and track was until just before the race, although it would be cool to try and see what I could do. There are some people (cough, cough, Simon Speth) who are very quick and compete in nearly every series in a season, I think these people are unbelievable drivers. Sometimes I can beat them depending on the car and track combo, but if I didn’t practice a lot for a specific series and just tried my hand at all the series like they do, I don’t think I could keep up with them in a race at all. I also can get flustered if I feel I need to change my pitstop strategy mid race and can make mistakes as I try to think of what I need to change.
“I enjoy writing about race strategies in the forums so others can find out about what I have learnt.”
How would you define your racing style?
I’m not really sure. I am competitive for sure and I always want to win my battles, but I like to think that I have the right balance of aggression where I am still respectful and fair to the other drivers, hopefully no one else disagrees. I definitely try to make it hard for someone to overtake me, I don’t give up my position easily. I think I have a bit of a knack for knowing what corners I can afford to be slow in where I can drive offline in my approach when defending, and which corners I absolutely must nail the exit of so I don’t get overtaken on the straight. If I want to overtake, I try to move out from my opponent on the straight before corner entry. Often its only fake or light pressure, where I brake slightly early with the hope that the other driver thinks I’m making a Danny Ricciardo divebomb and they need to brake late, causing them to overshoot the corner. If I make a mistake that ends up with me hitting someone, I always send them an apology afterwards. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too much.
One of the biggest lessons that I have learned, is to not be afraid to be passive at the start of the race. I’ll give up a few spots at the start if it means I can avoid a crash, I usually can get those positions back before the end of a race. It was something I struggled with when I was new on SRS, where I often got in lap 1 crashes even though I felt I wasn’t at fault, but in reality I wasn’t as passive as I could have been. When I began to take the attitude of “What can I do to mitigate this problem” for incidents that I wasn’t at fault for on the opening lap, I decided to to be more cautious about the cars around me on the opening lap, taking less risks whether defending or attacking, keeping to my side of the road around a corner like I would on a roundabout and begin braking or coasting as soon as I sensed trouble up ahead. With this mindset and approach to race starts, my chances of surviving lap 1 with no incidents increased immensely and I was having consistently better race results as a result.
Thanks to Donnchadh (AKA Donny) for kindly answering our questions!