We've been exploring some new software developed to assist and inspire your car project, and after reviewing both the DynoSim (Apr. '04) and DragSim (May '04), the final part of the software racing trifecta will be reviewed this month.
ProSim's FastLap program does for road racing what the DragSim did for the dragstrip. By offering the user many accurately portrayed options, it's possible to build and test vehicles on some of the world's finest road courses. It's also possible to create a track of your own or to duplicate the layout of your favorite local circuit. This way, vehicle modifications can be tested and refined virtually. When it comes time to actually head out on the course, your Vette should be close to the optimal setup...or at least much closer than it would have been without the use of the FastLap program.
Beyond the practical applications, it's impossible to deny the "fun factor" involved with building dream machines (as you'll see, many popular domestic muscle cars come "pre-programmed" into the software) or even running a finished version of your own g-machine. Also, running a simulation of your Vette (or dream machine) on some of the world's finest courses is great fun.
Check out the many features of this new program, and if you've worked with virtual race programs before, you'll recognize the depth and quality of this one. If you've never played with a virtual race program before, the easily understood pull-down menus and rich post-test analysis data prompts both thought and serves to entertain. It's part game, part tool, and all cool. Check it out!
You start by choosing a track to run on. A good range of both domestic and foreign tracks are programmed in, and as we mentioned, a custom track-building option exists too. With enough research, it's possible to duplicate your local track or any course you'd like to test on. Most tracks have maps available with this type of information.
Like the other ProSim programs, this one involves plugging in specific vehicle information. A wide range of domestic vehicles is already in there, and if you cannot find a Vette with a similar configuration/weight to your own, you can choose to type in your own info. While you may not know some specifics (like drag coefficients or vehicle frontal area), you can get very close by looking at the existing pre-programmed information on other vehicles.
The GC calculator helps you find the gravity center (or center of gravity) under your ride to determine its handling characteristics. Based on the weight at each corner, the CG is found and accurate representation of weight shift through turns can be determined. If you've never "scaled" your car before, we again recommend looking at a similar vehicle from the pre-programmed cars in the software and using those dimensions.
There are also "wing" dimensions to input. If you've got spoilers, even small factory units, measure them out and input the data. If they're large enough, or if your car is fast enough to make a difference, you'll see it here.
Engine inputs come next, and just like in the DragSim program, you can import one of the engines developed in the DynoSim simulator. If you've invested the time to develop an engine replicating what you've got underhood, the FastLap program can show you what it's worth on track. They've also programmed in many common engine combinations, and again, you have the option to type in your own information if it's handy.
The most popular manual and automatic transmissions are pre-programmed into the software, complete with all the accurate representations of their respective gear ratios. Naturally, a wide range of import and full race gearboxes are also included. If you've built a custom transmission with different ratios, all of the information can be input to the program to accurately represent your equipment.
The "coupling" option refers to the choice between a torque converter and a clutch. If you're running a converter, you'll be able to program in the stall speed, converter multiplication, and slippage percentage.
Rear-axle gear ratio choices are easily programmed, as some of the more common and popular ratios are in the pull-down menu. If none of these choices match what you've got, simply type it in.
The suspension setup page may be the most important part of the program. It stands to reason this will be the page most visited by g-machine enthusiasts, as springs, shocks, anti-roll bars, tires, brake bias, and suspension geometry settings are all adjusted here. Again, you can duplicate what you've got to get a good idea of where you're at, then its possible to make changes and see improvements. The choices offered are broad and represent commonly available dimensions with parts like tires, shocks, and anti-sway bars. Naturally, the "type-in" options allow you to run whatever you'd like. This is where you can test various components and combinations prior to purchase. Once you're confident with your test results, we recommend you discuss your choices with the manufacturer you intend to purchase from. With their approval, you'll have saved a ton of time toward working up an effective component package, and you'll save money only having to buy the parts you need instead of experimenting on track.
If you're curious about running custom springs, you can test different rates using this screen. Depending upon the track you'd like to run and the other variables under your ride, developing a matching spring package is critical. With many manufacturers offering custom-built springs to your specifications, and with the wide range of both coils and leafs ready to ship on manufacturer's shelves, it makes sense to test in-depth to find the best-possible combination. You'll probably want to run a stiffer spring than would be practical on a true street-driven car in the simulator, but if you stay honest you'll get truer-to-life results you can actually use. This also helps when exploring shock absorber (called dampers in the program) and anti-sway bar options. Using real-life rates and diameters delivers honest interpretation.
The driving-style adjustment controls go beyond simply being aggressive, conservative, or professional. They also account for driver accuracy (relative to consistent laps) and shift error (the rpm window where shifts are normally accomplished). Honesty here counts! We'd not recommend using the "professional" range unless you're actually a pro driver, otherwise the lap times seen on screen may be eternally out of reach for you.
The weather controls also include such niceties as track altitude along with air temperature and humidity. This helps realism and accuracy of the program even further and adds another dimension to accurately reflecting what your car will do on the track.
Once all of the parameters have been entered, it's time to have some fun. Choose a track, and hit the "Run Sim" button to begin. The car you've programmed will begin a lap around the track you've chosen, and the computer will do its best to replicate what you've created. Data will begin to develop immediately, and once the first lap is done, you'll be able to start tuning your combination. This does take some time for the program to compute, and we'd suggest saving the runs you've done for reference later. Otherwise, you'll have to re-enter all the data and run the simulator again. It's much easier (and faster) to build upon an existing program.
One of the keys to speeding up the time the simulator takes to run a lap is to maximize the little arrow above the accelerometer. This controls the speed at which the simulation is run, and for the initial runs we found it easiest to let it run at its fastest possible speed. Once it's finished, you can slow it down to focus on the specifics, but to acquire initial data, let 'er rip!
The accelerometer will show how the car is reacting and how far it's pulling in any given direction. You can zoom in on the track map to watch the car fight the corners, and while it's a low-detail representation of a generic vehicle, it's still pretty cool to see working its way around the track.
The graphic representation of the vehicle's performance shows car data from the lap just accomplished, like g-forces, vehicle speed, and engine rpm. To focus on one particular portion of the track, the chart can be highlighted on any relevant point.
The program also develops tables to share relevant data in a different format. Here you can see the lap time, average speed, the transmission gears used, and how much time is spent in each gear.
It's also possible to highlight different portions of the graph to highlight specific zones for more careful analysis. This can be done in many different ways, and if there's a certain portion of the track that is giving you fits, the program will allow you to focus your efforts on that specific zone.
If you read our previous product reviews, you know how ProSim products use an iterator function to develop best-possible gearing to conquer the track of choice in the vehicle of choice. These tools will show you how much theoretical improvement is left, but don't take the results too hard. Remember, the computer has unlimited budget and no consideration for harsh reality with regard to expensive custom transmissions. If the option to have a custom gearbox exists in your budget, this could really help you. Naturally, if you can find a gearbox with ratio splits close to what the program recommends, you can rest assured you're doing the best you can. A similar iterator exists for shock rates, which should deliver much more attainable information. Shocks are much less expensive, and also many adjustable units exist to help you achieve handling balance and control. Use of the program will give you a great place to start from.
An additional "data window" exists to examine data even further. This listing shows very specific vehicle information, like the suspension compression (in inches) and tire loading at any given point on the track. Its use of specific "slices" of information like this that can be compared and improved upon until the best-possible combinations are achieved. Used correctly, and to the furthest extension possible, the data developed in the FastLap simulator will make your car faster around the road course. You simply must work with the program, keep a grip on attainable reality for a given car, and learn to use the massive amounts of information now available at your fingertips.