Thanks to Frank Herfjord for letting me post this.
Welcome to the most demanding and rewarding car in iRacing!
What made the Lotus 79 a legend in the real 1978 Formula 1 season is also what sets it apart from the other iRacing cars. Most of you have some experience with the Star Mazda or the Williams FW31. Although the Williams has more downforce on paper, the effect is much more pronounced in the Lotus 79 because the power-to-downforce ratio is much lower. Don’t worry, it’s not at all underpowered and you will be happy to know that you have many over-power spins into the walls on corner exits to look forward to. But the top speed is close to 100km/h lower than the Williams on many tracks which makes the experience quite different.
Which brings us to the most important thing to learn:
1: High speed cornering
The crazy ground effects combined with the low top speed means you have to carry high speeds mid corner to go fast. So forget the slow in/fast out approach that is so effective in most other cars. Those tiny front wheels aren’t going to do much good on their own, so you need to keep the power down to find grip. More speed = more grip! This is by far the most important thing to come to terms with when learning the Lotus. One effective way of learning may be to study the weekly track guides posted on the Lotus forums and look for the highest downforce corner. Look for descriptions like “can sometimes be taken flat out”, “no braking” or “slight lift”. Good examples of flat out corners are T1 Silverstone, the left hander before oak tree at ViR, Carousel at Road America, the left hander before the crest at Philip Island, the scary T1 at Sebring and best of all: the exhilarating Pouhon at Spa. Your brain will tell you that it can’t be done since you’re already at the limit of grip when going through when off the gas and perhaps in a lower gear. But you need some balls and just trust the car. Because you know, a flat out corner can’t be that hard, right?
2: Low speed cornering
Will make you tear your hair out. The Lotus absolutely doesn’t like twisty slow corners because there’s no aerodynamic grip and the miniscule front tyres love to understeer. The final combination at Silverstone will drive you mad to name one example. The good news is that the small front/large rear tyre combination means you won’t lose much time by powersliding a little bit. I’m not saying it’s necessarily the fastest way around the track, but pumping the throttle is a better way of countering understeer than getting off the gas. And since you’re always focusing on getting the highest possible mid corner speed, it is easy to overshoot – so expect to be busy countering understeer pretty often. A nice spot to practice keeping the car rotating is in the uphill righthander after entering the boot at Watkins glen and the hairpin before the uphill straight at Zandvoort.
The clutch is not necessary (although some fast drivers use it on upshifts to make sure the gear clicks). To make the car shift up, lift the throttle a bit to let the revs match while you keep the wanted gear selected. To downshift, just do a slight blip while holding the desired gear. It is recommended to use the H shifter like in the real car since you need to keep the gear selected for a while to make it shift. It also has the advantage of added engine braking when you skip a gear, but do note that the car gets too unstable when you drop all the way from 5th to 2nd unless you let the revs drop too low.
Although the tachometer shows 11’000 in the “12 o’clock” position, the best shift point is actually around 10’600, so don’t let it bounce off the rev limiter to flat shift.
With the combination of only five gears, the necessity of matching revs and pretty decent torque on the engine, it is important to not shift gears too often. As you come up to speed on a track, you will notice that you are often in a lower gear than the guys that are still faster than you. So you should pay special attention to the suggested gears in the track guides. 1st gear is never used except on starts, and 2nd gear is also surprisingly rare compared to other cars. To practice driving in high gears, try mid-ohio with oliver’s setup. If you keep the momentum up, you shouldn’t need 2nd gear at all.
Coming from the Star Mazda, the Lotus can seem massively overpowered because you will be spinning a lot on corner exit. The lack of mechanical grip means you need to be careful. I’m sorry to say that only hours of practice will make you familiar enough with the car to drive it on the limits of grip on corner exit. Not to mention high speed oversteer… All I can do is recommend a couple spots to practice: for kicking the throttle on exit in a relatively unstable car: try between the final two corners at Mosport, and exiting T1 at ViR. For high speed oversteer, it will happen in some of those high speed corners mentioned earlier. When it happens, just get off the throttle and be super careful with countersteering inputs. And although it is perhaps of little comfort, I can assure you that it is a great feeling when you are able to save a top speed slide in “that” corner on brands hatch (the one “some” take at full throttle).
One thing you will notice with most downloaded setups is that the rearward braking bias may be as low as 38%. This is mainly because of the difference in tyre size between the fronts and the rears, but also because it is common to keep some throttle on while braking to stabilize the car. If you can’t/won’t/REFUSE TO (can of worms alert!) do this, you should increase the balance to 42% or so. But for most drivers, this technique is important in many high speed corners. A good example is the first left hander at Philip Island. This corner should be taken in 4th gear. But although it is a very long sweeping corner, you should not be coasting at all but rather ease off the throttle as you’re applying some gentle braking and gently get back on to it as you pass the apex. It is not required for hard braking, only trail braking. But there are also some corners where you will actually want to coast through with no braking before getting back on the power. The final corner at Mosport springs to mind.
Don’t brake too hard and too late. You need to go fast to find grip.
Can be unfamiliar in the Lotus. It is both extremely sensitive and requires massive input at times. Unlike modern cars, there is a 1:1 steering ratio to steering wheel and car wheel movement. If you have a low setting for maximum degrees of rotation, this means you will have greatly amplified and therefore less precise steering at the extremes. To determine the minimum setting for 1:1 (real) steering ratio, you need to multiply the adjustable steering lock car setup option (from the garage) by about 52,5. So if you have 12:0 steering lock in setup, you need about 630 degrees of rotation to get 1:1. But since many drivers vary their steering lock settings from track to track, it may be a good idea to set the maximum degrees of rotation at a bit higher than this.
And yes, this huge steering lock means you will need to rotate the wheel almost a full turn for slower corners like T2 at mid-ohio. It will take some getting used to if you’re coming from the 400-degree Mazda and Williams. Lowering your wheel’s maximum degrees of rotation can help by exchanging realism and precision for speed and ease of use.
But with such high degrees of rotation required to drive the real car, it does of course mean it will be challenging to drive with an “old skool” 270 degree wheel like the logitech momo wheels. One way to make it less sensitive and therefore easier to learn is to trick the iracing configurator to think that you have more degrees of rotation than you actually use. This is also recommended for drivers with 900 degree wheels if they find the steering too sensitive. BUT although many of us have found this trick helpful for learning the car, it is worth noting that it means you will sacrifice some of your maximum lock and could mean you will have to drive a wider line at druids corner on Brands Hatch for instance. I’m not sure what the “steering at speed” slider in the iracing options does, but some drivers report that it can be useful to set it at a higher level than your actual degrees of rotation.
Fast setups are always available in the weekly race threads, so I recommend using those as your starting point. More often than not, they are loose and hard to drive for new drivers even with decent experience in other cars. So try adding one click front wing, one or two clicks of rear wing and a couple clicks of tire pressure to make it easier to handle. You could also try increasing the front anti-roll bar a bit.
You will soon realize that most fast uploaded setups are quite similar, so my tip is not to go too far off the beaten path when personalizing. The most common changes other than wings is spring stiffness which is a bit more dependent on driving style (are you fast on the power, do you trailbrake a lot etc)
For more in-depth setup advice, this guide by Volker Hackmann should answer all your questions: /iracing/iracing-lotus-79-setup-notes
Also check out the bundled qualifying setup files at the end of this guide.
Races are usually less than 50 minutes long and there is no need for a pit stop. Racing against your close competitors shouldn’t be much different than the skip or mazda: with the vulnerable wings and exposed wheels, you should know you can absolutely not afford to touch another car at all. But the tyres also take a bit longer to get up to temperature, so do yourself a favour and don’t push 100% on your first flying lap because it will save you a lot of frustration as you will hit the grass in fast corners.
The high downforce means you will get a lot more speed when in the slipstream when following other cars, and “dirty air” is thankfully not much of a problem compared to modern F1. This means it should be easy to follow the car in front on most fast tracks like Watkins, Spa, VIR and Sebring. Unlike in a mustang race for instance, it also means the guy behind isn’t necessarily much faster than you so there’s no reason to start pushing like mad just because there’s a car in your mirror. Passing will be challenging on most tracks, so take your time when you are behind.
8.1: Lapped cars
A difference compared to the lower license series is that lap time gaps can be huge. Even after understanding this guide, you may have a hard time getting closer than five seconds from pole position, and you can expect non-qualifying drivers to lap five seconds slower than that, making a crazy 10 second gap even on short tracks like Brands Hatch. This means lapping slower cars is going to be a challenge for even the mid-pack and not just the front and rear. Thankfully, most slower drivers are quite experienced in the Lotus series and it is unlikely to find “mazda-n00bs” that hit the brakes super early to let the guy behind pass for instance. Most know to just let off the throttle a bit and get off the line once the faster guy catches up.
So the main advice is actually for when you become one of the cars lapping others. Because these dramatic time differences mean slow drivers will be a lot slower mid corner! So don’t trail them too close, you’ll catch up to pass on the following straight anyway.
In the Lotus series, we take pride in handling blue flags skillfully and with respect for both parties, and it is rare to have to suffer listening to somebody going off on a tirade after their race ended when they lapped somebody or got lapped. Please help us keep this tradition and RESPECT your opponent’s skill level whether it is much higher or significantly lower.
yeah you should pay attention to Pascal’s front wing even if that’s “Mighty Merschky” in front. PS that’s Gernot, Erik and 19 other cars far behind after just two corners of racing at Watkin’s Glen. Remember what I said about gaps between the fast and the fastest in this series? So don’t be disheartened when your first flying lap isn’t a world record.
8.2: The weekly racing schedule
A lot of people get immediately put off by the Lotus because it is “hard” to find an official race. Well yes, it’s not “pick up and drive” like the class R and D series. But many of us see this as a strength because it gives a “league” feel to the racing where you will frequently be racing bumper to bumper with your closest rivals all throughout the season.
But the important thing is to use the race planner to schedule your races. You’ll find it on the right-hand side of the screen of the “dashboard display” option on the member site. You should schedule all the races that you are likely to sign up for in the coming week, this will help others find what races will be popular. But you can practically always count on the 18:30GMT races to go official (except holidays etc), and 16:30, 20:30 will usually go official at least on sundays. Many of us aim for two sunday races to get our weekly fix, but the highest SOF fields are actually to be found on wednesdays and fridays.
For US and asian drivers, 1830 GMT is obviously not a fantastic time slot to get a race other than on weekends. This means we’ve lost a lot of you guys over the seasons we’ve been racing. What’s needed to have a chance at a stable US/Asian driver base is to find some steady scheduling times like we’ve settled on with the 1830 GMT races for European races. So I suggest you try 02:30 GMT races on fridays for Americans, which is 6:30 pm PST / 9:30 EST thursday. For asians, I suggest 10:30 GMT on fridays which is 19:30 Tokyo and 21:30 Sydney. And I do encourage Europeans to sign up for the friday 10:30 GMT race to help our asian friends.
Good luck, and remember: more speed = more grip!!!