British Touring Car Championship

I'm going to be introducing some race set-up basics by looking at a British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) format that I have put together for digital club racing and adapted for ARC Pro at home. The format attempts to simulate a typical BTCC weekend using the fantastic BTCC cars produced by Scalextric.

Scalextric BTCC car

The schedule goes something like this:

  1. Qualifying Session
  2. Race One
  3. Race Two
  4. Race Three (reverse grid)

The format includes simulating success ballast, but otherwise uses few of the ARC Pro app simulations. Using this BTCC format shows how ARC Pro can simulate real motor sport events - using lots of imagination, but resisting the temptation to turn on all the app features. Less is often more....

Qualifying

This is the first competitive action of a BTCC weekend. I set up the session as an Endurance race from the Race Mode screen. This gives me more control over the settings and - importantly - allows a timed session, rather than a set amount of laps as is offered in the 'Practice' mode or the 'Qualifier Laps' in the 'Grand Prix' mode. I also use Endurance mode for practice and qualifying sessions as the race stops when the time runs out - all the cars do not need to be on track to trigger the race end as they do in a lap race or in practice mode.

The race is set up for ten minutes - plenty of time to get cars running nicely and to set a fastest lap that will determine grid positions for Race One. Of course, any work on the car must be done via a trip to the pit lane - there is no stopping out on track, which causes a unnecessary hazard for other cars. Although there will be none of the simulations - Fuel Use, Tyre Wear, KERS, Incidents or Weather - in the BTCC races, I do sometimes add the Tyre Wear simulation to qualifying. That means cars must pit every ten laps or so. There is no extra grip from new tyres, but it means that there will be times when fewer cars are on track, which might allow an opportunity for a clear run and a quick lap...

ARC Pro race mode screenARC Pro Endurance settings pageARC Pro Endurance settings page

Driver Set Up

Clicking Driver Setup I go to the Choose Driver screen where I can add or remove drivers (minimum 2, maximum 6) depending how many racers are qualifying. If there are more than six drivers, it would be necessary to divide them into groups - ideally of equal size - and run separate sessions. As you can see, I have chosen to run the colours in default order (Red, Green, Blue etc) and chosen to have corresponding coloured helmets as the driver icons. Clicking on the Green driver Driver 2 takes me to Driver Setup where I can change the driver name, image, car name and set specific values for the driver - fuel load, max power and throttle curve - and also gives me an option to calibrate the low speed for the car (see pages 16 & 17 of the ARC Pro Quick Start Guide) and toggle the controller rumble on or off. I cannot imagine any reason to turn the rumble off - it means you can concentrate on racing and only look at the screen when prompted by a rumble. I have left all the settings on their default values for now.

ARC Pro driver set up screenARC Pro driver set up screenARC Pro driver set up screen

The Back button moves you back to the previous menu, or - when all the settings for all the drivers are done - you can tap Let's Race at the bottom to bring up the race screen, then tap Start Race which brings up the start lights...

Qualifying Session

ARC Pro Endurance Race screenARC Pro Endurance Race screen

The Endurance race screen shows all the drivers, plus number of laps, last lap time, time remaining and best lap time. For our BTCC qualifying session, the best time is all we are worried about. The graphic to the right of the helmets indicates tyre use - I sneakily added that simulation to this session. As you can see in the ARC Pro Quick Start Guide (p.18 & 19), the graphic starts green, gradually going down by a set amount each lap, until it goes orange, then red, then the 'PIT' icon comes up and the controller rumbles. At this point you must pit your car in the pit lane - see page 13 of the Quick Start Guide - press and hold the lower brake button on the ARC controller (with the 'X') until the graphic is back to green and the 'GO' icon comes up. If you pit too late, the red graphic will flash and your speed will be limited to your car's low-speed calibration until you pit and change tyres. Practicing with this one feature is the basis for understanding all the other simulations in ARC Pro and executing a perfect pit stop and playing with pit stop strategy.

I won't talk you through the race - that's all part of learning and having fun. At the end of the ten minutes, click on More Stats to study all the results in detail - and to save and share them, if you want, via the Options button. Don't forget to write down the fast time for each racer!

Race One

The grid for Race One is set by the fastest laps achieved in the qualifying session and the pole-sitter gets a bonus point for the championship. With six cars or less, the race is a straightforward sprint over a set number of laps using only the Jump Start Penalty and Yellow Flag features of the ARC app. If we had more than six cars, then the top three or four qualifiers automatically start in the feature race - with the others taking part in a 'B final' to fill the final places in the main race. Like the BTCC races, the action should be fast & furious - I've chosen Grand Prix from the Race Mode menu and then tapped on Number of Laps and chosen 20.

ARC Pro Grand Prix set up screenARC Pro Grand Prix set up screen

I've also tapped on Jump Start Penalty and chosen the 4 second option - that will add 4 seconds to a car's race time if it jumps the start. I toggled-on the Yellow Flag feature so the toggle switch is to the right and the background shows up green - that indicates a feature is active. All the other features are off - their toggle switches are to the left and the backgrounds greyed-out. Tapping 'Driver Setup' shows that we still have the same drivers as in the Endurance race for the qualifying session. The cars are the same and the settings - Fuel Load, Max Power, Throttle Curve, Calibration and Controller Rumble - are unchanged.

Starting the race is the same as before and the race display is similar - laps completed / total laps, last lap time, race time elapsed and best lap time. There is no need for pit stops in the BTCC race, but if there is a big pile up that blocks the track, there is the option of a yellow flag. The Yellow Flag feature is activated by tapping the race screen during the race - a waving yellow flag appears in the centre of the screen. The cars are then limited to their calibrated low speed until the screen is tapped again - the race continues, but at a safe speed, during which the crashed cars are re-slotted. I don't always use the yellow flag, but it feels quite authentic in the cut-and-thrust of a BTCC race.

ARC Pro Grand Prix race screenARC Pro Grand Prix race screenARC Pro Grand Prix results screen

Don't forget to record the results on paper or in a spreadsheet and also give a bonus championship point to the driver with the fastest lap. The standard BTCC points system is: 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. In the More Stats pages, you can also tell from the graph who has lead a lap - and each of those drivers gets one bonus point for leading a lap during the race. If a 'B final' is run, race points (7th position - that's 9 points - onwards) are awarded to those not 'stepping-up', but the bonus points for fastest lap and leading a lap are only awarded for the feature race.

Race Two

The starting grid for the second race is the finishing order of the first - the Race One winner starting on pole (no bonus point this time).  Race Two is also where 'Success Ballast' comes in. This slows down the top drivers from Race One. After the first race weekend of the championship, the championship leaders carry 'Championship Success Ballast' into qualifying and Race One of subsequent weekends. It's a crucial feature of the BTCC, so it is important we simulate it in our ARC Pro version. We do this by using the 'Max Power' feature - which can also be used to slow down novice drivers, handicap better drivers or simulate differently performing cars (eg a 1960s saloon car vs a 2019 Formula One car) in other formats.

ARC Pro Driver set up screenARC Pro Driver set up screenARC Pro Driver set up screen

In the Grand Prix race, we need to go to Driver Set-up, tap on the driver and scroll down past Fuel Load to Max Power. Tapping on Max Power gives us options of 100, 75, 50, 25 and Custom - all percentages. The Custom setting means any value from 1 to 100% can be keyed-in. Testing on a small-ish home track, I know that reducing the Max Power setting has a different impact depending on whether the cars are running with traction magnets or with them removed. I started with using a Custom setting of 80% for the Race One winner and 90% for the runner-up. I found at 90% that lap times dropped by 10% for non-mag cars and hardly at all for those with magnets. At 80% lap times dropped by around 15% for non-mag cars and by 20% for magnet cars!

For cars running without magnets, the 80% and 90% reduction works quite well in a four-car field. On larger grids, I might use 80% for the winner, 85% for second, 90% for third and 95% for fourth. With the standard magnets cars, I now run 80% for the winner and 85% for the runner-up in a four-car field. Of course, the result usually comes down to whoever drives the best, but the ballast can make a difference to the result. If you want success ballast to have a bigger impact on the result, simply reduce the Max Power even more. Be careful with standard cars with magnets - there will be a point when they are full-throttle all the way round and you might strain the motor (it will get hot).

Using success ballast via the Max Power setting means carefully recording the settings and remembering to change them for the next race. Having a race sheet on paper or in a spreadsheet makes this much easier.

BTCC information spreadsheet screen

Race Three

The grid for Race Three is a complete reversal of the result of Race Two - the winner starts last and the last place car in Race Two starts on pole position (no bonus point awarded). This makes it very interesting if there is a 'B Final' - especially as Success Ballast still applies to the top cars from Race Two! That's not to say the Race Two winner can't fight their way through to win Race Three, but it will be quite a challenge and an exciting way to finish off the BTCC day. There's nothing new to set up in the ARC app, but it is important to keep everything written down on paper or in a spreadsheet - including who gets ballast and how much - as everything is so topsy-turvy in this race.

One feature of the BTCC weekend that can't be simulated by ARC Pro is the option tyre choice. However, with the Scalextric BTCC cars having wheels that take Slot.it tyres, you could run two different compounds. At the start of the day each driver secretly nominates which one of the three races they will use the 'option' tyres. It's not something I've done, yet...

A final aspect of the BTCC that dovetails nicely with ARC Pro digital competition is 'No Contact Racing' - any deliberate ramming, pushing or brake-testing is not allowed. Of course "rubbing is racing" in the BTCC, but - when a line is crossed - penalties are handed out. That might be a post-race time penalty, a grid penalty, points deduction or even disqualification. For digital racers it is important to always apologise for any on-track incidents, but also to be prepared for penalties for persistent or clearly deliberate offending. No Contact Racing should be an important principle of all digital slot car racing.