Driving practice isn't the only thing you get from a good sim. In this column we've discussed what load transfer is and how to use it to your advantage, as well as various vehicle setup changes (with more to come). Sim racing lets you experiment with all these for yourself, plus it encourages you to solve problems and create competitive strategies, just like pro teams and race engineers do.
Strategies you'd know from watching motorsport would include lift-and-coast to save fuel, when to pit, which driver to put in when in an endurance race, which tyres to fit and when, and when to take risks versus when to just collect decent points. These are all the same concepts in sims and in real life (IRL). But even outside of racing, strategies also help when you only count the best laps.
You want examples now, don't you? OK.
Without regional internet good enough for wheel-to-wheel sim racing I do solo challenges like time trials instead, but I'm not a real quick driver despite what my overall time trial ranking in Automobilista (AMS) says on virtualxperience.net (user SAM12H). My strengths lie in understanding points systems, methodical test driving and working on setup because it often makes a big difference.
To get a high AMS time trial ranking you must do a lap time in all 59 vehicle series, and your best position for each vehicle series counts if 20 or more times are on that leaderboard. But, there's almost 90 layouts for tarmac (plus some for kart, truck, Supertruck and rally). Some leaderboards are packed, other not. So, one strategy is to select layouts based on your chances of a higher position, not on whether you like them. Learn all the curves, undulation, bumps and track limits. Try different braking points and lines, and use the in-game delta to compare techniques (but just look ahead once you're happy with it). Comparing split times can be useful too.
However, whether it's a single lap in gaming or IRL, pay attention to tyre pressure and temperature. The warmer (and cleaner) the track, the sooner you get peak performance from the tyres, so if the sun stayed out during the IRL hillclimb events I did in the NSW state championship, the best times would come early in the afternoon. However, when I've done supersprints at Sydney Motorsport Park, the semi-slicks I was on were at their best during laps three and four; pushing hard made them a bit too hot after that.
Back in AMS with the Formula Vee at Floripa (it's in Brazil), I avoided zero throttle entering the tight turns to control corner-entry oversteer, but the back tyres still overheat quickly with this abuse in fast corners. You rarely get a perfect run-up on lap one though, so you give away a few tenths. I could have dropped the pressures to compensate, but instead I cruised around on lap one then got a good run out of the last corner before really pushing hard just on lap two. Other vehicles are also sensitive to tyre pressure and temperature, so experiment with starting pressures and notice the ever-changing grip.
Non-symmetrical setups can work, including tilting to one side to help it turn that way (but it can make the car tricky under heavy braking). Cars in AMS are also sensitive to height and rake for aerodynamic performance and for mechanical grip (raising the rear or lowering the front may help front grip; do the opposite if the back is too loose).
The right gear selection for each layout helps with acceleration and (along with diff settings and engine-brake strength) with throttle control as well. And short-shifting can help you avoid resorting to traction aids.
In sims you also need to address various computer issues. In AMS (and only AMS) my brake drags on slightly sometimes. Adding a bit of deadzone in the game settings didn't solve it, but using the full pedal range at the start of play does. That's not all. A faster (non-linear) clutch setting means fewer missed gears in some cars. Don't allow any non-urgent processes in the background because if the sim hesitates the time will continue but your movement won't match. Plus, you must prevent clipping in the steering feedback and get the proportions realistic with the correct field of view and cockpit tilt.
So sims can really get you to plan and think.