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Coaching a driver who has only raced on a simulator presents a new challenge

Joel Miller has immeasurable coaching experience. He was the driver mentor and coach for the Mazda Road to Indy for multiple years and makes part of his living coaching others. But when he was asked to guide sim racer and Mazda Hot Lap Challenge winner Logan Clampitt through his first test in a real race car, it was another level of coaching altogether.

“It was really interesting coming from coaching guys that have learned from the real thing and have 20 days in a car and they want some assistance vs. somebody that has never seen the inside of a race car before,” says Miller. “The rate of progression was much faster.”

Clampitt was testing a Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car at The Thermal Club, a country club racetrack located just outside of Palm Springs in Southern California. He earned the test through winning the Mazda Hot Lap Challenge, a sim racing contest conducted online and at various racetracks, with the finale being an iRacing hosted race at Daytona International Speedway. 

Clearly, Clampitt knew some things about driving a race car – he just hadn’t actually done it. Despite immediately recognizing that Clampitt recognized racing lines and knew how to find an apex, Miller started him slow.

“A lot of that was he needed to figure out how to heel-and-toe downshift,” says Miller. “Then we moved on to braking itself, because he had never had to deal with ABS before. Once we had that, we moved the braking zones closer and closer.”

The next step was brake application and release, followed by teaching him to look ahead, Miller explains.

For Clampitt, one of the things that stuck with him were Miller’s tips on throttle input. Clampitt has been using basic pedals in his sim race setup, so finesse with both the brake and the throttle were somewhat new to him.

“Joel kept me calm,” says Clampitt. “He told me throughout the day if I was going to apex late or apex early, and if I was driving in too hard or not going deep enough. There were two turns where I was really struggling, and by the third session I got a lot better at it.”

Clampitt notes that transitioning from the sim, where the only feedback is through the steering wheel, into a car with all of the sensations that go with it, was an adjustment. Conversely, Miller says Clampitt was good right away on the high-speed turns, but needed some improvement in the slower, more technical corners. 

“Understanding the weight transfer is what we did in the second tier,” Miller says. “I was impressed with his progression; straightaway he nearly had the pace. He was actually slowing himself down because of a few items, but once we smoothed that out, we had a massive drop in lap time. I think it was because he had the other stuff already; he just needed to understand how a real car mechanically works.”

For the most part, Miller was impressed with how much Clampitt knew about driving a race car coming from the iRacing simulator. Miller also notes that he now understands how Glenn McGee, the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout winner whose previous experience was primarily iRacing, did so well and was capable of running up front. 

It’s clear that with some capable coaching, moving from the racing simulator to the real thing is much easier than starting from scratch.