Race report: Nürburgring, 21 September 2021

Under wet conditions, Copper Horse Racing gains 7 places from qualifying to finish P11

If you are looking for tough racing then the Nürburgring is not going to disappoint. Drivers in season 8 of AOR’s GT3 league were spared the ‘Green Hell’ of the epic Nordschleife circuit, racing instead on the Grand Prix loop. But they still had to contend with the region’s notoriously bad weather, which pushed up the difficulty of navigating a mix of fast and technical circuit features another notch. 

Built in 1984, Nürburgring’s GP track is home to a wide range of racing formats including the ‘Eco Grand Prix’, held since 2013. 

81% changing conditions 

Series organisers AOR kept sim-racers on their toes by advertising changeable dry and wet weather conditions. That being said, tier 10 entrants received a particularly bad roll of the dice with the track becoming wet, wet and wetter as the race unfolded. However, drivers in other tiers did experience drier spells as Yorkie065’s livestream on YouTube shows. 

Qualifying low down the order in P18 with a wet setup that never felt quite right, Car 59 driven by David Rogers had to focus hard to stay out of trouble in the main pack. If previous races are a guide – taps, tangles and off-track excursions are almost guaranteed at some point as opponents jostle for position on cold tyres (especially in the wet). And there was nothing to suggest that things would be any different this time around. 

A hard slog 

Driver perspective:

The first lap was less eventful than usual and I managed to pick up five places going into lap 2. However, a tap from behind as the car turned into the tight Castrol ‘S’ meant lost places and the accident caused other cars to go off too. In the split-second that was available to make decisions and relatively unsighted (a problem with sim racing), I attempted to move out of the entirely blocked road. My car was then hit again by another car trying to manoeuvre around a stranded vehicle; my movement ultimately caused the stewards to penalise me for dangerous driving. This was warranted as sim racing requires you to remain stationary if stuck on the track during an incident, precisely because of this awareness issue. For drivers using VR headsets or TrackIR, they have a better appreciation of what’s going on around them, but it is still never going to be the same as a real car.

First full lap of the race: Secure-CAV sponsored Car 59 moves up through the race order.

Another challenge for everyone, is that the cars all have different setups and braking points and in the wet this can cause a lot of issues especially where cars can also be carrying damage from their own incidents. The 2015 Lamborghini has quite a long braking distance in comparison with other cars on the track. 

In fact, racing at the Nürburgring generated the most Tier 10 DNF’s of the series so far, with five drivers failing to make it to the chequered flag – a measure of the challenging conditions. 

Plus, this week’s race was run in the longer 90 minute format, which gives an extra 30 minutes for things to go wrong as concentration levels fade. The final stint certainly proved tricky for Copper Horse Racing’s white and green Lamborghini Huracán, with a late spin — caused simply by being momentarily distracted — dropping the car from P8 to P12. 

The race’s mandatory pitstop was taken 10 minutes from the end, with only a splash of fuel needed and opting for no repairs to the minor damage to the vehicle. The minimal time in the pits brought the car out behind a rapidly slowing damaged McLaren. On the final lap and driving hard and being chased by Chris Maitland in his Footwork liveried 2016 Lexus RC F GT3, I made a move on the McLaren in the Mercedes Arena complex of corners. Taking a different, inside line to the slow driver, the move resulted in a clash between the two cars, and I backed off, allowing the McLaren to return to racing. A couple of corners later at the Valvoline-Kurve, the McLaren opened the door wide, so I moved in again, this time getting through with the McLaren hitting the side of the car and losing time, allowing Maitland’s Lexus through too behind me. A post-race stewards’ inquiry was inevitable, but I didn’t have much choice in the moment, not knowing what was going on with the McLaren or why it was driving slowly. 

Rapid refuel: the white and green Lamborghini of Copper Horse Racing takes a short pitstop ahead of the final few laps.

To be competitive, drivers have more to consider than just watching out for other opponents and keeping the car between the white lines. Other demands include monitoring the in-game telemetry, which represents the sensor data that would be available in a real GT3 car, to keep tabs on brake temps, fuel load, tyre pressures and much more besides. 

Data protection and threat modelling 

In Formula One, cars reportedly run with over 300 sensors per vehicle, up from just 24 when teams began using the technology more than three decades ago. The trend can be seen in road vehicles too, especially those fitted with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which rely on a range of vehicle and environmental data to operate.  

Sensor data brings tremendous knowledge to racing teams and, on the road, can boost safety by helping drivers to navigate otherwise unforeseen hazards. But as vehicles rely more heavily on the exchange of information – connected and autonomous vehicles being the most extreme example – security measures will need to evolve to mitigate the corresponding threats. 

In a previous race report, we discussed the manipulation of algorithms used to recognise road signs. More recently, security researchers have shown how projected (or phantom) images can confuse vehicle cameras. But it’s not just vehicle safety that’s at risk. Attacks on sensors (or their data) could impact privacy or have other consequences. For example, what if payment information could be extracted, or other personal details such as trip history and location?  

There are many angles for carmakers and their suppliers to consider, but there’s also a process that can help – threat modelling (one of our security activities at Copper Horse), which at the highest level boils down to answering four key questions

  1. What are we working on? 
  2. What can go wrong?
  3. What are we going to do about it?
  4. Did we do a good enough job? 

Also, cleverly designed card decks can make threat modelling sessions much more interactive and engaging for participants.  

Talking of fun, let’s return to the race details.  

Race results 

Victory at the Nürburgring went to Swiss driver Matthew North in an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, who managed to get one up on pole sitter Teis Hertgers of The Netherlands. Copper Horse’s David Rogers kept it together to finish P11, gaining 7 places (5 in the first lap) overall. But this week, the most positions gained award goes to Davy Melin in a McLaren 720S, who passed the chequered flag in fifth position, up 8 places on his qualifying spot. 

Race winner: Matthew North crosses the line driving an Aston Martin V8 Vantage.

The post-race stewards’ inquiry found against David Rogers in the final lap incidents, resulting in points deductions and license penalties. In the cold light of day, it is easy to make retrospective analyses of on-track incidents. But during the race it is very different with drivers in difficult conditions making split-second decisions – as real-life driver Alex Fontana, also driving a Lamborghini discovered at Valencia at the weekend. This makes racing what it is – an exciting battle between competitors who all really want to win. 

 The series continues with racing at Zandvoort, where Tier 10 drivers might get to enjoy sunnier weather with only a 30% chance of rain, according to the forecast. 

About the authors 

James Tyrrell is a Threat Modelling Analyst at Copper Horse. 

David Rogers is Founder and CEO of Copper Horse and Driver of Car 59. 

On the move: the driver’s viewpoint from car 59 in the wet mid-race at the Nürburgring GP circuit