Formel 1, Grand Prix Niederlande 1978, Zandvoort, 27.08.1978
Mario Andretti, Lotus-Ford 79
Ronnie Peterson, Lotus-Ford 79 ,
copyright: HOCH ZWEI / Ronco

Lotus 79 Beginner’s guide

If you are able to stay out from the new Macca and Nordschleife maybe you are ready to look for another hidden gems on iRacing. The old and venerable Lotus 79 is possibly one of the funniest cars so far, powerful and with a very detailed FFB, hard to tame as a buffalo, it will leave you smiling like a child. Frank Herfjord wrote an introductory guide for the car and the series with some basics guidelines to understand how this car made it.

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.

The Classic Lotus Grand Prix uses a schedule rotation system where almost all tracks each season are new compared to the previous one, but some tracks appear more frequently than others. When planning your purchases it might be helpful to know which tracks appear the most frequently.

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. The old bias bly tyres on this car accept a higher slip angle while retaining grip than the modern cars so you will be sliding a bit more.

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 minuscule front tyres love to understeer. The final combination at Silverstone will drive you mad to name one example. Pumping the throttle is a better way of countering understeer than getting off the pedals once you’ve passed the apex. 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 right-hander after entering the boot at Watkins glen and the hairpin before the uphill straight at Zandvoort. If you find yourself understeering before the apex, you should get off both pedals to make the car turn in better.

3: Gearing
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 unload the transmission 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. It’s also possible to blow the engine when dropping from 5th to 3rd when you’re at max revs like at the end of the downhill straight on Road Atlanta, so be careful.

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 although letting it climb to 10’800 is okay.

With the combination of only five gears, the necessity of unloading the transmission to shift 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.

4: Throttle
lotus 79Coming 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… The main thing is really that you usually have to ease on to the throttle. And that’s how you should interpret any given track guide. “Be back on the power before the apex” likely means be 10% at first back on the throttle before the apex. Some 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).

5: Braking
One thing you will notice with most downloaded setups is that the front brake bias may be pretty low. 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. A good example is the third corner before the hairpin at Zandvoort. Here you want to keep some throttle all the way through the corner to set up for a good punch on the throttle before the braking zone before the hairpin. But to avoid drifting the car off the track on the left, you will need to adjust with careful braking. 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.

6: Steering
Can be unfamiliar in the Lotus. It is both extremely sensitive and requires massive input at times. 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.

Lotus-F1-1978And yes, this huge steering lock means you will need to rotate the wheel almost a full turn for slower corners like Druids at brands hatch. 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. You should increase the steering ratio in the setup garage to make the car drivable for such wheels. It goes all the way up to 20:1

7 Setup:
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 a few clicks of click front wing, perhaps more 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 and increase lock on both coast and power differential settings.

408867222_origYou 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). One personalization you should consider adjusting for any car, is differential coast/power lock. This will adjust your under/oversteer balance on corner entry/exit respectively. It won’t really affect the car’s speed potential, but is important depending on your driving style. I like my car to be as loose as possible in slow corners for instance, so I usually have a low coast lock setting.

For more in-depth setup advice, this excellent guide by Mark Mullineux should answer all your questions:

For race setups, it is normally enough to add fuel and adjust ride height as necessary. On rare occasions it will be necessary to adjust gearing so that it does not hit the rev limiter at certain corners, and you may also want to add just a little bit more wing to be able to take the fastest corners at sufficient speed on race fuel. The car’s handling can be quite different when heightened from low fuel at the end of a race, so it may be a good idea to do some practice with very low fuel but race setup ride height to be prepared for it. We now thankfully also have the ability to adjust the anti roll bars. When the car gets low on fuel on the final laps of the race it can get quite oversteery and adding a click of front ARB stiffness can alleviate this problem. Likewise, adding a couple clicks of rear ARB stiffness can help with the understeer you will experience with heavy car at the start of the race. This of course depends on how much fuel is in the car to begin with (so it’s not as useful at Brands as at Spa). If you start the race with an increased value for the rear ARB, you will need to adjust it down as the race progresses, or you’ll get nasty oversteer near the end. To figure out what ARB balance you’ll want at the end of your race, load a race setup, remove all the fuel and try play with the ARB settings when you’re on track.

8: Race starts:
Rev to about 8 or 9000 rpm before letting go of the clutch. The wheels will start to spin at around 4000rpm so you will have to ease off on the throttle before going to 2nd gear.

9: Racing;
Races are usually around 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.

160118234_origThe 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.

9.1: 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 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.

9.2: 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.

One 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. The “hot” race times are also shown in the weekly track threads.

Good luck, and remember: more speed = more grip!!!

Leave a Reply