'Flow' isn't a thing, so stop expecting circuits to have it

Judging a track on its 'flow' says a lot about you as a driver. Photo: Shutterstock.

Judging a track on its 'flow' says a lot about you as a driver. Photo: Shutterstock.

I often hear and see motorsport competitors who drive in real life (IRL) and in sim racing complain that a track has no flow to it.

However, that isn't a thing.

What you're really telling me, whether it's IRL or on a computer (or console), is that you're actually an arcade racer with no understanding of how to deal with load transfer, braking zones and slow corners, and no interest in learning how to do them either.

Actually, let's circle back to explain the difference between sim and arcade later.

First though, I find this fixation on flow disturbing for a few reasons. The main one is that public roads in the real world are full of sharp corners and many other reasons to slow down, so is that actually difficult?

The other disturbing thing is that some tracks that do have tight and awkward corners are still said to have flow. In fact, it seems entirely subjective. It may depend on the platform being used, the vehicle they're driving, the setup they're using, or just whether they need to do a lot of work with the controls (gear changes, pedal action, steering angle adjustments) between corners.

It may depend on whether they've had a look at it from directly above and worked out whether the corners tighten or open, and what they lead to next. Basically, it reveals whether they did enough planning and practice before attempting to drive it quickly.

If that's the case, then what you're really saying is that this circuit/venue isn't important enough to you emotionally to incentivise you to do your homework and learn the best lines and techniques to get the best times from it. In other words, you expect to be good without any practice or effort.

But where is the challenge if you don't have to learn how to be good at it?

The best example of a layout being accused of not having flow IRL that I can think of is when Eastern Creek started calling itself Sydney Motorsport Park after putting in an optional extension (to make the track configurable into four optional layouts for event organisers to choose from) and some of the more vocal of my fellow supersprint drivers whinging about having to go down to first gear for the new area.

I on the other hand loved it, because its sharper turns, narrower tarmac, shorter straights, steep undulations and awkward camber changes were much more like the hillclimb events I was also doing in the same car. So clearly this was all subjective.

Meanwhile, we can circle back to our original distinction between sim and arcade and put them into three categories; arcade, simcade and sim. We can first argue about the definition of each before subsequently arguing about which titles fit into each category.

The simplest definitions I can give them is arcade racing is the same style we would have once played in an arcade. It's meant to be so easy you rarely need to slow down. Competitors are also slow and easy to overtake to artificially make you feel good about yourself. In fact, those opponents may even slow down to let you catch up and overtake them if you have a stack or some other event that impedes your progress.

Slow corners and even braking zones are relatively rare in an arcade experience, and you might even have artificial speed boosts or weapons to throw at others. Basically, it's designed to give almost all players a sense of achievement (even when there is none) and about as unreal as you can imagine.

Sim racing is attempting to calculate the physics and replicate the exact dimensions of the real world. The most hardcore sims do this with very complicated equations that account for everything like tyre flex and chassis flex, and the software that big-budget pro teams use is so detailed that they prototype designs, parts and even setups with it, not just get the drivers ready for the next race.

This story 'Flow' isn't a thing, so stop expecting circuits to have it first appeared on The Canberra Times.