Race report: Silverstone, 29 June 2021

Saving the best until last, car 59 finishes top 10 in the final race of the season 

After seven rounds of hard driving, the sim-racing series reached its last sessions of the season at Silverstone – a fast-paced circuit built on a former airfield. The organisers, Apex Online Racing, had set the scene for some quick lap times – treating drivers to a dry track. Albeit one with grey clouds looming large overhead, a familiar sight at the circuit. 

Season finale: drivers arrive at Silverstone for round 8.

Towards the end of qualification, a less-than-ideal setup and rival drivers seemed to turn up the wick – pushing Copper Horse Racing down to P20. However, in the race itself this turned out to be a blessing. With just a few points separating leaders in the overall classification, nobody at the front wanted to yield position and the inevitable first lap carnage that followed catapulted car 59 up the order. 

Wheels in the air: a collision in the front half of the pack on lap 1 left multiple cars out of position.

As the former leaders rejoined the track, they were anxious to overtake and chase down the vehicles that had passed them by. David Rogers in car 59 was soon put under pressure and drove well to fend off drivers dive-bombing from behind like seagulls after a bag of chips. 

Battle of the generations: Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and GT3 Evo (lime green and black) duke it out on track.

Vehicle hacking simulator 

The ever-evolving rig, based on a DOF Reality full-motion platform – now with triple screens optically stitched together by light refracting panels – has served us well throughout our first season of esports, but its main role is to support our work on automotive security. In the last two races, it has had its brake wires loosely twisted together while we perform modifications and testing on that part of the rig, somehow managing to survive 90 minutes of Imola and 60 minutes of Silverstone and all the practice in between!  

By adding real vehicle components such as an instrument cluster and after-market head unit – all integrated through a CAN-Bus and fed with rich in-game telemetry – we are able to simulate (safely) the effects of multiple automotive attacks. 

Wraparound view: refractive panels provide a continuous display by hiding the screen bezels. Also shown, is the real world instrument cluster, which responds to in-game telemetry fed via a CAN-bus.

Scenarios that can be demonstrated, include the loss of braking function, steering take-over, manipulation of the vehicle’s mileage, hi-jacking of a car’s headlights and infotainment-based attacks – to name just a few of the possibilities.  

Simulators are nothing new for automotive testing, but it’s rare to have a setup that can be used to explore and visualise the automotive threat landscape in this way. The Copper Horse vehicle hacking rig puts people in the driving seat so that they can better experience the various attack scenarios first-hand. 

Moving up the leaderboard 

At the end of the race, following penultimate lap drama ahead and a last lap, last gasp pass by Dave Bramhall – who went on to finish second in the season overall – Copper Horse Racing ended up in P9 at Silverstone, advancing 11 places from qualifying and grabbing its biggest haul of points yet. 

Seizing the opportunity: confusion between the drivers ahead allowed car 59 (in the background) to pick up another two places, although Dave Bramhall in car 92 would go on to finish in front of the white and green Huracán.

And while those points didn’t mean any prizes this time around, they did move David up to nineteenth out of 50 entrants in the leaderboard – a very respectable debut performance and worthy of the champagne that was drunk after the race. 

In Tier one, where sim-racers get to mix it with the pros, Kevin Siclari overhauled Maciej Malinowski’s lead in the championship to take the top spot. And looking at the other close races for the title, Jake Mills lost out to Ryan Rees in Tier 8, but Manuel Rutter kept his hands on the trophy in Tier 9 – staying ahead of Richard Aconley. 

Celebrating with donuts: Tier 10 champion Scott Ullmann puts on a show in his Porsche.

Participating in the online racing calendar has given us the chance to shine a light on Secure-CAV and related topics in the world of automotive security. 

Next steps in the project 

At our UK facility, Copper Horse is now engaged in the security testing phase of Secure-CAV. Here, the team is taking a ‘whitebox’ or ‘clearbox’ approach to code security review of our partners’ implementation against various standards. Alongside this, we are considering different attack patterns against interfaces and other aspects to identify potential vulnerabilities, including fuzzing – for example, probing the ability of the system to handle malformed inputs – to give just a couple of examples of the activities underway. We are doing this together with our own partners YGHT Ltd to give some logical and sensible separation from the project itself.  

On track, our plan is to be back in the driving seat for more sim racing in the Autumn.  

About the author 

James Tyrrell is a Threat Modelling Analyst at Copper Horse. 

Race report: Imola, 22 June 2021

Car 59 moves up four places in the overall standings thanks to another top 20 finish. 

Changeable weather during the race at Imola allowed the white and green Lamborghini Huracán of Copper Horse Racing to experience the circuit – described by McLaren in its track guide as ‘fast, flowing and ever so old school’ – in both the wet and the dry. Given the conditions, dialing in the right car set-ups and knowing when to change from wet tyres to slicks would be decisive. But only if car 59 survived the dice roll of the first few laps. 

That was close: Copper Horse Racing managed to avoid the spinning Aston Martin on lap 1.

As we’ve discussed – when the lights go green, drivers are still managing cold tyres and brakes, which compromise handling and bump up the chances of a collision or a spin. In the wet, the odds are greater still with much less grip off the racing line and spray from the vehicles ahead making it harder to see up the road. 

On lap 1, Copper Horse Racing’s David Rogers caught sight of El Tigre Blanco’s spinning Aston Martin V8 Vantage just in time (no doubt helped by the bold livery) to avoid a collision that would have changed car 59’s race for the worse. So far, so good, but the Lamborghini did run into some bad luck a few laps later. 

As the race settled in, the Copper Horse car lost five places – dropping from 13th – due to an unfortunate nudge from behind at the Variante Alta chicane. But the race was still on with plenty of time remaining on the clock and the possibility of changing weather sending cars off the circuit. The speedy Variante Villeneuve sequence of corners took its fair share of victims and drivers struggled to maintain complete consistency while racing hard. 

Affecting the algorithm 

Water droplets on the windshield: some real-world vehicles employ artificial intelligence to automatically activate their windscreen wipers.

Watching the rain on the Huracán’s windshield popped a thought in my head to mention some of the work presented in the automotive space on adversarial machine learning. In 2019, researchers in China showed that rain-activated windscreen wipers (enabled by a neural network fed with data from front-facing cameras) could be fooled by so-called ‘Worley noise’ – a function used in computer graphics to generate textures such as smooth stone or water.  

Heading into the pits during qualification: car 59 is careful to obey the speed limit.

Algorithms used to read road signs have been shown to be vulnerable too, misreading speed limits when researchers applied small details to existing signs or re-printed the original design with a computer-generated version (video showing proof of concept). In both cases, the modifications made would be hard for a human driver to detect. 

The more that we rely on algorithms to see the world for us, the better our defences against such attacks will need to be.  

At the Imola circuit though, it was back to basics with no road traffic signs to worry about and a single speed limit of 50 km/h to obey in the pit lane.  

Out on track, drivers were focused on going as fast as they could – a task that became easier when the rain lifted about 30 minutes into the race.  

Bumper to bumper: competitive racing between Justin Dawson and Marc André Stoltenberg in the leading pack.

As soon as the rain stopped, car 59 dived into the pits. The majority of the pack opted to stay out and wait for the track to warm up and dry out. Putting on dry tyres early was a risk as low pressures from the cold circuit might have made the car undriveable. However, there was a dry line – putting the gamble of an undercut on the other drivers in the frame.  

Making the dry line work: stopping early for slick tyres paid off as long as you could pick the right path.

A couple of laps of struggling to warm up the tyres gave us a clear track and better placing. The gamble had worked – for now. Battles began against faster backmarkers – who could be aggressive and prone to leaving the circuit, so careful avoidance tactics were necessary, even towards the end. 

Eyes on the road: avoiding the backmarker antics ahead

Elsewhere in the race, first lap spinner Blanco was driving well to climb back up the order. The pink Aston Martin eventually appeared in car 59’s mirrors and overtook the white and green Lamborghini to finish P12.  

Sighting the car ahead: Giles Harding in the orange Aston Martin V8 Vantage would put the Lamborghini under pressure late in the race after being passed at an incident towards the Piratella corner earlier in the race.

Giles Harding of Wales was doing his best to pressure Copper Horse Racing with some bold late braking at the end of Imola’s faster sections. But the driver, who placed top 10 in the wet at both Donington (race #2) and Bathurst Mount Panorama (race #5), couldn’t make any of the moves stick and had to settle for P17 at Imola.  

Fuel Management 

Another concern, aside from the close competition, was how much fuel was left in the tank. Following the change to dry tyres and a switch up to the fastest ECU and throttle map, the rapid increase in consumption was too high to make it to the end. Crew Chief did its best to put on a reassuring voice, but we had to switch to a lower speed map for the second half of the race in order to conserve fuel and save time by avoiding a second pit stop.

Warning sign: there was a bit of fuel drama to contend with in the final phase.

With 8 minutes to go on the clock and 5 minutes excess fuel left in the tank, we were confident to switch to a more aggressive mapping. Regardless, we still had to finish potentially a full lap after the end of the race time once the leader had passed the finish line – so it was going to be close.  

The ‘low fuel pressure’ warning that appeared on the dash added to the tension. But, in the end, car 59 did make it and completed proceedings with a little under 3 litres of fuel to spare, which is probably loads in Formula 1 terms (where teams need to leave an extra litre for sampling), but felt like a close call nonetheless.  

In another exciting race, Copper Horse Racing grabbed its third top 20 finish in a row – a solid 16th place out of the 30 starters. 

One race to go 

Apex Online Racing has served up a great calendar of events and its GT3 series attracts not just aspiring esports racers, but also professionals such as Luke Whitehead who competes in Tier 1. We’d definitely recommend taking part in future seasons if you are tempted to give sim racing a go and willing to put in the practice. 

Next week, the series draws to a close at Silverstone with plenty still to be decided. At the top of the table in Tier 1, Maciej Malinowski and Kevin Siclari are separated by just 15 points. Further down the league in Tier 7, it’s even closer with Ondrej Kuchar just 11 points ahead of Mert Sevinc. But keep looking and you’ll notice that in Tiers 8, 9 and 10 the difference is just 8 points! Can Jake Mills, Manuel Rutter and Dave Bramhall keep their current top spots or will a rival beat them to it? 

We’ll bring you the results next week and you can follow us on Twitter for news on any future racing adventures. Plus, our final race of Season 7 will be streamed live on Twitch (Tuesday 29 June, from 19:30 UK time).  

Talking automotive security

By following the channel you’ll also be able to tune into our upcoming virtual events during Mobile World Congress 2021, with the first in our series of Secure-CAV road trips starting on Monday at 08:30 BST and running through the week. 

Heading to Barcelona in the Secure-CAV truck in Euro Truck Simulator 2: join us on the journey via Twitch as we discuss automotive security during Mobile World Congress (28th June – 1st July, 2021)

About the author 

James Tyrrell is a Threat Modelling Analyst at Copper Horse. 

Race report: Bathurst Mount Panorama, 8 June 2021

Heartbreak avoided as a strong drive by car 59 recovers all but one of the 13 places dropped in first lap chaos on the mountain. 

Changeable weather meant that drivers had to know their setups inside out to make progress at Bathurst Mount Panorama – a 6 km ‘scenic drive’ with no shortage of excitement. Put a foot wrong on the mountain section, which includes a string of tough turns such as ‘The Esses’ and ‘The Dipper’, and it can easily be game over with barriers either side of the track leaving little margin for error. 

Keeping it tight: drivers had to observe close barriers on the mountain section

The YouTube video below illustrates just how bizarre some of the crashes have been at the real-life Bathurst circuit – in this example from 2020, the car (also a GT3 Lamborghini) comes to rest on a fence! 

Lamborghini on the barriers: if you hadn’t seen it, you wouldn’t have believed it

In qualifying, Copper Horse Racing placed a very encouraging P17, before becoming derailed by a slow car rejoining the track towards the end of the session. Back in the pits, we’d prepared a number of race setups as it was forecast to rain. It wasn’t certain as to whether the race would be dry, fully wet or changeable. As it turned out, the race ‘weekend’ gave us heavy rain for the race itself. 

First lap chaos in the wet: car 59 did its best to navigate crashes on the left and right of the track

Within seconds of the lights going green, multiple incidents and cars littered the mountain, leading to an unavoidable crash and damage which sent car 59 tumbling down the order to P30 and forced the strategy into taking a very early pitstop. On the up side, this had the benefit of clearing a stop-go penalty from the previous race imposed by the stewards and also dealt with the mandatory tyre change, meaning that we could stay out for the remainder of the race.  

Voice activated

Many, if not all, of the sim racers taking part are using Crew Chief – an outstanding app that plays dual roles of spotter and race engineer, providing words of wisdom throughout every session. What’s more, the communication is two-way and Crew Chief can be programmed to listen out for instructions – for example, to prepare a set of tyres ahead of a pitstop. 

Battered but not broken: an unavoidable collision on lap one forced an early pitstop for car 59

Voice assistants can be found in real cars too – for example, to program heating or cooling in the cabin, change the volume on the radio, adjust the ambient lighting, set a destination for the Sat-Nav and even to activate a back massage. As well as bespoke offerings, vehicle OEMs are teaming up with tech giants such as Amazon and Apple, integrating ‘Alexa’ and ‘Siri’ into their products. Also, recent versions of Android Auto, which is reportedly available for over 50 different brands of vehicle, feature ‘Google Assistant’. 

But inviting microphones into the cockpit could have its downside. In 2010, researchers at the Universities of Washington and California San Diego pointed out that telematics units in vehicles could provide a path for bad actors to capture audio from the vehicle. In 2020, the paper – which explores a wide range of threats to a modern automobile – was given a ‘Test of time’ award from the IEEE; recognising the momentum that the study has added to the field of automotive cybersecurity. 

As you might have gathered from the first blog post in this series, the rig that’s used to compete in the Apex Online Racing GT3 Season 7 league functions as a vehicle hacking simulator outside of races. The setup can be configured to recreate numerous automotive cyber-attacks, including some of those first mentioned in the 2010 study, and follows from our activities within Secure-CAV

Back on track

At Bathurst, the white Lamborghini  drove a lonely few laps, with a clear track to pull its way back into contention after its early pitstop. The hot stint helped Copper Horse Racing to reel in drivers who were struggling ahead and positions were gained too as competitors took their mandatory single pitstop. 

Lonely laps: the middle section of the race felt like a hot stint

On the last lap of the race, a chance emerged to take 17th place from the car in front after a mistake on the mountain. Coming up to the last corner, as the race ticked out its final seconds, a successful do or die overtake would have restored car 59 to its qualifying position, however it just wasn’t to be. But there were no complaints from the team (or Jim, our vocal engineer in Crew Chief) with the P18 finish – the best race result so far for David Rogers in the series. 

Gotta go for it: Copper Horse Racing was on a mission to recover all of the places lost from the early crash and almost made it back to P17

On the top spot, with their first visit to the podium, was El Tigre Blanco who had shown they could be quick over a lap in qualifying. Dave Bramhall bested his familiar P3 by one to finish second and Scott Ullmann took third. A special mention in the blog also goes to Philippe Riehl of France who gained a monster 19 places to finish P9. 

See you at the next race (Tue 14 Jun, from 19:30 UK time) which takes place over Belgium’s Zolder circuit. And remember you can tune into the fun as we’ll be streaming live on Twitch.  

About the author 

James Tyrrell is a Threat Modelling Analyst at Copper Horse.