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.