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  • Russell Soto

2021 So Far: Hustling for Funding, Lots of Learning and Virtual Victories

Hello everyone! I apologize that you haven't from me in a while, but work and school have been challenging, and so is the business of finding time.

Time really can be your enemy, and not only at the stopwatch. This summer I've been working as a Pre-Calc teaching assistant for Rutgers University, which has been a great experience. I've also dabbled in supporting a karting team on the coaching/wrenching side as well as keeping myself busy in trying to continue my driving career.

Formula Vee has been something we had prepared for in the off season, but we were unable to come to a workable financial agreement with the outfit we were renting from. A Formula 4 test was also on the horizon, but that too fell victim to lack of funds. In this sport, to even step into a racing car or even a racing kart takes a decent amount of cash, and to compete requires a fairly solid budget. In light of this, we've decided to approach this year differently.

The focus right now is to test and train with some of the different racing schools that offer opportunities for free lapping and working on the finer points of driving. This summer I was at the wheel of a Roush-prepared, 325hp Mustang GT at the legendary Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.

Exiting West Bend at Lime Rock Park - lots of power, lots of weight

With me was Skip Barber lead instructor Ken Fukuda, and experienced GT/Formula car driver and instructor, who knows his way around some of the world's most famous tracks. Seeing as Lime Rock is often called a "mini-Nurburgring," I knew I couldn't go wrong having him on my right seat for a sunny morning of lapping.

Mustang GT front office - Very different from a formula car

Every driver learns something with every single lap at the wheel. In my case, with opportunities so scarce, it was great to have an instructor like Ken, who allowed me to maximize my time and make leaps and bounds in shaving tenths and seconds. It was great to be back at the controls of a manual transmission car, and to work out some rusty heel and toe action.

Debriefing with Ken - There's a reason why racing drivers always wear caps: Helmet Hair!

If you remember from a previous blog entry, I drove a Ferrari 458 Challenge Evoluzione car at Modena, Italy - that car was lighter, more powerful and had a sequential, paddle-shift transmission. That car honestly was not that different from a formula car. However, a GT car like this Mustang is a very different beast.

The business end of a Skip Barber Roush Mustang - 325HP 4.6L V8, ROUSH Performance Suspension and Handling Package, and a lot more metal than I'm used to throwing around a racetrack.

The Mustang is not as powerful as that Ferrari, for sure, but the tires are not as grippy and the suspension tends to throw its considerable weight much more. Weight transfer is one of the biggest factors that a GT driver must contend with, and be able to manipulate and use to their advantage.

At full chat, down the Sam Posey straight

There is no substitute for seat time. Every lap resulted in ever smoother, more confident and efficient driving that translated into faster lap times. Under Ken's watchful eye - and aided by the nature of the track - we were able to keep up with even more powerful machinery as I was able to take that Mustang right up to the limit. All credit to my instructor for the day Ken Fukuda, and the rest of the staff at Skip Barber for a memorable day of lapping, and for helping me unlock and hone some GT racing skills.

Leading a pack of angry ponies into The Esses. The satisfaction of rotating a GT car through these corners is on an entirely different level.

Lime Rock is a legendary track that is featured in some of the most popular racing simulations like iRacing. Because of the pandemic, the popularity of sim racing has skyrocketed, offering another avenue of opportunity to compete with both virtual and real-life drivers from around the world in just about any kind of car at some of the most iconic tracks, recreated in astounding, accurate detail. You might recall I've had tremendous success racing this way for charity, and I intend to enter this arena with both feet.

Simulated victory, but very real cash raised for St. Jude Children's Hospital

Technologies like force-feedback, realistic hydraulic and pneumatic pedals and ever more faithful and accurate software allows drivers to work continue to work on their skills even if they don't have access to a real-world ride. Obviously, things like g-forces and feeling movement from chassis and tires are absent, but otherwise there is little difference in what you do. To this end, I've built the best sim racing gig I can - more on this in an upcoming video blog, available in this space.

The Russell Soto Racing sim racing set up. Coming along nicely...

In addition to this we're working on creating a new Twitch channel, where you can follow my virtual racing live. We're currently working out some bandwidth issues and ironing out some details, but stay tuned as I'll make an announcement on this soon!

Approaching Maggots/Becketts/Chapel complex at a virtual Silverstone - coming to a Twitch channel near you!

Next time, I will share my experiences from upcoming real-life seat time with single seaters, including a day with a Formula 4 car, as well as what plans we may have for the fall and the off season - which will be spent figuring out how to raise funds to keep me at the wheel. Until then, thank you for reading and for your support!

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