BMW Factory Driver John Edwards Finally Bought (and Now Needs to Build) a Racing Simulator

Have you ever built something from metal with your hands while wearing a Rolex? BMW factory driver John Edwards might be doing just that. He won the Rolex after he and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Team took the 24 car to class victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Edwards quite likes his and often wears it around the house, even when doing everyday tasks.

“I love wearing it so much that my wife makes fun of me,” Edwards said, “because I’ll wear it around the house, washing dishes.”

If you wash dishes with it, why not wear it while building a simulator?

Edwards is in the middle of building a racing simulator because he can’t get behind the wheel of a real car for a while. The next IMSA race isn’t scheduled until Detroit on May 30, and GTLM doesn’t race there. Edwards is looking at the end of June at the six-hour race at Watkins Glen. He needs a way to stay fit and sharp. He wanted to get a sim anyway but kept delaying the roughly $10,000 investment. This was the nudge he needed.

Edwards and I got on the phone for a socially distant chat and he brought a lot of insight to how a professional race car driver copes with the new world reality. He also provided some fascinating detail regarding his mindset in the closing hours of his last major race.

Autoweek: Was your last major race the 24 Hours of Daytona?

John Edwards: Yes, it was my last race of any kind. We did have some testing at Sebring after that to get ready for the 12 Hour, which is now not going to happen until November. But, yeah, it was the last race I competed in. It looks like we’re going to be Championship leaders for about half a year now, but unfortunately, they don’t give extra points for leading each month.

AW: Maybe we should talk to IMSA about that?

JE: I don’t see us convincing anyone, but I’m happy at least to keep wearing the watch and celebrate for a little longer.

AW: Well the watch is yours for life, at least. And that’s cool, though. Your last racing experience was a win! That’s a nice thing to be sitting on, even though it isn’t worth extra points.

JE: It’s obviously great to have that memory, especially having the watch to remember the victory. That something every driver dreams of, winning the Rolex Daytona. I told myself I would never buy a Rolex until I won one. At least I’ve got that checked off now. And it’s a beautiful watch. It’s good to have a long break on a high note instead of lamenting Daytona as I’ve had to do so many years in the past.

AW: It does seem like there’s more peace of mind with the fact that you have a strong race car, right? The car seems to handle well and have real muscle.

JE: Absolutely. We’ve had good cars in the past, at Daytona, but then run into problems. Or we had years where the car wasn’t great but ran flawlessly. It seemed like we could never get all the pieces together. And then this year that happened.

And the last, I would say five hours of the race, I was in the car for two or two-and-a-half hours. And then [teammate] Jesse [Krohn] was in the car for two hours and I probably lost at least a few years off my life because it was a very stressful race. I got out of the car after that stint exhausted. Daytona’s not the most physical place, but the battle we were in with the Porsches was so intense that we couldn’t afford to sacrifice anything. We were back and forth with them multiple times in that run.

I took the lead on the restart when I first got in the car. And then started to pull a gap. And I thought in that point in the race, you’re looking at five hours to go, there was the chance that could’ve been the move. Half way through that stint, the tires started to go off and the Porsche got back by. Maybe that was the move. Every moment felt like the race defining moment in that last five hours because you never know what is going to happen.

We made the call to switch to medium [grip] tires because the Porsche was able to deal with the soft [tires] over the whole stint a little better. We could switch them on quickly and get them to work well for half the stint, but our soft [tires] would go off after that. We switched to mediums and we had a really hard time to bring them in [get them to operating temperature]. Leaving the pit lane where they have that tight corner was really sketchy because the tires were so cold.

It took a few laps for the performance to come in and then we basically kept pace with the Porsche and caught up and passed them at the end of the stint, which was crucial because we needed to know we could run a stint pace more quickly [than the Porsche]. We can’t just be quicker over one lap in the beginning. That’s really what made the race or us.

If the race had finished at night, it would’ve been a tougher race for us, against the Porsche. We seem stronger in warmer weather. Fortunately, the 24 hours of Daytona finishes in the afternoon. That’s one of our concerns going into Sebring. Looking at November weather can be different than March. Who know what it will be in November. Those night finishes for us are going to be the question. We’ve got new tires this year from Michelin. We’re all still trying to figure them out. And figuring out where our cars are strong between the brands.

AW: You had a great start to the year. Then one thing leads to another and we’re in this situation. How are you staying fit and sharp?

JE: As a race car driver, we travel a lot. I’m definitely good at relaxing at home and resetting and recharging. But after being home a couple of weeks, I’m definitely ready to travel and go to the next race. It’s been a challenge to change my routine and focus on staying home. Last week my wife stared working from home, too. And while she’s working from home, I did research and ordered parts for a new simulator.

It’s been a good excuse for me to get back on a sim. I used to do it with a basic Logitech wheel and some okay pedals. But now I’m getting together a proper simulator with the real direct drive steering base, nice wheels, nice pedals, the curved screen and everything. This way I have no excuses when I go race. It’s a good excuse to get that started. Right now, I’m still putting it together. Hopefully, by next week I’ll have it up and running. That way, when my wife goes to work, I can go upstairs and work from home as well.

AW: When you say proper simulator, does that include hydraulic actuators to imitate the motions of the car?

JE: No. It’s a fixed stand. I’ve driven some more advanced sims that wouldn’t be practical to put in a home. I’ve been lucky to try those really advanced ones that manufacturers use, it’s really impressive. But I think if you try to downgrade it to something you can put in your house and still have motion, you’re now talking about getting 70-80 percent of reality. And that, almost, to me, messes you up more than having a good static sim.

When it’s static, you know the physics that should be happening. I think you either need a million-dollar sim that gets 99 percent realistic motion. Or you need a static sim, which is maybe 60 percent realistic. It doesn’t have motion but has all the good feeling through the pedals and wheel so that you know the feedback of bumps and curbs and things like that. But, to me, if you get motion just to have motion typically stuff that’s made for home doesn’t really give you the feeling like you’re in the car. And that will actually make you go slower on the sim.

AW: Are you going to use iRacing?

JE: Yeah, iRacing is the most realistic and the one everybody’s on. I’ve had iRacing in the past when I didn’t have all the gear, so I’m familiar with it. It’s definitely the most realistic. And it’s what most of the guys are using.

AW: When you say “the guys” do you mean IMSA competitors? Other BMW drivers?

JE: Everybody. BMW guys. All the IMSA guys. It’s just the go-to software. It’s the only one you can really qualify as a simulation software. There’re some others that try to make some cool games and stuff, but it’s more gaming than simulation.

AW: Do you feel like it’s a good enough to at least keep you sharp?

JE: I’ve been wanting to get a proper sim. I knew I didn’t want to race simulators with my plastic steering wheel without a proper direct drive unit and real pedals. But I had been hesitant to spend the money on getting a real one put together and also spending the time to get up to speed with my teammates and everybody because it is a big adaptation to get used to driving it without the g-forces and feeling like you’re in real life.

I hadn’t quite committed to investing that time because I was used to traveling and driving at bare minimum once a month. In the summer it’s almost every week. I hadn’t really been ready to commit all that time on the sim on the three days home per week between trips. But now that we’re home for the foreseeable future, I’m definitely ready to spend a lot more hours on the sim and get up to speed and get an understanding because I do think it’s valuable.

AW: Does this current situation affect your fitness routine?

JE: It absolutely has. I usually do cardio on my own, either cycling or running outside. And then I do two to three days a week at Podium Performance Fitness, in Cornelius, North Carolina (outside of Charlotte). They’re racing-specific personal trainers. It’s all one-on-one. It’s not a typical gym. We go in there and do some cardio mixed in for circuits to get the heart rate up and then stress you and other stuff. Obviously, we’ve had to change that.

They’re getting online programs together for us to do at home. We do a lot of stress breathing exercises: four counts in, hold for four, four counts out, hold for four, while your heart rate is up. As well as doing some mental work.

AW: Can you describe stress breathing? What’s the purpose?

JE: It’s focusing on diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing through your stomach instead of your chest. Opening up your diaphragm, which is more efficient. This is why I go to a place that is race specific. They understand the stresses we go through in the car. If you think about your heart rate at the end of a two-and-a-half-hour stint in a hot environment, it may be 175 beats a minute. And you’re dealing with the g forces and the seatbelts are holding you down in the car and you have a lot of mental stress.

Trying to train for that is very challenging. Even when I go cycling, I’m working my heart, my rate is up. But it’s purely from a muscular stand point. I’m not stressed out. This [on the other hand] combines the mental stress as well as the weight on your chest. We’ll do some workouts with heavy medicine balls on our chest as we do some core exercises. Focus on how you breathe through that and make sure your diaphragm is opening instead of breathing through your chest and getting less efficient oxygen delivery.

Another good example is doing a plank with a breath cycle. Your heart rate is up to make it more challenging. You get down in a plank and breath in for four seconds and hold that for four seconds, breathe out and hold that for four seconds. And when you’re at the bottom, holding for four seconds, not letting yourself breath in, while your heart rate is breathing at 150-160 beats a minute, it’s really challenging. Your body is screaming. It thinks it’s never going to get air again. It’s stressing that system and teaching your body how to adapt to that.

That’s the type of training we typically do. Now, being under quarantine, it’s just trying to find a way to adapt and do it in the house.

AW: Keeping up with the cardio is easy enough, though?

JE: Yeah, fortunately we live in a neighborhood that’s pretty easy to stay safely distant on a run outside. That’s pretty easy. But I have to deal with the fact that I don’t have a home gym. I’m trying to figure out how to do some pretty basic stuff at home, with breath cycles, planks, burpees, things like that.

AW: What is the hardest part of being quarantined at home for you?

JE: The biggest part is my sim is not built yet. I’m trying to get that done as quickly as possible, so I have the ability to keep driving. I’m spoiled as a factory driver, they use me plenty for testing and for other races. I normally get to drive quite a bit. Not driving is a pretty odd thing for me. On the flip side, it’s been nice to have my wife home, working from home.

AW: Any unexpected silver linings?

JE: Sim racing is something I wanted to get involved in, but something I wasn’t ready to make the financial and time commitment to, while I was also traveling and racing. Now that’s put on hold, I’ve got time to invest in hours in sim racing to get up to speed. Now I’ve got that time and I’m planning to use it.

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