07 April 2009

Racing 101

January 110, ISGC Season 4
University of Caille, Campus Odotte
Racing 101

Lesson #12: Waypoint approach

The class murmured in the darkened auditorium as the holo of last race danced over the two of us down at the center.

"So the problem is getting close to the waypoint in a reasonably short time. As you see in replay, she overshot by fifteen clicks on the first pass, then seven on the way back, then four... how do you call that move, Quin?" Gina asked with a straight face.

"The yo-yo."

"Yes, the yo-yo," she almost smiled, "I wonder why. Would anyone please tell me why the yo-yo is bad?"

The Racing 101 course was unusual in the sense that we had a mixed class: half of the attendance were engineering, mostly guys from UC Astronautics, plus a smattering of our people from UC Business and those taking 101 as optional credit. The main tech lecture was done by Juvaan Vesper; if you don't know who Doctor Vesper is, good for you. For those of us who do, he's that guy everyone will step out of the way for, just to avoid getting caught forever in a conversation. Everybody calls him Lags. On the up side, you really learn to be a good listener with him.

Anyhow, he did the theory. Gina, Brax and I, we did the practical class as instructors. We had this great show going, where two of us would take Lags' lesson of the day and dissect it from two different angles. It took hours to prepare but it was a well worth it.

The class murmured, uneasy. Right then, some probably knew the answer but were not willing to raise their hand.

I took the open question. "Because not only you look silly but also technically, it sucks. I think it took me fifteen seconds to get to that waypoint after approach. Wasted time!" I looked back at Gina.

She took the cue, "If we could save Quin fifteen seconds on every waypoint, it adds up to three minutes over the race, so the challenge is to find ways to have the ship stay a click and a half from the can on the very first pass. Ideas, anyone?"

A hand went up timidly.

"Uh, what about turning off the microwarpdrive before hitting the can? You should go slow enough to be manageable."

Gina and I looked at each other. That question was definitely for me.

I explained, "I would say that's good, in theory, but MWDs are tricky; you can't just turn them off, you have to wait until they cycle out."

Gina Ducasse, ship designer, architect and artist, would come up with the craziest ideas to fit and fly. She is this smart, serene girl whose eye will twinkle at the mention of tinkering with something and making it better.

She's our Geek Fairy.

"A MWD has a cycle time of 10 seconds," Gina continued my idea, "so I would say it is a matter of luck, rather than skill to do it that way." She had turned to the desk meanwhile and was fiddling with the holo, which was then cycling repetition after repetition of waypoint approaches turning off the MWD: overshoot, overshoot, right on mark, overshoot, overshoot, short, overshoot... I think they got the idea.

"Yah, so don't do that, ever, or we'll flunk you!" Some laughter in the class.

Another hand went up "What about using a cloaking device?"

Gina beat me to answer that one. "As a braking device? It would have the same problem. Cloak or no cloak, you would wait on your luck until MWD cycles off."

"We tried that," I added, "and found that can't brake that way when you are overtaking someone close, or navigating close to asteroids, or in a gas cloud, or close to anything..."

"... so think of it, do you really want your brakes disabled if you are two clicks from anything?" my friend mused.

"But hey, please keep those ideas coming. We would like to be creative here, there is no such thing as a stupid idea!"

Gina rolled her eyes, smiling. She actually knew how many stupid ideas we had tried during the season and exactly how stupid they had been. But that was our strength, the secret weapon of Scuderia Caille: being creative. We would take ideas dismissed by others as silly, ineffective or hopeless, turn those onto their heads and into cool racing moves. Sometimes, winning moves.

"For example," she said, "how about bumping the can itself?"


She explained "You are flying a frigate with hundreds of shield points, so you approach the can at top speed..."

"... you close your eyes..." I interjected, to some more laughter.

"... and just don't brake. It's a kinetic hit, your shields can take it and... you stop right on spot!"

The holo obliged, showing different takes of the bump-brake: good approach, good approach, good approach. You could hear the oooohs and ahhhhs in the crowd.

"Of course people said it was stupid before we started doing it, but we showed them how it works and then we won Season 3. We don't bump cans anymore because of the risk of crew injuries, by the way."

OK, so it was sort of stupid. But it was a winning move while it lasted.

Three hands went up. I pointed to the one with the Lumi hairdo.

"So in the end, what is the best way to approach the can?"

"The best we have found so far is manual approach. As soon as you drop from warp you set a 500 metres orbit on the waypoint and then turn MWD on. When you are at your braking distance -which varies from ship to ship- you slow down to 1 km/s and, if timed right, you will just slide into orbit while the rest of the racers," Gina paused, "yo-yo around you."

"For example in an interceptor coming in at 9 per second, you brake at 25 clicks; if doing 13 per second, you brake at 60."

"But what if you do not have 60km? What if you landed closer to the can?"

"Then you may need to use your judgement. You can always go slower than full speed..."

The class was starting to flow...

Gina asked "now, what would be the optimal orbit for waypoint approach?"

"And remember, after-race tickets for good stuff we can use," I offered.

Fifty hands went up in the air.


  1. Good stuff! The braking technique has application outside racing, too.

  2. Great post! Makes me wish I'd gone to U. Caille. You have racing lectures! ;)

  3. Great stuff Quintrala.

  4. @Mynxee, thanks! I would like to know... wait, do I want to know? ;)

    @Kay, UC rules, haha. Although I think if you had gone there, you would have done the lecture and I the questions.

    @Cain, thank you!