Having done a few online events during lockdown, and seeing as they are becoming quite popular, I thought I'd try to help out those of you relatively new to Dirt 2.0 on how to "git gud" at online championships in Dirt Rally 2.0 from Codemasters. The following focuses really on online, championship play rather than the single-player career mode that the game also has... but some of it will still be relevant no matter how you play the game. And, just to be clear, I am *not* that amazing at Dirt Rally 2.0! I'm "above average' at the most, but I'm not setting the world alight, so take it as intended... I know I've progressed over the time I've played it, and it's that progression I can talk about, but I'm not purporting to be the quickest person out there!
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first - probably the one key contribution you can make that will get you faster is, unfortunately, to just play the game lots. And lots. If you think the pro racers are relying on those pacenotes then you're sorely mistaken; when you get to the point where you know a stage without having to really listen all that much (maybe just as a reminder for a few of the key corners) then you're getting there. I'm up to 100 hours of playtime and I am still way off the front runners by a ridiculous margin - almost to the point I've given up trying to get that good, because we're not talking a few seconds here or there, we're talking tens of seconds per stage... so much so that I just cannot figure out how on earth they do it!
Start/join the online event and before you do anything, write down the lineup up stages, the weather and road conditions of each one, and the points where you get a service. Then exit back to the main menu before even starting the event - don't worry, you can come back into it and start properly later.
Now that you've got all the details of the event you can build up your own solo championship in the Custom Event that matches the online competition identically, then you can go and recce the stages as many times as you like (while you have the time, at least). Keep restarting a stage until you clear it without any issues and you feel you're at a point your comfortable with in terms of getting through it quickly but safely.
In the online games, you can safely come out to the menu at any service, so if you want to you can recce all the stages between services, then come out of your solo game, go do the online round up to the next service, then come back out and offline recce the next group of stages safely.
This approach lets you get the stages fresh in your mind before each event, essentially giving you free practises without needing any stage restart functionality (which most online events will not allow you to do anyway). Sounds like cheating? How certain are you that others aren't doing it anyway?! Give yourself every chance - "play the game". Eventually you'll learn stages well enough that you'll feel you won't need to.
Generally, all assists will ultimately make you slower if you use them, but in the early days if you feel you need them as a safety blanket then use them. My advice would be, learn from the start without them, that way you don't need to retrain your brain later when you turn them off. Certainly the key ones to not rely on are Anti-Lock Brakes, Automatic Braking, Launch Control, Stability Control and Traction Control. These will ultimately neuter you from putting down the most power or getting the car turned into a corner, and you're best learning the dynamics of a car without these if you can.
Clutch Override might be essential if you're not playing on a full wheel setup with a dedicated clutch pedal. Likewise automatic wipers and automatic braking into time controls is no bad thing.
Exterior cameras is down to personal taste; personally, I have always driven simulators in the way they're intended (ie. internal view) and I simply cannot drive with external views at all. External views do allow you to 'cheat' a little though, because they give you a higher-up view of the road ahead, so if you feel more comfortable playing with those views, then go for it (console players are probably more used to this playstyle). Just be aware that some online events can restrict the game to in-car views only to combat the above 'cheat' point, so you may be excluded from certain competitions unless you choose the in-car view. If nothing else, the in-car view is far more immersive anyway.
One final point - a lot of people tell you to turn off the visual pacenote cues. I disagree. In the real world if you miss a driver call, you can ask him to repeat it - but you can't do that sitting in front of your PC with virtual Phil rattling on at you.... and, particularly while you're learning this game, you may sometimes need to double-check what Phil has just called. The on-screen pacenotes gives you a quick mechanism to check what you think you just heard. Eventually you'll get to the point where you don't need them and you'll know stages like the back of your hand anyway - at which point turn them off.
Learn what car setup does
I see a lot of people on the internet asking for setups for their cars and most of the time people say "Just use this one from <insert website/youtube channel here>".
My issue with this is that it doesn't tell you what's changing and *why*, and your driving style might not best suit the setup that you download. There is no magical "one setup for everyone", particularly around how it handles. It's far better to learn what all of the parameters in the car setup pages MEAN, and what the basic implications are of changing each of them. You can then learn to setup cars how YOU need them to drive - for example, making them turn in quicker, making the back end slide less. The game does give you descriptions but generally some are more effective than others. This is a whole topic by itself so I'm going to do a separate post related to car setup.
Keeping your hands on the wheel is obviously a bonus so if you have a fixed paddle setup like on the Thrustmaster T500 RS wheel, that's great for rally-style games. Paddles that move with the wheel are not quite so great as it can be hard to find the right paddle if you've crossed up the wheel more than 180 degrees (the up paddle is now where the down paddle is, and vice versa!). Next best setup would be a sequential gear lever shifter mounted next to the wheel allowing you to click up and down the gears.
An H-pattern shifter isn't mandatory but if you want the full immersive experience in some of the cars fitted with conventional gearboxes, it is a lot of fun (and in some cases, you can actually shift quicker using it).
If you've got a dedicated clutch pedal then there are valid reasons to use it. For manual gearchange cars, if you have the game do the shifting for you, it's not always that quick - I found some cars do a very slow shift and that you can shift manually with an H-pattern and proper clutch way quicker than the game will do for you. Obviously it's a lot more work and hand/foot co-ordination that you need to do, so I'd put it up at one of the more advanced skills to learn (it's relatively high effort for small reward).
The more useful purpose of the clutch is to perform a technique known as "kicking", where you kick the clutch pedal quickly to briefly disconnect the drivetrain, let the engine pick up revs, then reconnect the drivetrain abruptly. This can be used when the engine is bogging down, or coming out of tight corners where you need to pick the engine speed up and induce wheelspin to get the car sideways. If you find yourself coming out of a slow 1st/2nd gear corner and you've let the car bog down out of the power band, give the clutch kick a try...
Another useful purpose for the clutch is to stabilise an out-of-control car, particularly the rear wheel drive cars. If you're on a big power slide and you're not going to catch it with just throttle lifting, then getting the clutch in quickly can save the car from the slide, returning it to a fairly neutral behaviour quickly. It's a "get out of jail" card, should you need it.
Left foot braking is something you really want to pick up in order to help tidy your lines and help turn and adjust the cars line mid-corner. By applying a small amount of brake while still on the throttle, you can tighten your line; the car will turn in more. Think of it as a tiny bit of handbrake. To do this with your right foot would mean taking it off the gas and moving it over to the brake pedal - which takes time, but also means you're backing off the power and losing momentum. Far better to keep on the gas and just tickle the brake pedal, and you'll find the car turns in a little more. Give it a try on some long, sweeping, open bends. It's great for bends that tighten up on you. Don't stamp on it; you don't want so much brake that you overpower the engine and lock the front wheels up. It's a technique to help drag the back end while keeping the car driving under power.
Heel-and-toe isn't something that's really needed in the game; I find the driving model is quite forgiving in terms of snapping up the clutch on low-grip surfaces without rev matching. I tend to do it out of habit but the couple of times I've forced myself to just bang a car down through the gears, it doesn't seem to make much (if any) difference.
The pacenotes aren't always right
You'll get to learn that there are a few calls in the whole game that are a bit... errm... shall we say "questionable"?! Or "inconsistent" is probably a more fair term. You get into a rhythm with the notes on a stage, and you start getting the measure of what exactly a '4' or a '5' looks like... then Phil calls a blind crest into a 5 right and it's nothing like it; a 3 or 4 at best. Unfortunately there's nothing you can really do about this other than learning from memory where they are. Likewise there are lots of corners called quite slow as 2's or 3's that realistically you can take flat out, on the gas, provided you commit. Some are called a bit late, and there's even a bug in my PC version where he doesn't call one corner on Germany at all!
As said above - it's all about the practice and learning the stages off by heart. Unfortunately there's no shortcutting that aspect - the more time you have to throw at the game, the better you'll get.
Get Away with What You Can
Even if you've got a manual H-pattern shifter, some cars shift quickly in manual mode even when using paddles... so, if the game lets you, do it. Why battle with a clutch and H-pattern shifter if the game will let you use flappy paddles and automatic clutch to do it for you? You can keep your hands on the wheel more and there's less work to be done with your footsies, so if there's no performance penalty to it, why make it harder on yourself?
Like I said above, it depends on the car, some manual cars seem to have an artificial 'delay' introduced in their shift if you go this route while others don't. Trial the car first in full manual mode, and then with sequential shifting. If the gears clack up and down instantly in sequential mode, use that! In my mind, I'd like the game to have a 'hardcore' mode where competitions can be set up where people have to play the game with the cars shifting exactly the way they should - that would sort the wheat from the chaff - but until Codemasters do something like that, you might as well take every advantage you can get.
Sample the Cars; Pick the Best
In the early days you'll probably pick cars based on how cool you think they are, or the fact that they were your favourite back in the day. But the truth is the dynamics of the cars are different and some of them are just plain crap in their class. At a basic level, look at the power in combination with the weight of the car - the more power and/or less weight the car has, the quicker it's going to be, and 9 times out of 10 that's going to be the main reason to take it over the others in it's class. There may be other deciding factors of course - drivetrain (some might be lighter but may only be 2 wheel drive, for example, making them potentially more of a handful) or gearbox setup (number of gears and whether it's sequential or H-pattern shifting). Ultimately take the time to try each one (the time trial feature is great for this) and find out which one you're quicker in. Don't dismiss a car without first trying to tune it, particularly if you don't like the way it handles - often this can be dialled out.
Soft tyres should do pretty much 15-20km of stages without issue so unless you're doing some pretty long events without services, you will often find yourself just choosing them. Obviously for wet tarmac and snow stages, your choice will always be for the winter/wet tyres. The problem comes when you have a mix of stages that are dry and wet. For tarmac, always choose the wet tyres, even if you have to use them on a dry stage first. In the real world, running full wets on tarmac anything less than standing water will destroy them in a matter of miles but thankfully in this game it doesn't model them quite that bad... and the opposite plan (going out onto wet stages with dry tyres) is borderline suicidal!
Heavy, coarse gravel stages like Argentina tend to wear tyres a little more so if you've got a long stint of stages approach 15km or more, you might want to err on the side of caution and go with mediums.
Hard compound tyres I have never had to use once at all.
The time trial feature is great for practising a stage but also allows you to measure your performance against repeated runs using the ghost car feature. This really helps you get a feel for which car is quicker in a given class. What I do is find a suitably short stage to 'session' (repeatedly run it over and over in a short space of time), pick one car, and do a steady and safe run from start to finish. Don't push straight away because you'll just end up resetting so much, the idea is to learn the entire stage and get it built up in your memory. Build up your pace over maybe 5 or 6 runs, aiming to be going as quick as you feel you can on the 6th run. Then if you want to try other cars, switch to them and repeat the process, comparing the car performance using the ghost car. If you find a car that's clearly way, way slower in every regard then just discount it there and then and move to the next. Find out which car you're quickest in and stick with that. Bear in mind the point I made above - handling is something we can work on in car setup, so if you find a car that's fast in a straight line but it hard work in the corners, don't give up on it - a bit of tuning might make it a different car in the corners. Straight-line pace, there's nothing we can really do about that (there's only so much that gearing will do) so if you find a car that's great in the corners but shit slow in a straight line, chances are it might not be that competitive.... that's a generalism obviously. Take the Citroen C4 and Skoda Fabia in the Turbo 2000 class - the Skoda is noticeably quicker to turn into bends and you can really hustle it around the twisties compared to the C4 which has a general tendency to understeer - however the power of the Citroen just outdrags the Skoda on pretty much every straight you come to, making it a clear choice 90% of the time (particularly on tarmac).
Go Slow to Go Fast
One thing you'll learn once you do a few online races - those moments of f**king up cost you big time. If you can keep a consistent pace, push to 9/10ths but keep the thing tidy and on the road, you'll generally do better than trying to go balls-to-the-wall for the entire stage and spending half of it dragging yourself back out of ditches. One puncture, one car recovery, one spin is all it takes to remove you from the running for lead spot. As you practise over time you'll get quicker, and you'll start to learn the stages off the heart and the pace will just come naturally. Some times you need to learn to reign it in a little - spot when you're pushing beyond your limits and tweak it down a notch. You might just surprise yourself; if you keep consistent and pressure your opponents into making mistakes, THEY could be the ones who end up losing time to mistakes.
Most of the stages in a country are based on repeated sections of one larger stage, so if you want to learn a country, you can focus on doing only a few of the (longer) stages and you'll automatically be doing some of the short stages as a part of it. For example, take Germany. 'Waldaufstieg' and 'Kreuzungsring' are basically 'Oberstein' split into 2. Likewise 'Kreuzungsring Reverse' and 'Waldabstieg' are sewn together to make 'Frauenberg' - and that's just Oberstein run the other way! The same applies for the other stages so, in effect, if you want to learn Germany you only really need to session 4 stages - 'Oberstein', 'Frauenberg', 'Hammerstein' and 'Ruschberg' to get a feel for all of it.
Controllers & VR
A quick note on controllers - a decent steering wheel and pedals setup is night and day difference over a cheap £30 jobbie off Amazon so decide what you feel is an appropriate amount to spend, but if you want to take it seriously then investing in a decent setup will make a difference. The steering wheels are more accurate and rigid, so you get a better direct feel of how to place the car, and the force feedback on quality wheels can really help you feel what the car is doing in terms of grip and where the limit is. Other than taking my word for it, try some out - look at going to a gaming expo where you can sit down and try some sims, and make a note of the wheel setup they are using. Speak to the guys running the simulators/stand and ask them about their experiences with the kit they use, particularly in terms of reliability.
In terms of Virtual Reality, personally I think it's a bit of a game changer. I find because of the depth perception I can really position the car well into corners, particularly tight 90's and hairpins where it just becomes a natural process of chucking the car in on the handbrake and getting on the throttle, and being able to put the nose across the apex of a corner easier. Now, naturally, VR isn't for everyone and you'll need a fairly high-end graphics card to run Dirt 2.0 in VR (a GTX 1070Ti will run it with low/medium settings on an HTC Vive or Oculus; I'm currently running an RTX3070 on a Valve Index on pretty much full detail bar a couple of things I turn down just to keep the frame rate up)... but if you're seriously into your driving simulators, it's something worth trying out to see if you get on with it. I wouldn't play any other way now.