Pro racing simulators have come a long way from their humble beginnings.Nowadays, they have a cult following all over the world. And even though many think of them as just games, racing simulators are being used by professional drivers to help achieve very real victories.
In fact, several racers have gone from exclusively playing simulators to becoming world stars in car racing. In the same way simulator time is an invaluable tool to help pilots learn to fly planes; pro racing simulators are helping train future and current racing professionals.
What It Boils Down To
Many people think that creating a simulation of something has to be as close to the original experience as possible. But for professional racers, that’s not exactly true. The simulation doesn’t have to faithfully recreate the experience of driving, it just needs to be close enough to be useful.
That may seem like a paltry distinction, but it’s what really makes it possible to benefit from these simulators. In reality, all you need from a simulator is a replication of the action-reaction sequence that you’d perform in real life.
One of the best simulated racing stars, Glenn McGee, who went on to become a successful real-life driver for Mazda, found that the same instincts he had developed in the simulator served him in real life. Tellingly, Mazda actually recruited Glenn through a simulated international championship.
Surely professional racers should train in conditions as close to the real thing as possible, right? After all, they’re professionals.
That’s absolutely true, and the vast majority of professional racers would rather practice in a real car than a simulation. But there’s a catch – unsurprisingly, driving race cars is an expensive endeavour.
First, there’s the cost of the wheels, some of which are limited to small production runs. Then there’s the fuel and replacement parts when something breaks, and even track fees. It all makes a huge dent in a team’s budget.
Simulators, on the other hand, offer a one-time price of installation and can be used ad infinitum to get practise. That doesn’t make them cheap (in fact, top-end pro racing simulators costs tens of thousands of pounds) but they’re certainly more affordable than real-life racing.
Moreover, any time a driver gets on a track there’s potential for disaster. The worst that could happen in a racing simulator is a sore tailbone.
Simulating All The Right Things
With the recent mainstream adoption of VR headsets, racing simulators instantly became much more realistic. Most new simulators are being made with VR headsets in mind and older ones are being retrofitted to accommodate them.
Racing simulators are increasingly being designed with real-world experience in mind. Even hobbyists can get the experience of driving on a circuit that they’d recognize if they visited it in real life. The top simulator designers use laser-scanning technology to match the original tracks’ surfaces, colors, and topology perfectly.
The tactile feedback technology on the steering wheels and pedals is simulated faithfully as well. Racing wheels use motors to provide force feedback that matches what a driver would feel in the real world. And pedals with hydraulic feedback mechanisms produce the same resistance that the driver can expect from a real car.
What Do They Really Train?
Despite their setbacks, pro racing simulators offer a great opportunity for racers to train on different circuits. Gaining experience on a new circuit is paramount because even if the car stays the same, you’ll be racing on a completely new circuit next week.
Another factor that doesn’t get too much attention is how much sheer concentration it takes to drive a racecar. That’s the biggest advantage of simulators. They allow for hours and hours of practice whilst maintaining a concentrated state. This mental acuity is the biggest benefit that simulators provide for professional drivers.
Drive Like A Pro
Anyone in the racing world will tell you that simulators are the future of racing. The opportunity to practisecertain aspects in a much more affordable environment is very attractive. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if more racing teams started looking to simulation driving champions in their recruitment efforts very soon.