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Episode 5

“Virtually A Racing Driver”

Millions of racers live out their dreams without even leaving their bedrooms. Surely that’s easier than this whole #RacingGrind?

Sim racing has very quickly become a global phenomenon. For millions of people like myself, who have an intense love of racing although don’t (yet) have the budget to warrant getting behind the wheel for real, racing virtually has become a hugely popular pastime. The draws are understandable, too. After all, when else would you have the opportunity to experience the fastest cars on the planet around any track of your choice, whenever you want? With sim racing, the world is literally at your fingertips.

Alongside the lure of following in the tyre-tracks of motorsport legends, people have managed to secure extremely high profile, lucrative careers as a result of gaming. Examples include British gamers Jann Mardenborough, who secured a Nissan factory race seat after winning the Gran Turismo-based GT Academy in 2011, and James Baldwin, who has won an Aston Martin GT3 drive in this year’s GT World Challenge Europe after winning the World’s Fastest Gamer competition in late 2019.

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There is also a plethora of gamers who are making a living exclusively online. Esports events organised using games such as Gran Turismo and iRacing offer prizes worth tens of thousands of US Dollars to the victors of their competitions, and the Formula 1 game boasts an impressive Esports structure, featuring pairs of contestants backed by all 10 of the Formula 1 constructors.

Should I, therefore, consider saving myself a load of money and obtain my racing fix through a virtual medium? Whilst it does maybe make sense economically in the long-term, I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the whole idea.

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Personally, I want to go racing not because I want to make a career out of it, but because of the adrenaline rush that overwhelms me whilst I’m in the cockpit. The feeling of speed that I experience from the wind buffeting my helmet, the lateral forces on my body as I cling on through a high-speed corner, the heat of my body as it’s encapsulated within a race suit and positioned in front of an enraged engine. I like to feel what the car is doing through my bum, yet these feelings just can’t be replicated in a household simulator.

Of course, simulator work can be utilised as an integral training aid as part of a wider driver training schedule. It is a very effective tool at drilling discipline and consistency behind the wheel, or trying new setups or lines around specific tracks, all at a massively reduced cost. The only money spent during a 3-hour simulator stint is that of the electricity to keep the system running. Completing a 3-hour stint on track in a real car would put strain on the mechanical components of the machine, alongside depleting irrecoverable resources such as tyres and fuel. The most telling cost-saver of all, however, is in the event of a crash. Crash on a sim? Press reset. Crash in real life? Have fun with a rather large bill.

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And thus, the question becomes should I be racing online to improve my future on-track results? Almost certainly the answer is yes, I should. But am I going to? Not at this moment in time. As the cover photo for this episode reveals, the only gaming wheel I currently own relates to a PlayStation 2. Not the current 4th generation platform, not even the previous generation. Nope. 2. It’s safe to say racing games have evolved since 2002, Gran Turismo Sport is a little more advanced than Gran Turismo 3. In order to gain meaningful practice, I would have to invest in a new games console or PC, along with the wheel/pedals, and I don’t want to do that for the following reasons:

With Sony and Microsoft due to release their successors to the PS4 and Xbox 1 within the year, it does not make sense to me to buy one of the current consoles. This is because new titles will not be published on the current consoles for much longer, and so the system would become obsolete within the next couple of years, putting me back at square 1. This for me puts consoles out of the question.

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With this in mind, I’ll turn my attention to PCs. If I were to buy myself a PC with the same specifications as the ‘recommended’ requirements to run the F1 2019 game, I would need to invest at least £800 (US$1000). Combine that with the ~£200 for a low-mid range wheel/pedals combo, and I’ve just spent £1000 on my ‘cheap’ training aid. With how limited my current budget is, that could be the difference between me actually going racing or not. Would it be wise to potentially jeopardise my absolute involvement in order to secure a marginal gain? I think not.

In short, sim racing is certainly a credible option to facilitate on-track performance improvements, and for some it is even a perfect alternative. For me, however, the lack of instinctive tangible feedback and a substantial initial investment deter me from virtually becoming a racing driver.

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