Bone-shaking and thrilling in about equal measure
By Andy Darley
Saturday, May 22nd, 2010
On Wednesday Brits on Pole was invited to attend the public launch of Puretech Racing’s ambitious plans to create a new sport – networked simulator racing. From their first centre near Gatwick Airport, with 10 industry-spec machines, they hope to expand and make motorsport accessible to everyone by fusing high technology with, eventually, a real-world racing team. Here, Brits on Pole’s Andy reviews the racing experience.
For a moment, as the race began, everything went just perfectly. Slow get-aways by the two cars starting on the front row allowed me to shoot the gap between them and hare off into the distance.
A clear track ahead of me, my opponents staring in frustration at my rear wing, and all I had to do was drive very fast without making mistakes until I saw the chequered flag.
Computer simulation it may have been, but it was still a brief, thrilling insight into the world of the successful racing driver and it hit me purely at a gut level.
Suddenly, I knew how Mark Webber must have felt at Monaco.
This happy feeling lasted until the end of the long start/finish straight, where the road kinks left into a chicane and I – unsure of braking points, racing line, optimum speed or best choice of gear – went more or less straight on.
It was at this point I discovered what it feels like when a racing simulator – even one set to a quarter of its maximum power – starts to impersonate an out-of-control single-seater. If I’d possessed false teeth, they’d have been shaken out of my head.
After that, things just went downhill.
With every corner a disaster waiting to happen, I developed the technique of approaching them all in bottom gear and braking hard.
But I was half way through my time in the simulator before I noticed that simply flicking down through all the gears until there were no more left meant I ended up in reverse, not first – while my feet, used to a three-pedal road car, refused to co-operate with the braking and continually tried to find a non-existent middle pedal.
As a result I was still somewhere out on my third lap when the winner completed the five-lap race, and twice cars that had failed to anticipate my erratic braking hit me so hard that the simulator produced the sort of jolt more normally associated with being violently kicked by a horse.
Amazingly, as I hauled myself out of the simulator – no easy job – and staggered off the stage, ashen-faced and clammy-shirted, I discovered that I wasn’t classified in last place. And everyone seemed to think I’d done OK, by the standards of a complete beginner.
As someone who rarely plays driving games on computers or consoles, or in arcades, I have little to compare the Puretech system to in terms of realism, graphics or thrills. And, of course, I’ve never used a professional simulator or raced a car for real.
A lot about the set-up came as a surprise – not least the experience of getting into and out of the cockpit, which was like sliding into a long, rigid sleeping bag and resulted in sitting so low to the ground that I was sure, at first, I’d done it wrong somehow.
There are probably games on the market with better graphics, but I gather these are still being worked on. The triple monitor set-up – surprisingly similar to the one we saw on our tour of the Williams F1 factory and its simulator – was plenty realistic enough.
And I really don’t want to be sitting in it any time they crank up the unit’s movement to maximum.
To have a go yourself, see the Puretech website here. There are two levels of activity for non-members, the test session at £15 or the longer race experience at £35. Members may additionally book open practice and league/championship race sessions.