Simulation has gone from highly pixelated keyboard controlled computer games to highly sophisticated simulations of real race cars with full motion replicas of the cockpit inside. When someone asks you these days what you like to do in your spare time and you respond with ‘I like to go on my simulator and race on iRacing or Rfactor’, the usual response would be a laugh followed by ‘so I take it you’re a computer game nerd’. These days however, in the modern era of virtual reality, the title of ‘simulator’ has emerged into the public eye to create a growing divide between it and the world of the ‘video game’.
A racing simulator could be as basic as a steering wheel and a laptop at your beside table or as advanced as a full motion cockpit with the forces of the car feeding back from the sim to not only the steering wheel but the seat; the pedals challenging the brain to separate simulation from reality. The possibilities of realism are endless – it just depends how far you are willing to go…spend. So would a racing simulator be classified as a tool or a toy? The answer really depends on what your preferences are as a simulator enthusiast. I would classify my race simulator as a highly valuable tool. My recent success at Road Atlanta would not have been possible without the use of iRacing’s ‘Star Mazda’ at Road Atlanta. Doing laps on the sim not only showed which way the track went but the true curvature, elevation changes and width of the corners.
With 21st century simulation as in depth as it is, I was able to learn the kerbs you can and can’t ride, the braking zones within a few metres, the gears to be used through certain corners and most importantly the places on the track you can push the limits and those you can’t – aka the zones with major consequences if you run off. My knowledge grew further when some of my teammates who had been to Road Atlanta before, sitting at their simulators in Texas; Florida and California; while I sat in Alabama, began teaching me little tricks here and there as well as the possible passing zones. This meant when I arrived at Road Atlanta for my first session it felt more like my 50th. I was able to go on track without the weight of learning the track; rather the limits of my car on that track at that time.
Simulation for me goes well beyond racing. I am a large flight simulator enthusiast that has a flight sim cockpit in my living room. When away from the track I spend most of my free time flying a Boeing 777 from one side of the world to the other; or A380 or any number of other aircraft I have painstakingly learnt how to fly. It is incredibly challenging and rewarding to travel anywhere in the world in a day and see amazingly realistic cities from the sky above. I guess you could say my flight sim is a toy, however, should I choose to fly for real in the future, sim time actually counts towards my flight education hours making it a tool as much as a toy.
Simulators will continue to develop until they are within millimetres of reality. I myself have an idea using magnetism to simulate G-force which will hopefully take simulation to another level. Before you know it we will be playing football at Old Trafford; Ice Hockey at Madison Square Gardens or racing around Monaco in a Formula 1 car with some form of holographic program. As for now simulators can be used as a fun toy to replicate the fun of driving or they can be used as a tool to replicate the true nature of what you can experience on the race track or in the air.