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Hi, I’m Scott Mansell and welcome to Driver61. Now I get asked all the time by sim racers and real-life races, how sim racing actually compares and how similar it is to real-life racing. For a while now, many real-life racers have been using sim racing and online racing as a way to improve their focus, learn circuits and improve their race craft. I’m going to take a few different areas of online and sim racing and see how they compare to real-life racing. 

Now, I’m no sim racing expert, but I do spend quite a lot of time in the sim and as I mentioned, I use it for learning circuits and improving my focus. I use iRacing, Project CARS and sometimes R Factor depending on what I’m trying to achieve. Our sim uses a three monitor display with a Fanatec club sport wheel and pedals so it’s a reasonable sim. 

So the first thing to talk about are the cars, how the cars feel and how they relate to the real-life versions. Now, I’ve driven quite a few cars are actually in iRacing or some of the other simulation software that we use. And the things that you notice when you’re on the track is where you brake, your braking references, your braking points, how much speed you can carry into the corner, or maybe where you’re changing gear when you’re coming back out of the corner,  the whole feel of basically how quick the car will go around the circuit compared to real-life racing. Now, I have to say that the software that we use and the way that we set the cars up, it’s actually very similar. A lot of the braking points, a lot of the turning points, the apexes are generally all in exactly the right place. So I have to say, the cars in the way that they feel, in the way that they decelerate and change direction is actually very similar to how the cars are in real life. Now, the development teams with the sim racing software actually work with the racing teams to get all of the information regarding the aerodynamics, the aero map, the aero balance, the way the suspension works, how much grip the tyres give and how they degrade to actually map the whole car and it’s incredible that they do such a fantastic job to make the car actually feel like the real thing. 

Now, obviously, as a driver, everything that you do with the car to make it quicker on the real track is the same as what you do on a sim circuit. It’s all feel, it’s all having the car as close to the edge of traction for as long as possible through a corner as you can make it. And the one area where sim racing laps is that you can feel the dive and the roll of the car like you can in a real-life version. Now you end up using different sensors, you listen to the tone of the tyres screeching a little bit more. What’s very important is that you feel the understeer and the oversteer through the steering wheel. Now, as I mentioned, we use a Fanatec system, which is pretty good and obviously, there are much better options available if you have a specific race training sim that gives you a better feeling than the Fanatec product does. However, with what we use, you can feel the understeer, you can feel the car beginning to rotate and that’s all you need to feel that the car’s on the limit. Yes, of course, in a real race car, you feel it through your backside when the car’s rotating, but you adapt how you drive the car when you are in the sim as opposed to when you’re in a real racing car. 

So for me, the steering, the throttle pedal and the clutch obviously are pretty good. Now, the one area where sims generally suffer is feeling on the brake pedal. You don’t have that exact feeling that you get in real life racing car. You get on the brake pedal and you don’t get that feedback when the tyres actually beginning to lock up, when the tyres beginning to under rotate like you would do in a normal race car. Now, maybe this will get better and I expect it will do over the coming years. But at the moment it isn’t quite there and this is one area where sim racing, it’s a little bit more difficult than real life racing because you just don’t have that feel. 

So next up we’re going to talk about the circuits. Now, most of the circuits these days for sim racing have been laser scanned, which means that they’re accurate down to one or two millimetres on the circuit and it means that all the curves, all the bumps, all the cambers as you come into the corner are all exactly as they are on the real-life circuit, which is just incredible. And for me, what’s important when you’re in a track in real life and on a sim, is that you feel the bumps, you feel how the car goes into a corner and that the intricacies in the kerb or the gravel trap or where the grass rubs away or where people might lock an inside wheel up on the corner entry, is that they’re all the same as the real-life version and with the laser-scanned track that’s exactly true so it really feels immersive when you’re in the sim. And this means that sims are absolutely fantastic for learning a new circuit. It used to be that you used a sim just to learn where the circuit went, which way the next corner went, but nowadays you can actually use a sim to properly learn the circuit, learn where the cambers are, where you can use a kerb, where you can’t use a kerb, what the gradient’s like coming up to one of the corners so the laser-scanned tracks are absolutely fantastic and they are really realistic. I can say from a driver’s point of view that the sim circuits feel like the actual thing. 

So next on to the best part of racing the race craft. Now, I’ve only ever raced online with iRacing and from what I understand and what I read, iRacing actually has the best kind of penalty system. With iRacing, it’s important that you’re very safe on the track, you don’t run into any of the cars, you don’t run off the circuit when you’re racing. The racing that I’ve done with iRacing has all been really good and it’s very similar to how you drive in real life racing when you’re in close competition with another car. You are not trying to hit the other car, you’re not trying to run off the road, you have to build up to an overtaking manoeuvre, you have to be patient, maybe wait for them to make a mistake. And the online racing that I’ve done is just like this because of the penalty points that iRacing gives you, it really makes you think about just making some stupid lunge up the inside, which probably won’t work out. So for learning race craft and for learning how to overtake cars and to improve your focus and concentration levels, online racing and sim racing is just fantastic because you really have to use all the same skills that you use when you’re driving in a real-life situation. 

So finally, we’re going to talk about engineering the car or changing the car set-up. Now, this is something in real life racing that we do all the time at the racetrack and all the way through the weekend as the circuit changes, as more and more rubber gets laid into the track and maybe as the weather changes throughout the weekend. It’s obviously a very, very complex situation to try and emulate in sim racing. There are so many different things happening at a real race circuit, whether it’s the track temperature, the weather, more rubber, fuel oil going down into the circuit,  it’s a really complex scenario to try and replicate and to be honest, it’s one area where racing simulators don’t quite live up to real racing. I think it’s just a very complicated thing for the developers to work out. Now, I’m not saying that it’s completely wrong, but the intricacies and the really fine details on as they are in real life. For example, I’ve raced online a car that I’ve raced in real life and when you make very subtle setup changes, it doesn’t make this have the same effect as it does in the real-life scenario. Now, I’m not saying that something simple like a ride height change, for example, lowering the front ride height, I’m not saying that that broadly wouldn’t make the same effect that it would have in real life racing, but the dampers and the spring rates and roll bars and doing a combination of these things, don’t necessarily have the same impact that they would have in real life. Now, the one thing that is good about setup at work is that the mindset that it gives you as a racing driver, it means that you’re going to test a few things, go and do a few laps, come back in and think about what’s actually happening to the car and where you can improve again. So in terms of concept and what you need to try and achieve when you’re changing set-up in a real-life situation, you do exactly the same on the simulators. It just it doesn’t have exactly the same effect that it would have in real life. Sounds very confusing and I’m sure it is, but I think I explain that relatively clearly. 

So all in all, I’ll say that sim racing is very similar to real-life racing. Aside from the safety points and the actual physical movement of the cars and the G-force, everything else is very similar and improving at such a rate that is a very exciting area for me to watch. And as racing sims get more and more sophisticated, it’s only going to get better and better and better. So we will see the two worlds merge more and more as we move forward with time. 


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