My name is Ian and for as long as I can remember I have been a motorsport fan. I have spent a huge part of my life at the race track as a paying customer. I grew up in a family where motorsport was a way of life. Every weekend in the race season as a child, my family and I were in the race paddock with a cousin who raced short circuit oval hot rods. I’ve also been a race bike mechanic for a good friend. I have owned 1000cc Superbikes and ridden plenty of circuits on fun track days but I have never actually raced myself. It is something that always eluded me. A combination of it never being the right time and lack of funds. When it became time to sell the motorbike and act my age, I turned to simulated motorsport instead. For 10 years now I have been sim racing on various platforms and organised many leagues and championships through the years. I now manage the Simracersworld Esports Team and organise the DynamiXX Simracersworld GT Series on iRacing. If I was to asked to describe myself, I would say I was a passionate motorsport fan with a frustrated racing driver inside, trying to get out. Jochen approached me and asked me to write this article and try to explain where sim racing fits in with its real world counterpart. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I thought I would have a go and this is the result.
Unless you have been living under a rock, then you would have realised that over the last 3-5 years there has been a massive boom in the virtual motorsport industry. This explosion is due in part to real life motorsport teams and high profile drivers competing in events around the globe for very large amounts of cash and also the accessibility and affordability of sim racing equipment. Add to that Porsche and PEAK Antifreeze partnering with iRacing and offering huge 6 figure sums in prize pots for championships and NASCAR also bringing in top dollar prizes for the overall winner in the eNASCAR Heat finals and you have the recipe for success. During the same period the industry has self branded itself as Esports, or Electronic sport. Love or hate that expression it’s here to stay, but what this has achieved is not only raise the profile of sim racing in general but it has actually created a massive industry behind the scenes. Small businesses are selling their own design rigs, button boxes and sim racewear and are starting to cash in on this massive boom with the ever increasing number of competitors. This, in my opinion, can only be a good thing. More competition in the market-place means more competitive pricing, which is always good for the consumer.
So, where does Esports sit in the grand scheme of things? Are we seeing huge corporations just cashing in on the boom or are we seeing a genuine link between electronic sport and its real life counterpart? Well, it’s common knowledge that the top Motorsports teams, and we are not just talking F1 but Blancpain GT3 and F3, all now have simulators for their drivers to hone their skills and learn new circuits. This cuts down on the huge expense of packing the entire race car, all its parts and a team of technicians into a truck or onto a plane so the driver can take 1 tenth off of his lap time ready for the next season. They would spend less money on a half million pound simulator than they would travelling around the world.
Rewind 10 years and the thought of having a steering wheel and rig set up in your own home was only the stuff of dreams. Now, for less than £3000 you can have a full on multiple monitor setup with a mid range PC, complete with a wheel and pedal set and a real racing seat in your own home. Not only can you race your friends online but you can race on laser scanned real world circuits like Spa-Francorchamps alongside the young F1 stars Lando Norris and Max Verstappen and the WEC legend that is Nicki Thiim. These guys regularly race in public servers on iRacing. So, I would even go as far as saying it’s now cool to be a sim racer. I’m also sure that each of these drivers will tell you it helps them train. During the close season they are able to jump in a car that potentially is the same as its real life counterpart and race around a circuit that has every bump, kerb, rise and fall scanned into the software. This has to be better than sitting at home waiting for the testing season to begin and for the snow to melt on the European race tracks! A race driver will always tell you that there is no substitute for doing laps. Now it is possible for them to train all winter alongside their families in their own homes and that has to be a good thing, right? I know it’s not the real thing, and nothing can train the body for driving a real race car but it keeps the mind trained and can be pretty realistic, especially if the simulator mimics the motion of the car under acceleration, braking and cornering too.
Sim racing is now at a point that the line between it and its real life counterpart is beginning to blur. We are seeing an ever increasing list of sim racers making a successful switch to real life motorsport and in 2018 a GT Academy competition winning sim racer drove in the Le Mans 24 hour race. This is just one example of how sim racing in your own home has now turned into another viable route into motorsport alongside karting. No longer do parents of young children have to spend thousands and re-mortgage the family home, travel around the country giving up everything for their children to become motorsport stars. The dedication is the same though, start young and practice often and you could be racing alongside your heroes in a few years. Fact. You can go to any race meeting in Europe now and not have to walk far before you see a trailer with multiple rigs for the public to pay to race. Some circuits even have permanent sim racing centres with pay to race systems for ‘parties’ now. To me thats makes total business sense, show me a petrol head motorsport fan who is at the circuit for a race weekend who wouldn’t want to try his/her hand at trying to beat their hero’s lap time at Zolder or Brands Hatch?
Home sim racing has come a long way, from handheld consoles in the 80’s to full motion rigs and Virtual reality headsets in less than 30 years. The visual software improves year on year, the technology in PC’s steps up every year and the wheel and pedal technology also improves in huge ways. 10 years ago all wheels were cog driven and the force feedback (that’s the software converting the cornering forces and bumps/kerbs into wheel movement) was minimal and a million miles away from real life feeling. Now we have in some cases over 20Nm of torque through direct drive motors that could break your wrist if you get them in the way of the startup process and they also come with emergency stop buttons for safety reasons. The software creating the force feedback is so good now that you can feel the kerbs and changes in road surface at circuits like Sebring when you cross from concrete to tarmac. You can also feel the positive G forces when cornering and the loss of traction when you understeer into a corner and when you power out of a corner you can feel the rear when it’s loose. Yes, I would agree to some extent that it is the software tricking your brain into feeling that moment when you lock a wheel or slide the rear, but what it does do is give the end user is a more ‘lifelike’ or realistic experience. The better the experience the more immersive the feeling. The more immersive the feeling, the more we are likely to want to go back and experience it again.
What the relentless march of technology has done over the last 10 years is make sim racing a community based hobby. With the introduction of high speed broadband all over the world and server farms dotted around the continents, communities can interact and create leagues and championships and race at circuits all over the world from the comfort of their own homes. These leagues can be a small group of friends racing each other or highly organised leagues with admin teams, race fees and prize funds which are broadcast live with commentary teams on social media platforms and beamed all over the world for the viewer to watch. The software has moved on so much that competing drivers are even able to race as a team in 12 or 24 hour endurance events using the same car, even if the drivers are sat in different countries. Whoever said that the internet is making society anti-social needs to visit any sim racing social media group on any given day and they will see the exact opposite. Friendly people with a like minded interest talking on a daily basis about the passion they share. Hardly anti-social is it?
DynamiXX have tapped into this growing market place and over the last 2 years Jochen has seen a huge growth in his business which ties in with the industry growth. Jochen and his team have seen first hand that being based in the right place (close to Zolder Circuit) and at the right time has been incredibly lucrative for his business. He has his own design team for sim rigs and keeps the manufacturing process in Belgium which means he is supporting local businesses as well. He also provides simulator rental at corporate level and his team spends many weekends a year at Spa and Zolder with his sim racing equipment, introducing the world of virtual motorsport to the masses. Of course the advantage to being at major race meetings is that it also attracts the interest of real life racing drivers and again this goes some way toward raising the profile of Esports. DynamiXX are now in the lucky position to have several top Belgian race drivers on their books who they have supplied with sim equipment. As you can see, the opportunities for businesses to tap into this market are proving easier than ever before as more and more people are able to access the community and the equipment needed to race.
DynamiXX have recently partnered with a UK based sim community Simracersworld who organise and operate a respected broadcasted GT3 league using the iRacing platform. This partnership has furthered their business growth even more. It’s a partnership that works on both sides of the coin and on both sides of the English Channel. To give you an example of how the partnership has worked, in the 14 months since Jochen was offered the opportunity to sponsor the league, the Simracersworld community has grown from 100 members to over 700. The group now has its own brand and a merchandise Esports store, its own web domain and a successful esports race team comprised of 10 drivers from The UK, Sweden, Belgium and Germany. For DynamiXX it has been a great way to expand and get the brand on the marketplace outside of Belgium.
So, in answer to the original question, where does sim racing fit in with real world motorsport? I personally think they sit perfectly well alongside one another at this present moment in time and they complement one another very well indeed. Using a simulator to race a virtual race car is certainly a lot cheaper than owning a track car or indeed a real race car and it goes without saying that it is a lot less dangerous!
The future of Esports? Well, anything is possible and with Virtual Reality bringing the next big advance in immersion, who knows? Especially when real life car manufacturers and motorsports teams are being pressured by governments around the world to be eco-friendly, could Esports prove to be a genuine viable option?
One thing I do know, is that it is a good time to be a sim racer!