Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The virtual F1 car

Re-produced from ESPN.

With testing in Formula One now strictly limited, much of the preparation for the new season is done behind the wheel of multi-million pound simulators. A computer game so advanced that it can actually replicate every movement of the car, the only snag is it costs £125,000.

These state-of-the-art machines are not only used to develop driver skills but also allow the engineers to achieve the perfect set-up. The simulator can run full race distances, allowing the teams to tweak every tiny variable.

Most of us mere mortals have to settle for arcade or home computer games to feed our need for speed. The trouble is they simply don't get close to a real race experience. But now there are is new breed of simulators, although still too expensive for home use, can offer the ultimate race experience. You can feel the wheel vibrate as you try and ride the curbs, the G-forces as you brake, and the back end slip away as you accelerate too quickly out of a corner.

To show just how good this simulator is, when I arrived at Pure Tech Racing to try their latest simulator I had to wait my turn. A string of GP2 Series drivers were pitting their wits against the technology. Sam Bird, who races in GP2 for the ART team, took a break to tell me why he likes the new set-up.

"It is actually very close to the GP2 car I drive," he explained. "We are here in this hall and it honestly feel like you are out at Jarama driving a real car. You get the G-forces with this machine, because of the moving platform you get the feeling that you are on track.

"It handles like a proper single-seater should do. If you brake too hard you lock-up, if you go into a corner too hard you get understeer. If you're too aggressive on the throttle on the exit it's quite easy to spin. But the platform is excellent as you can actually feel what the car is doing and adjust your driving accordingly. So you can actually make a mistake and correct it, whereas without the moving platform you can actually get a bit of oversteer, not know about it, keep your foot buried and all of a sudden you are spinning down the straight. "

Although drivers like Bird might use simulators like this to prepare for racing, there are a lot of members of the public who would love to have a go. Luckily, if you are prepared to travel to Gatwick you could have just that opportunity.

Pure Tech Racing's centre manager Nick Dunn explaines: "What we are doing at our new centre is setting up ten of these simulators for the public to enjoy. We know there are lots of frustrated racing drivers out there who have never had the chance to really go racing.

"The BRD06 simulator has been built from the ground up to bring all aspects of the motorsport world to the general public. Within the software we have also got the ability to change the set up of the car from an engineering perspective. It allows the guys to change the handling of the car just like you would at the race track - We are trying to make it as realistic as we can.

"We think it's great that the GP2 boys are enjoying the simulator as much. It's really important to us that we can validate the system. So these guys' reactions are absolutely vital."

So if you have always fancied yourself as the next Michael Schumacher, you can try your skills for around £20 a session at the centre which is due to open in the spring. Be warned, though, it is not as easy as the experts make it look.

Claire Furnell is the senior editor of ESPNF1


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