It’s been going in the aerospace industry for decades, a pilot, before they ever get a chance to crash a Tornado or a Raptor spend days, weeks and months sitting in a sim, going over every scenario and making them into one of us – their skin would become pallid and their waistline expand ever so slightly. That will mean they’re ready to fly the real thing.
As has been the case since they were throwing in plane engines into cars in the 1920s, it was inevitable that, racing simulators would become a vital instrument for the serious team.
With the credit crunch biting and the greenies getting a bit upset about the carbon footprint of flying to Sepang to spend three days burning gas tank after gas tank to acquire data, proper racing Sims are now as important to professional motorsport teams now as accelerometers and nutritionists.
But, is it really all that? Are these Sims just something more than a tool to help the layout and entertain slack-jawed Journo at press days? Well, I decided to find out.
So there I was, last Thursday, at the Autosport International show. And I found myself at the Cruden stand.
Cruden, as if you didn’t know, is a company that specialises specifically in professional racing simulators, and supply these things to F1 teams, amongst others. They, with specialised software can (they claim) train drivers circuits and car characteristics.
So how do they do that? Well, they have a monocoque chassis balanced on six electrical actuators with three plasma screens in front of the steering wheel.
If you look at the Sim running – it looks completely off – the hydraulics have the chassis moving about far too much – it looks wrong – so I wasn’t holding out much hope when I had a go.
Now, I’ve dabbled in ‘real’ racing over the years. I’m no Simon Buckmaster, but I know what it’s like to race around a track, what it feels like to slide, hit the gravel and all that – so I sharpened my cynical knife and climbed in.
The first thing that strikes you is how low in the tub you sit. Looking at the circuit layout I was told it was Elkhart Lake. Damn, one I didn’t know.
The rather attractive ladies fired it up and the hydraulics kicked in, lifting me up off the ground and I waited for the lights to click off. Lights off and I floored the Ferrari F430 and loads of wheel spin, it gripped and we lurched backwards under the acceleration…woah…
Into the first turn and I braked early, hmm, spongey brakes, that’s new, and I turned the heavy steering wheel in. Now, as I said earlier: I was put off by seeing the tub lurch and move about as it went through the corners – but now being in the tub – it felt oh so right.
After exiting the first turn I managed to spin the car (good job!) and hit the gravel and all that. Yes, it really felt that I was in the gravel; thankfully the Sim reset and we were off. Hmm, I need to concentrate on this.
Taking it a bit easier, I fell into the world. It was like I was racing, learning the circuit and having the adrenaline pumping through my veins.
At one point of the circuit, you came down a hill to a left-hander then a quick right. It was challenging and you really had to be careful on the brakes as, on the Ferrari, they weren’t that good. It took all I had to get through it quickly and well. Absolutely incredible.
The downside? I only got two laps. As I got out of the Sim, shaking, the people on the stand laughed at me and had never seen someone with such a serious face drive it.
I felt like I’d just been on the track. That’s it. And that’s enough…
I can really see the benefit of such a Sim now, for drivers to learn tracks, for designers to help work with settings. For everything. This is a substitute for testing.
The only downside? I couldn’t fit it in my house.
Find out more about Cruden simulators – including the fact they’re available for private hire!