It’s always interesting when professional drivers discuss virtual motorsport. And when BMW driver Phillip Eng talks sim racing, he’s got plenty of experience in both disciplines.
In the real world, the Austrain BMW Motorsports workd driver has been successful winning the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany, Porsche Supercup, and FIA Formula Two races. He’s also competed in DTM, and a variety of GT races, including the ADAC GT Masters, Blancpain GT Series, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
And having competed in sim racing for more than a decade, he’s most recently competed in the final of The Race All-Star Esports Battle, and took third in the first F1 Esports Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix.
“I am glad I have my race simulator at home at the moment. In these times, when everyone has to avoid moving about in public as much as possible, it is basically my ‘substitute racing drug’,” said Eng. “The virtual races help me to stay in race mode, particularly mentally. Although the simulator doesn’t feel exactly the same as reality, my instincts are the same as on an actual racetrack. It allows me to keep them sharp. For me, sim racing is more than just fun, it also really helps me to improve as a professional racing driver.”
BMW has been involved in virtual motorsport for a while, with a focus on two sim racing titles. BMW works drivers regularly compete in iRacing, including Bruno Spengler, Nick Catsburg and Jesse Krohn taking first, second and third in the IMSA Super Sebring Saturday, using the BMW M8 GTE which is part of the iRacing car list.
You’ll also see the BMW drivers, including the BMW Juniors team, taking part in the Digital Nurburgring Endurance Series in iRacing, using the BMW Z4 GT3 Cup to take on the Nordschliefe.
“In my opinion, BMW Motorsport’s intensive involvement is currently giving sim racing another huge boost,” says Eng. “When a major manufacturer like BMW gets involved to such a degree, the general public picks up on it and the perception of sim racing changes in a positive way.” As far as Eng is concerned, sim racing has already earned the right to be regarded as a motorsport in its own right, particularly in the future. “I see it this way: as a motorsport fan, watch the DTM race at the Nürburgring in the afternoon and then why not watch the livestream of the sim race in Sebring in the evening,” he said.
BMW Driver Phillip Eng Talks Sim Racing
Most of us start out virtual racing with whatever wheel and pedal set-up we can try and cobble together. And it seems most professional drivers aren’t any different to the rest of us when it comes to sim racing.
“I was 17, I think, and my simulator was such that I had to shift my exercise books to one side, clamp my steering wheel on my desk, and fasten the pedals to the floor using tape,” said Eng, describing his early set-up. “The way sim racing has developed since then, and particularly in recent months, is very impressive.”
Despite the fact his simulator set-up is a lot better now, he’s clear why although there’s crossover between the two motorsport disciplines, there are differences between the top sim racers, and top drivers.
“That is mainly because of the incredible amount of time that these guys have spent on simulators over the years. I like to compare it with fitness training. If I train regularly and do, let’s say, 350 kilometres per week on my bike, then I will be pretty fit. If, however, I have two weeks off because I am away somewhere racing, then my fitness level drops again. That is exactly the difference between me, who is not regularly in the simulator during a normal season, and a professional sim racer – who is also very talented.”
“I am sure that the best have the necessary technical know-how and driving potential. However, in a real race car, they must first learn to deal with the fact that they could get hurt if they make a mistake. I notice that with myself. I always take more risks in the simulator than I do in a real race car.”
In addition to home racing set-ups, BMW has also invested heavily in the BMW Motorsport simulator in Munich for real racing projects. This enables the manufacturer to offer testing and experience in a controlled environment for a reasonably low cost. So it enables a lot of vehicle development and race preparation to take place.
For example, the BMW i Andretti Motorsport Team spends several days in the simulator preparing for each Formula E race weekend. The DTM drivers also regularly use the BMW Motorsport simulator.
“The simulator I have at home is pretty good, for something that ordinary citizens can buy. However, it is miles away from what the BMW Motorsport simulator can do,” says Eng. “As the BMW Motorsport simulator moves on a flexible platform, you, the driver, feel every kerb and bump, just as you would do in reality. For me, the way the car handles is barely different to reality.”
Want to compete against professional drivers, including Phillip Eng and the rest of the BMW Motorsports works teams? Then you just need a PC, and ideally a basic wheel and pedal set-up. You can sign up to iRacing via the official website here. And you can download rFactor 2 for the PC via Steam.
Looking for an entry-level wheel and pedal set-up? We’d suggest looking at something like the Logitech G29/G920 (the G29 is the PC/PS4 version, the G920 is for PC/Xbox One), which you can find on Amazon, or at Currys PC World. If that’s beyond your budget, then secondhand wheel and pedal set-ups regularly come up for sale, so it’s worth checking out sites like eBay for a G29/G920, or older models including the G25 and G27, which will still get you started in modern sim racing.