Kurt Verlin
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Get Your Driving Fix with Racing Simulators

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It’s a good assumption to make that if you’re reading these words on this website, you must have some kind of interest in cars and driving them. Unfortunately, trudging along on the daily commute is a mild form of driving that rarely offers any thrills—thrills that performance enthusiasts might seek at their own peril.

Those seeking safer (or at least legal) methods of getting their driving fix will find the alternatives are not always within reach. Track days are not cheap, especially if you want to keep coming back for more, and becoming a race car driver is out of the question for most. Even going out with friends for some indoor karting fun can be expensive.

But there is another way: racing simulators. By sticking to the virtual realm, simulators open up thousands of opportunities most of us could only dream to experience in the real world. They’re legal, safe, relatively cheap, and allow you to drive hundreds of different cars you might never otherwise touch at hundreds of different places you might never see.

iRacing | racing simulators

The iRacing sim is popular for its multiplayer oval races.
Photo: Indianguy, CC

There is the one obvious downside, which I should probably get out of the way now: you won’t be in an actual car. Though this drawback will never go away, it is one of decreasing importance. The advancement in computing power has helped simulators become mind-bogglingly accurate—so much so that many professional drivers use them to train for the real thing. The best racing simulators use laser-scanning technology to replicate real-life tracks down to the smallest bumps and cracks, as well as advanced physics models that perfectly simulate the way a car and all of its parts would behave in the real world.

To use an example, the racing sim, Assetto Corsa, features Ferrari’s latest “hypercar,” LaFerrari. It accurately replicates the real car’s complex kinetic energy recovery system by storing power in the battery under braking and then using it for extra horsepower in the straights. LaFerrari also has an electric motor, which the game automatically fires up if you happen to blow the combustion engine, helping you limp back to the pits. It’s all of those little kinds of details put together than can trick your brain into thinking you’re actually racing.

LaFerrari | racing simulators

The LaFerrari 
Photo: Noebu, CC

Proper immersion does require a gaming wheel, but you’ll find that one-time purchase to be much cheaper than the aforementioned real-life alternatives. In addition, there are always new technologies coming out, like the much-anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, which puts your eyes directly in the driver’s seat and has already convinced early testers to be the future of simulators.

Racing in the virtual world also has various other perks. Your car can’t get damaged, you can start and stop whenever you want, you can easily watch replays of your driving, and you have easy access to a huge community of fellow drivers—some with real life experience—who might totally be down for racing with you. Nearly every weekend, I race with a group of people I met on Reddit—how cool is that? Maybe I’ll see you there soon!

  • Kurt VerlinEditor

    Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.