Published: 00:00, 11 March 2018
Motorsport simulators can’t match the feeling of being on track in a proper race car, but the technology is becoming increasingly popular with drivers keen to improve their performance. Reporter Dan Wright tried one of the industry’s latest innovations.
There is no getting away from the fact that motorsport is incredibly expensive.
Even in club level competition the true cost of the sport can spiral, quickly escalating into thousands of pounds when entry fees, tyres and inevitable repairs are taken into account.
Drivers working on tight budgets can rarely afford to test their cars, saving their pennies by keeping their cherished machine safely tucked away between meetings.
But there is a cheaper way to enhance a driver’s performance – and it comes in the form of a simulator.
Engineer Darren George, who has previously worked as a designer in Formula 1, set up the Equinox Sim on an industrial estate in Dargate last year.
“Motor racing is expensive whichever way you look at it, but there is nothing more expensive than being uncompetitive,” he says.
“Using a simulator can improve a driver before they enter a meeting and instead of spending £2,000 to race at the back at a weekend, they can pay £2,000 to run competitively at the front and have a proper race.
“Nothing beats being in a real car on a real track, but testing is very expensive and most championships now have restrictions on it, so simulators work very well.”
The Equinox Sim is different to others as it utilises virtual reality (VR) headset technology, which is now a must-have gadget for serious gamers.
George’s offering is much more than a game, though, giving proper drivers the chance to fine-tune their skills in a realistic environment.
The VR headset takes the user into a 3D world, making them feel as if they are sitting in a true racing car.
“The realism is second to none with VR,” George adds.
“We can help drivers understand what they are doing.
“In other simulators, as you are looking at a screen, they can’t feel the car and get the same sensation of speed.
“With the VR headset on, the simulator has real value.”
'With the VR headset on, the simulator has real value...' - Darren George
VR technology has been around since the mid-1990s and is still waiting for its big mainstream break, but George feels he has gone down the right route by investing in the unique simulator, which uses rFactor 2 software.
“VR offers a huge advantage to other simulators,” he added.
“When we realised what benefits it has from an engineering point of view and for the drivers themselves, we just had to do it and build the simulator.
“We had been talking about doing a sim for 18 months, and have now found it gives a lot back to the driver.”
George, who built the simulator around the BTC Norlin Racing team which runs in the British Touring Car Championship, works alongside former single-seater star Will Thompson on the Lamberhurst Farm industrial estate.
Former touring car driver Dave Newsham and current racer Chris Smiley have tried the VR technology – and former Mini champion Smiley was so impressed he asked George to build him a bespoke sim for his home in Northern Ireland.
“Chris has said that he has to remind himself sometimes that he is still in a simulator,” George explains.
“The touring car Chevrolet we have programmed in is so unforgiving.
“It shows why drivers in their first year of touring car racing struggle at the back of the grid, but, in their second season after more seat time, they can get used to it and get better results.
"Our priority with the simulator now is to get people to come in and try it - we are offering free taster sessions and I think VR is the future."
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