One of the bigger questions surrounding sim racing: What’s the point? Does it demonstrate anything relevant to real life? Absolutely, yes. Skills learned in simulators, driving or racing, can be applied with ease to real driving. Today we’re going to talk about that.
I’d go so far as to say that the amount of practical skill you can take from simulators is fairly shocking. It can be wheel-to-wheel racing, or just doing laps around your favorite track, it’s all valuable. It’s a safe way to model, and critically learn car control skills without real consequences. Even if you just want to drift around the Nürburgring, it is startling how true to life some of the sensations through the wheel are.
So let’s break down some specifics.
The first, perhaps most obvious game-to-road transferable skill is learning how to hold a steering wheel and maneuver it. I see too many people driving their real car like it’s a 1972 Cadillac Brougham; one hand at 12 o’clock, the other gripping the lost hopes and dreams of Very Serious Drivers all around the globe.
Sim racing will quickly hammer the accepted 9-and-3 hand position on the wheel into your head. That is the first hurdle many face when they start sim racing: Correctly using the wheel. I’ve seen everything, from people dipping into turns like it’s the drive-thru to nearly snapping my wheel by bracing for G-forces that never come. All you have to do in sim racing is hold the wheel, steer with your fingertips, and be gentle with your inputs.
Once you start exploring some oversteer in your driving, you’ll learn the most valuable techniques. Drifting in a game like Assetto Corsa that support 900 degrees of wheel rotation (like a real car) will very quickly teach you how to grip the wheel, where to put your hands and anticipate what the wheel will do. Sim racing can almost fully teach you the basics of drifting. The first time I was on track in my real car, I mimicked the movements I learned, and voilà! I actually initiated a minor slide, and held it with countersteer. I was very proud, naturally.
Proactive driving, instead of reactive driving
Since sim racing for most of us in the proletariat doesn’t include a full-motion rig, the actual feel of a car moving around you is decidedly absent. As you build up experience and virtual seat-time, a natural ability to predict what the car will do is going to emerge. In the absence of G-force and movement, we adapt, and become much cleaner drivers by being proactive rather than reactive. I learned how to provoke my car and find its limits, not let the limits find me.
More specifically, in absence of feeling the car move around in real life, you can kind of develop a mental limit around inputs, the way you drive, and learn how to not piss the car off. When you hop into a real car after you master sim techniques, your situational awareness feels heightened, and you expect the car to do certain things instead of waiting for your body to feel the motion. Once you get deep enough in the sim racing hole, where you start seeing me rummaging around, you’ll be able to train knee-jerk reactions and save yourself from bad situations virtually, or in real life.
Just a touch of track knowledge
A track in real life is a totally different world to the one you’ll drive in any sim, no matter how accurate the game you’re playing is. Virtual practice can’t completely prepare you for the elevation change, the forces, the oh-my-god-this-track-is-insane feeling in your abdomen. However, sim racing can prime you for it. Just knowing which way to turn for each corner is a huge help in exploring a new track, and you can work your way into a groove in real life. Once you can explore the limits in both worlds, they can inform each other, and help you become faster, or just a better driver.
OK Reader, take this knowledge, and use it to critically apply some good techniques to your war chest. It’s astounding what we can do with some logic leaps, and how much seemingly different disciplines can inform one another. Get racing! Already got some experience in this area? Or maybe you’ve got a question now? Hop into the comment section!