An Hour Was Enough to Show Me the Importance of Top-Notch Racing Simulators
CXC Simulations in Los Angeles showed me how simulators are remodeling driver training.
I've never doubted the worth of racing sims. Their advancements in the last decade have majorly shifted the culture of driver development, and as most top competitors in any series will explain, the accessible tech is a godsend. Even though the knee-jerk reaction to a near-$100,000 price point is rough to us on the outside, those within the sport realize that it's immensely cheaper than wrecking cars and running costs on track. I, and most anyone who follows motorsport, knows this; however, it wasn't until after I got seat time in a CXC Motion Pro II simulator that it clicked.
Seeing as I've not had much experience in real-life race cars beforehand, I didn't have high expectations of myself when I strapped into the harnessed racing seat. My 6'5" and less-than-thin frame hasn't provided me the easiest time in caged cars, but luckily for us, that didn't factor in this time. CXC Founder Chris Considine flipped through the setup menu and we agreed to try out the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit since I had just come from the 2018-running of the IndyCar and IMSA-filled race weekend there. We selected a Ginetta GT4-spec car to start with in order to get accustomed to the system.
Considine described his brand as a "solutions company" for racing teams in various disciplines, and as a result, it caters to a variety of specifics in terms of sim programs as others in the industry do. Some of the listed platforms include Assetto Corsa, Project Cars II, and iRacing; we opted for the latter during my visit. Chris drove alongside me in a separate simulator and gave a few notes to remember as we picked up the pace and I started to grasp the progression of the car's grip and speed over time.
As you'd expect at this level, life-like conditions were reflected in most facets including tire temperatures and the lot. Early on, I learned the importance of smooth and steady inputs after getting a bit too ambitious and spinning more times than I'd like to spell out on the internet. While this isn't news to anyone who frequents the online pools of iRacing and the like, the Motion Pro II provided heaps of feedback rather than the sometimes dull at-home setups I've tried out in the past. And when I say heaps, I mean enough to make my hands sore from fighting the steering tension and my calves burn after trying to apply the necessary amount of force to actually stop the lightweight racer.
Obviously, it wouldn't take this much of a physical toll on tried-and-tested drivers, but to the average Joe who spends more time rewinding in Forza than he does overtaking, it's an eye-opener. It doesn't stop there, though, as haptic technology can be found throughout the high-tech rig from seatbelt tensioners that hold you tight under braking to Oculus-powered virtual reality goggles that pan with the drivers head and neck movements. I elected to use the available VR system for my next run in a significant step-up from the Ginetta: An Indy Lights car.
This is another area where simulators such as the Motion Pro II leap out. Of course, you can buy a VR headset at home which adds a great deal of reality to your gaming experience, but when combined with the aforementioned features that make it complete, it becomes valid for much more than a hobby. Tweakable motion parameters mean that you can adjust the equipment for your designated purpose (y'know, like a race car) and settling into the uber-sensory environment preps the pros for upcoming events and contests. Teams can even practice intangibles such as driver changes with the equipment, adding to the offerings provided by simulators for those without immediate access to a car or track.
Once we had the settings dialed in, Considine and I took to the same Long Beach course in the new "car." The difference was as evident as it'd be in a typical console-platform run but much more in-depth as the responses from the equipment prompted me to pay more attention to my surroundings. This is where it truly comes in handy for drivers as they take the track layouts provided by iRacing (or Assetto Corsa or Project Cars II) and incorporate the steering, braking, and throttle applications that improve lap-times while sparing parts, fuel, and damages. Observing reference points and relating them to actions helped lap-on-lap improvement which signaled me, as an uncompetitive novice, to take note of how helpful it must be to those who know how to make use of this info in real-world situations.
An article I had read on the plane to Los Angeles discussed the increasing significance of brain training in sports. It drew parallels between the different sections of the mind and their respective functions that help baseball players hit a 100 mile-per-hour fastball or basketball stars sink free throws over and over again. This is doubly evident in racing as drivers must account for surroundings, circumstance, and method to make split-second decisions regarding their next move.
CXC knows this and has stepped into the field of mind games with its brand-developed Coaching System. This not only includes tips on the racing line, when to brake, and what gear to select before a corner, but also where the driver is looking on the screen via eye-tracking technology. This allows CXC pros to identify what changes need to be made to optimize performance whether it be looking ahead of the turn or if they're spending too much time focusing on their mirrors, gauge cluster, etc.
It's this type of attention to detail that justifies the purchase for racing outfits that are serious about improving through the most efficient practices. While I toured the facility, Chris pointed to 10 sizable crates that were each filled with simulators and going to a single customer—a commercial facility in Puerto Rico. That certainly speaks for credibility, as do the testimonials from veteran drivers such as Pat Long and Stefan Johansson.
"It's about as close to reality as you can get," Johansson, a former F1 driver, explains of the Motion Pro II. "I was amazed how real it feels. It’s a great tool for professional drivers to tune up or get familiar with a new track as well as pure entertainment for someone who wants to get as close to the real action as is humanly possible.”
“The track and car options are endless and the tuning capabilities are just like the real thing. You can really feel any changes made to the car both aerodynamically and mechanically."
It might seem like advertisement speak, but after experiencing it for myself, he's really not wrong. Consistent improvements in the field make for viable packages, and drivers from amateur leagues to Formula 1 can (and do) attest to the fact that there genuinely isn't another tool that's as valuable as a professional-spec sim.