Can Sim Racing Help with Real Competitive Driving?
This is a very frequently debated topic. Some people still look at sim racing as playing video games but the physics of racing simulators have come along way and it is virtually impossible to dispute that skills gained in sim racing can transfer to the real world.
Nissan and Sony ran a driver training program called Nissan GT Academy which ran for six seasons and helped develop and train successful Sim Racing competitors into real world race car drivers and establish experience gained through sim racing as valuable training time for actual racing in the real world. The program had more than 5 million participants (Wiki). Earlier this year (January, 2019), Enzo Bonito – an eSports sim racing competitor – competed against Lucas Di Grassi – a professional Formula E Champion – and beat him at the Race of Champions weekend in Mexico.
Professional racing drivers now use racing simulators to practice before races (and have for a while). As sim racing software and even realistic video games such as Forza and GT get more sophisticated and capable, the benefits of sim racing can translate to the real world. The physics of weight transfer, managing grip, overall grip limits, spring rates, damping rates, alignment, etc. are all simulated in good racing simulators. How does something with a lot of weight over the front axle like a FWD compare with something like a 911 with the opposite weight bias? Or a front engine RWD car? Or a mid-engine car? Developing a better appreciation for the physics of high performance driving is a huge benefit to racing.
Another very important benefit is developing muscle memory. Particularly, how quickly you can adjust your steering to correct oversteer, or how smoothly you module throttle and brakes. With high quality controllers that simulate feedback and forces, it is possible to work on all those skills. You can even work on heel and toe downshifting or left foot braking. Not mention, developing and learning race craft; the art of wheel to wheel racing. All of that is also possible to practice in a very wide variety of cars, most of which would not be accessible to the average driver. Those skills and others can be developed and honed in sim racing and will be a huge benefit when you step into a real car.
Finally - and perhaps controversially - it can help you get somewhat familiar with a track. This one can backfire badly, because some people can show up to their first HPDE thinking that they don't need help if they are good sim racers and happen to have a lot of experience at the particular track they're learning on. That's absolutely the wrong attitude to bring to the track. But if you don't approach it that way and just use it as a tool to gain some familiarity with the track, it can be very useful.
Of course, there are limitations and we'll cover those in a future post about what things sim racing can't teach you but that doesn't mean it can't help with a lot of aspects. If you are wondering whether or not sim racing can help you or whether it can help you improve your driving this winter by practicing in a simulator, there is no doubt that it can. And the best place to start is with a good sim racing cockpit.
As with real racing, you need to be comfortable to go fast. Good ergonomics go a long way in making you more comfortable to push and improve consistency, a true mark of a good driver. You can shop the great Next Level Racing cockpits and wheel stands here on our store. But good ergonomics alone aren't enough. You also need good high quality wheels, pedals, and shifters that can simulate the feel of driving a real car.