J-Rho's '67 Camaro Z28 STX build Jason Rhoades builds a 1967 Camaro Z28 clone for SCCA STX autocross

29Dec/100

Staying sharp in the off-season – sim racing

The "sunshine tax" we Southern Californians pay affords us year-round opportunities for autocross and track days.  Still, since I won't have a car for a while, and there's some free time while the car is out, decided to do a little more sim racing this winter.

There are several sims out there, the two I'm most familiar with are the SimBin GTR series of games (GTR2, GTR Evolution, Race07), and iracing.com.

The SimBin games are fun and a tremendous value - for $20-30, you've got unlimited access to 100+ awesome cars and dozens of neat tracks.  Within a few minutes of installing, I was driving a Team Oreca Viper around the Nurburgring.  Their Porsche 935 is by far the most fun sim car I've driven.  You can download even more cars and tracks from sites like nogripracing.com.   They also have a "Hot Laps"  section, where people can post up their fastest laps, so you can see essentially the world record laps to compare to.

iracing.com is a little more hardcore.  When you sign up you only get access to a small handful of cars, on an even smaller handful of tracks.   The only real car you get when you start is a crappy Pontiac Solstice.  You've got to keep paying a monthly fee, and you have to pay more every time you want to try a new car or a new track.  Still, the simulation aspect of iracing is even better than the GTR games, which makes the subscription-based iracing a worthwhile endeavor for a few months in the off season.  From within the iracing website, you can look up the world record laptimes for a given car on a given track, to compare to.  No excuses here - with an average PC and wheel/pedal combo, you should be able to run with the very fastest guys in the world, once you've had some practice.

The sims always feel a bit cartoony and obviously the sensations are missing, but anecdotally it seems helpful.  It helps you remember how to stay focused, how to stay smooth on your inputs, and if you race against other people, it even feels like a bit of exciting pressure at times.  Some of my best driving in 2010 was the year's first event - the San Diego Tour, when I hadn't driven the Viper for 5 months, but had played a bunch of iracing after Santa brought a Logitech G27 wheel for Christmas.

Also, I look at a guy like Bryan Heitkotter.  Bryan was already a really good autocrosser, then he got into iracing and rose to be one of the gods amongst its ranks.  Meanwhile out in the real world, the guy is now just plain unstoppable, winning every race he enters, in a tough class against some really great drivers.

This isn't an advertisement for any sim racer (though if you sign up for iracing, I wouldn't mind if you told them I referred you 😉 ), just an observation that these programs have come far enough along now, to be valid training tools for use in the off season.

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