How lockdown turned me into a racing driver
I think the move into simracing is a story we can all relate to after lockdown.
As a motorsport fan, my ultimate dream has always been to compete on a long stretch of tarmac, behind the wheel of a petrol-burning monster against people with the same expensive passion as myself. That’s right, despite me being a fully-grown adult, my not so adult-like brain still wishes for that seat in a racecar. Unfortunately for most of us, including me, that dream will never become reality. That is, until lockdown arrived.
We all remember that short period of time when we were bound to the sofa, crisp packet in one hand and TV remote in the other. During this time, my racing idols such as Jenson Button, Jason Plato and even the legend that is Emerson Fittipaldi took to the virtual cockpit. Alongside the heavy stream of content put out by the likes of Jimmy Broadbent, Chris Haye and Jardier, the professional-looking races attracted me back into the simracing world. One may say I was well and truly influenced.
First steps into simracing
In my younger years, back around 2015, I had enjoyed the odd La Source pile-up in Assetto Corsa public servers. Although back then, I was simply grasping at an Xbox controller whilst squinting at my laptop screen. This time around, the talks of direct drive, 4K resolution and load cell brake pedals got me craving at least a desk-mounted wheel and a computer capable of running the current simulators.
After a couple of weeks, yes, weeks of research, I finally settled on the PC. I found what I thought was a fairly well-priced setup as a build-your-own job was out of the question for someone that has trouble understanding the difference between a byte and a bite. The guys at AWD-IT in the UK seemed to offer high quality desktop bundles for a fraction of most prices I had seen. In order to choose the perfect, and still cheapest, PC, it was a matter of comparing recommended specifications for the top simulators and those of different computers.
With simracing being the goal, a wheel and pedal set was the next matter of importance. As one can imagine, lockdown created an immense tsunami of new simracers meaning equipment even on the second-hand market was scarce. The only obvious answer to the lack of stock was apparently Germany. After finding a supplier that wasn’t flipping Thrustmaster wheels like they were members of the hypercar holy trinity, a couple of emails allowed the import of a T300 to my corner of France at no extra cost – result.
Though that particular buying experience was pretty much perfect, I would say that had I gone throught he same deliberation as I did when choosing a computer, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the wheel I did. My choice was the Thrustmaster T300RS Ferrari Alcantara Edition. On the surface this sounds like an excellent choice. Alcantara is one of the most desirable materials in the automotive world alongside carbon fibre and feels great in the hand. The issue is that moisture, say from the palm of a sweaty driver in the middle of a battle, can damage the special type of Italian suede. As a precaution, one therefore has to where gloves or, in my case, a pair of socks with holes cut in the for thumbs.
What simulators to go for
The final item on the to-do list was a choice of sim.
As mentioned earlier, Assetto Corsa was my go-to as a youngster and, thanks to work by the modding community, it’s still one of the best out there. From old-school touring cars to the current IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship, the car list is amazing. The Custom Shader’s Patch allows for day-night transitions, beautiful screenshot capabilities and since just a few weeks ago, wet weather.
With tracks such as Bathurst, Silverstone and my guilty pleasure Paul Ricard, Assetto Corsa Competizione is still the only sim I’ve purchased since getting my new setup. Although the list of content isn’t as jaw-dropping as its predecessor, the online competitiveness is enough to send you on the most thrilling emotional rollercoaster you can imagine. The craziness of the racing is improved even more when joining a league such as the SimSport Racing GT4 championship. I still get goose bumps when thinking of the Laguna Seca round that took place just a few weeks ago. If you want to know why, give the race a watch.
This pair of titles may leave you dismissing me as a Kunos Simulazioni fan – which I probably am. However, there really aren’t many alternatives I can find that offer the same experience. In recent weeks, I have been tempting myself at an iRacing membership, though the subscription payments along with the eye-watering price of content is a serious turn off. That being said, I still get drawn in by the myth that one can simply join a grid full of drivers of a similar speed.