VirtualCT Racing Simulator closest to the real deal
Published 1:02 am, Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Porsche RSR was roaring through the course at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville. The driver was inexperienced, but he handled the first turn fairly well by letting off the gas. The car was rumbling, and he could feel the steering wheel shaking in his hands.
By the second turn, the Porsche was going so fast that downshifting was needed. The tires were still cold, so there wasn't much traction as the high-performance car sped through the course.
Overconfidence took over by the end of the first lap, and it was the driver's downfall. The car spun out of control.
Fortunately, none of this was real.
All of it happened on the VirtualGT Racing Simulator, a device that looks like a typical arcade game, but delivers authentic motion control and other hyper-realistic features that makes games located at shopping malls and bowling alleys look like childish toys.
"This is kind of the grown-up version of [an arcade game]," said Jon Fontane, president of Virtual GT East.
The Westport-based branch of VirtualGT, which was formed in September 2008, rents out the units for all kinds of events, ranging from bar mitzvahs to sales at car dealerships. The units are made in California, and VirtualGT East is the company's first foray into the east coast.
The units can also be purchased -- starting at approximately $18,000 for the most basic option and climbing to near $40,000 for the most high-tech models. The seats are customized, the sound is state-of-the-art and with the price, corporate clients and professional racers are the typical clientele.
Settings can be tweaked to accommodate all skill levels, and different software can be used. This means that unrealistic games aimed at younger kids can be played, and so can the simulations that replicate what it's like to be behind the wheel. iRacing, an online racing simulation with more than 1,000 cars and 200 tracks, is one of the more popular software offered, with praise coming from some of the world's most established racers.
"I've had racers say, `That's my car from two years ago,'" Fontane said.
The Porches that Bill Sweedler races are present in the software of his recently purchased Virtual GT Simulator. For his day job, he's the CEO of Westport-based Brand Song LLC, a brand investment company. His real passion, however, is racing. It's an expensive pursuit, but his purchase of the simulator has saved him thousands of dollars in the long run.
"In reality, the most important thing that any driver needs is seat time, so if you can achieve seat time without having the expense of moving the entire team -- 20 people, the car and everything else -- to a new track that may be halfway across the country ... there is nothing better," said Sweedler, who is practicing for a 12-hour race at Sebring International Raceway in Florida in March.
Over the weekend, Sweedler received an upgrade to the simulator. Motion control, which makes the simulator feel more like an actual car, was implemented and he doesn't see himself going back.
"It's like going from a two-dimensional picture to 3D with HD," Sweedler said.
He added, "It was so much fun and ... such a strange experience feeling the car going over a bump or feeling the car when there is over steer. You actually feel what the car is doing. It's uncanny how similar the car feels [to the real thing]."
With a plethora of options and settings, Sweedler can set it up so that his three children can play their own racing games, and in his free time he can study courses to see how he's going to handle each turn when he eventually gets on the actual track.
"You turn up the volume and you feel like you're in a race car," he said.