– Words: Ryan Lewis. Photos: MJ Digital.
Do you remember the buzz when early racing simulators were first released? I was addicted to Gran Turismo 1 on the PlayStation. “It’s so real!” I used to think. Today’s virtual reality makes everything before it look ridiculous. Race teams all over the world use simulators to train their drivers. Gran Turismo even run their own academy where the fastest virtual players get to race for real in a proper racecar on a proper circuit. Do you think you’ve got what it takes to beat your friends around a racetrack? Well let us introduce you to your new proving ground. There’s nothing like a bit of friendly rivalry to get the adrenaline pumping, and Racecentre is the perfect place to take up the challenge.
Our team dropped into Racecentre Sydney for a look around. With a few mates in tow we wanted to see if anyone had any real skill behind the wheel. In between races we got the chance to chat with Shane, the manager at the Darling Harbour location. If you’ve ever spent time playing racing games, you’ve got to check this out.
T-LD: Can you tell us a bit about how Racecentre started and what the dream was for it?
RC: The Formula 1 coverage a few years ago used to start with Mark Webber doing a hot lap in a simulator. We used to think how cool it would be to do that, and after looking around we found the options were very limited both in Australia and around the world. We started to put together some costs and budgets and it went from there. We opened our Surfers Paradise store in March 2011 and Sydney in August 2012.
T-LD: What sort of equipment do you use for the simulators?
RC: We use Simworx and VRX Simulators and we are also a dealer for the Vesaro brand of full motion rigs. To buy a setup like this costs around $25,000 depending on options chosen.
T-LD: Can you tell me about how the simulators work? There seems to be a lot more to them than just a force feedback wheel.
RC: The simulators are run by our high-end PCs. The simulation not only displays where it is you’re going on the screens but it also feeds back the physics of the car and the track through the motion software. In turn the software will control each corner of the rig by activating four different pneumatic rams. It’s extremely precise and accurately replicates the sensation of ascending or descending hills, running over ripple strips and even relays the force of each gear change. It’s totally immersive when all the senses are activated, especially when the 7.1 surround sound kicks in right behind your ears.
T-LD: How would you describe the racing experience?
RC: We have customers getting off the machines with beady eyes and sweating brows due the intensity and concentration. They are not simple to drive, they’re far from any arcade game you might have tried. If you crash the car your crash it. You get to learn how to feather the throttle and work out better driving lines while using the software. It doesn’t happen quickly either, that is why we recommend giving yourself at least an hour on them just to get used to them.
T-LD: The Vesaro setups you have available to buy, how are they different to the ones on the floor at Racecentre? Do they provide a similar experience?
RC: The simulators that we sell via our website are very similar to the ones in our Sydney store. The only difference is the design of the chair and rig platform. The functionality is exactly the same. You have different options to choose from to suit your budget, like bucket seats and dash boards.
T-LD: Which specific games will work with the simulators and which ones do you use at Racecentre?
RC: We are running two of the leading racing simulations at Racecentre, namely rFactor and iRacing. Both have brought us some amazing software including the latest release of Mount Panorama on iRacing. You have to look twice to make sure it’s not real.
T-LD: How do the simulators compare to racing in real life?
RC: Depending on the software chosen the simulation can be almost perfect. You must remember all top level teams, especially Formula 1, use simulators for both driver training and also parts development. They even simulate pit and tyre strategies during a race weekend. This technology filters down which is what we use in store.
T-LD: What sort of cars and tracks can people race if they come to the store?
RC: We have pretty much every track in the world that most people would have come across and many more. As far as cars go, we have everything from karts, touring cars and rally, to drift, V8s and F1, and everything in between. Each car handles and performs like the real thing.
T-LD: What are the main championships or competitions you run?
RC: We run the full V8 and F1 seasons on a Wednesday and Thursday evening before the real rounds. It really adds to the enjoyment when watching the real race as you have a much better understanding of the track. We also regularly run mixed leagues where the drivers choose which car and track they would like to run and make a championship out of it. We have just finished running our Dash For Cash competition, which is a monthly race to get the fastest lap around a chosen circuit. Last month thanks to you guys at THE-LOWDOWN.com, Nulon and WTAC we offered $100 cash and over $400 in prizes for the fastest lap around Eastern Creek in a Nissan R34 GT-R.
T-LD: What has been your best experience while running Racecentre?
RC: We have hosted a couple of charity events where V8 drivers have donated their time to race against members of the public. Everybody gets a great kick out of those events. We are currently running a year-long competition called “Race To Reality”. It is similar to Sony and Nissan’s GT Academy where we are finding the best sim drivers in Australia and sponsoring them to compete in a real race drive using the Aussie Racing Car series held at Homebush later this year. To create the opportunity for one of these drivers is amazing.
T-LD: Do you guys do any sort of racing or track days of your own?
RC: Some of our staff are fully immersed in owning and building track cars and Matt Anderson studied full time in Motorsport at TAFE. Eventually we would like to run a car in a championship such as the Aussie Racing Car series.
T-LD: Do you have a favourite class of racing and racetrack?
RC: My favourite car to drive at the moment is the Silverado Trucks on the oval circuits in iRacing. They are part of the Camping Truck series that you might see from the United States. I am also enjoying the rally cars on tracks like Pikes Peak and Peyregrosse-Cevennes which are epic.
T-LD: What is in store for the future of Racecentre?
RC: We want to continue to open more locations through our franchise, here in Australia and overseas. For franchise opportunities people can visit our website at www.racecentre.com
If you fancy yourself as a handy steerer, don’t wait any longer to check out Racecentre. The simulators are every bit as good as Shane’s description above; it’s a truly convincing experience, and a fantastic challenge to drive the cars fast. Well worth a try! We had a blast, and if you’re into racing, I’m sure you will too.
Store 316, Level 2
Harbourside Shopping Centre
RACECENTRE GOLD COAST
Store 1, 26 Orchid Avenue