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Sim Racing Vs Real Life Karting! Is Simulation Racing the New Grassroots?

Alan Dove investigates how the world of online racing simulators could be eating into karting's traditional markets. He speaks to the people behind the growth of sim racing, people who have dropped karting for simulated races, and a real high quality kart racer who has used simulators to make huge performance gains on the real track!

 

Karting has relied for many years on the basis that it is the 'grassroots' of motorsport, and the best value for money when it comes to motor racing. However there is a sleeping giant on the horizon that is poised to strike - The world of racing simulators!

Racing simulators are becoming ever more popular, and ever more realistic. I am not talking about Gran Turismo, or Forza Motorsport here, I am talking about full blown, hyper realistic driving simulations such as Live For Speed, rFactor, NetKar Pro, KartSim, and Grand Prix Legends.

 

 

live for speed logo

For a few hundred quid you can buy a decent PC, a Force Feeback steering wheel, and a game such as Live For Speed. The actual driving input is no different (That includes clutch pedals, gear sticks etc...) to reality, and the level of skill to be fast is just as high as real life. Bullshit I hear you cry.... Carry on reading to see how I back that up!

Added to this you can race online against real, highly skilled racers pretty much 24 hours day. With ever growing leagues, and competitors, the 'sport' of online racing is gaining more and more credibility every day.

Undoubtedly nothing comes close to driving a real proper racing kart. Nothing! But as karting is slowly declining, online racing is becoming ever more popular. The interest in racing is still there, but it's be harnessed somewhere else.... the virtual world.

karting1 on live for speed

Becky Rose is part of the team that runs of the 'Sim Touring Car Cup'. An ever growing popular racing league that uses the Live For Speed simulation. The STCC is one of the biggest online race leagues in the world and broadcasts each race with over 100,000 people tuning in. Also an ex-karter this is what she said on the matter -

'I discovered sim racing whilst I was recovering from a car crash and could not race due to my injuries. Since finding sim racing I've NOT returned to karting, and there are a number of reasons for this.'

'Firstly, go karting is hugely expensive and results do not reflect talent, but financial investment. Also karting suffers from two issues based on the same problem, the average newcomer is a dangerous liability on track, and it is simply impossible to find the time to get a reasonable amount of track time to reflect ones financial investment.'

sim racing rooms

'As I look back on my karting now I think my last new kart was a total waste of time and money. I enjoyed it, but my limited budget meant the few races I could do over the years I ran the thing provided as much value for money as a cup of tea at Harrods.'

'On the other hand sim racing solves the financial issues which in karting are just getting worse and worse. You can get a middle of the road PC for a few hundred pounds, a top of the range force feedback wheel and pedal set in the guise of a Logitech G25 for £160, and the simulation software costs £24. You've just spent the cost of two engine rebuilds, and you're up and running and racing with exactly the same car as the guy on pole without any equipment discrepancy what so ever.'

sim racing equipment

So sim racing is cheaper and, more importantly, it's financially viable whereas karting stopped being accessible to normal people many years ago. This means it solves the next problem too, the racing is free so aside from the cost of your home broadband connection which most of us will be paying out anyway, there's no entry fees and you can - if you are mad enough - do race after race for 24 hours a day without spending a penny extra. The important thing here is track time, whereas in karting I once broke 3 ribs tripping over a back marker who was not ready for the race track, in sim racing new comers get the chance to practice in public 'pickup' racing before entering a league race.

Leagues in general is where the best racing is to be had. Some simulation software does not tie the owner of the game to their online account meaning that 'wreckers' (usually young kids with no understanding or even a care to understand anything about racing, and who just want to 'test' the crashing physics) are prevalent, and some haven't thought through the online race experience very well - but in my sim of choice – Live For Speed - I can log onto public servers and get dozens, literally dozens, of high quality public races every night. What's more, this is licensed racing. The Sim Racing Authority (the pick up and play sim racing equivalent of the MSA) has around 10,000 drivers on it's books from all over the world, and hosts hundreds of races every day.

Sim racing isn't just a replacement for the grass roots of motor sport. It also plays host to some fairly major international events. The Sim Touring Car Cup began only last year but already broadcasts to over 120,000 spectators a month. It is a sim touring car league which uses 2.0 litre turbo charged saloon cars in a race format designed for spectators, broadcasts are monthly and around 30-45 minutes long and distributed via movie downloads and popular video streaming sites such as You Tube and Google Video. There are late night television motor racing round up shows that would like to have those kind of viewing figures, but the STCC is still growing! It is now starting to attract a small number of sponsors so it probably wont be long until we see professional sim racers.

Video - Round 7 Broadcast of STCC Championship -

 

Karting is struggling, the MSA is experiencing an ever dwindling membership and the SRA continues to grow every week. Sadly every attempt made by the SRA to negotiate with the MSA and also the FIA has so far been met with total silence. I've written to several different people in the MSA, and to the FIA secretariat once, in all cases I just outlined who we are, what our figures are in order that we not be dismissed out of hand as 'bedroom hackers', and i've outlined my intended goal which was sanctioning of the STCC broadcast league in particular, and discussing possibilities regarding some of our other races.

It appears to us here at the SRA that neither body is particularly interested in sim racing and is acting somewhat dismissive. Meanwhile over in America the National Auto Sport Association, one of the big 3 race licencing bodies, has already fully embraced sim racing.

My thought on that is if they do not want us then they do not get us. We'll just do our own thing and - to be honest - we're doing ok as things go.”

So, Karting is ever searching to be cheaper, and more accessible. But unfortunately for kart racing, online race sims deliver on these criteria better than karting ever can. Unless of course karts suddenly cost £30 quid, and racing is free!

With the MSA, and FIA seemingly out of touch with these new technologies, can karting really afford to ignore sim racing and just hope it goes away, and hope it doesn't have a real tangible effect? No of course not, and the governing bodies need to act fast and harness the opportunities online simming is providing. If you want to hunt for numbers, and people who are interested in racing they are easy to find...they're already racing online. Karting needs to exploit this opportunity and provide a real step up from simming to the real thing.

Video - Taking sim racing to the next level. The 301 Motion Platform using the Richard Burns Rally Simulation -

 

 

Continue to page 2 - Find out why Will Dendy, Super 1 Karter, attributes his success to sim racing!