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Friday 25th January 2013


RINGSIDE SEAT: PLAYING GAMES

With the 'ring out of bounds our man in Germany keeps his hand in with a bit of virtual training


The off-season is a chance for me to disconnect from the world of motorsports and fast cars. I can chill with the family and forget about apexes, lines and braking points.

Or so my long-suffering wife would like to think...

Dale gets down to some essential training
Dale gets down to some essential training
The reality is that as my ability to rack up real-life Nurburgring laps begin to dwindle, my virtual laps simply increase. It's an addiction that started when I was just 11 years old (Test Drive on the Atari ST, anybody? ). For me, cars and computers have always gone together. Gran Turismo was the impetus to buy a PlayStation and Forza Motorsport the only reason why I have an Xbox gathering dust in the attic. And don't get me started on the PC games like Live For Speed, Grand Prix Legends and the like. If I added all the hours together I could have had a second job and a new life, I'm sure.

Of course, an admission like this isn't as nerdy or socially awkward as it used to be. Big computer game releases now make Hollywood blockbusters look like charity productions. Computer games are mainstream, and they help drive our whole petrolhead addiction.

Well, if you can't do it for real...
Well, if you can't do it for real...
Last summer I spent some time at Silverstone working on the Gran Turismo Academy. It's an incredible thing to see from the inside. The GT Academy sifts through regular folks, most of whom have never driven a car on a real track before, and finds those with the reactions, skills and talent to become a race driver.

So, just by playing a game, you can end up being a professional factory race driver. My mind still boggles, but some of the folks that have come out of that system (Jann "the man" Mardenborough and Lucas Ordonez) are absolute stone-cold professionals that live their life in the zone.

I will admit, as a frustrated racing driver, I was insanely jealous of the 12 guys I helped look after. Just by playing a computer game, they were getting a shot at the dream life.

So with that in mind, I vowed to put some hours in the PlayStation3 this winter. And I managed to lay my hands on the official Thrustmaster T500RS GT5 wheel to help me too.

Gaming takes on new level with a wheel
Gaming takes on new level with a wheel
This 10kg chunk of alloy and steel is a £425 PlayStation controller. Gulp. It's also a full-size 300mm steering wheel with force feedback that will make your shoulders ache. It might sound trite, but a steering wheel of this quality opens up a whole world of possibilities.

It transforms GT5 from an arcade game to a home racing simulator. Maybe the finest points of tyre slip and wheel torque aren't 100 per cent perfect, but the way you have to concentrate your mind, judge the line and eke the most from your car are more than convincing enough. And the lift-off oversteer, the biting point of the tyres, it's damn near 95 per cent realistic in most regards.

Still, when I couldn't perfectly correlate my real-life experience with the version GT5 was offering me, I went in search of the ultra-realistic and signed up for a three-month trial of iRacing on the PC. Wow. iRacing is serious. Really serious.

Things have come on since the Atari ST
Things have come on since the Atari ST
At first I was like a novice, I couldn't control the mildest slide or oversteer. A few weeks later I could fight for the podium, but I realised it was so tough and needed so much practice and setup time that it wasn't actually fun for me anymore. I wasn't looking for a new hobby, I just wanted to dip in for an hour once a week and race.

So now I'm back at GT5 with a vengeance. I don't think I'll ever qualify for the GT Academy, but the new wheel means I've been doing rather well fantasy racing my mates and having fun. Which is what a game is supposed to be. And it's why I'm still waiting patiently for this celebrity baking thing to finish and my wife to go for a soak in the tub...

Author: Dale Lomas
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