Can Sim Racing Make You A Better Driver?

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The realism of the major sim racing titles brings players closer than ever to an actual driving experience. Couple this with the fact that many professional drivers use sim racing to practice, and it may lead you to wonder whether sim racing can actually make you a better driver.

While there is no guarantee that sim racing can make you a better driver, it can help to improve cognitive skills such as information processing, reflexes and spatial awareness, all of which are important when driving. It can also help drivers prepare for situations that take place on real roads.

For all its benefits, however, sim racing can’t replicate the pressures and dangers involved with driving a car, meaning a lot of practice must still be done behind the wheel of a real car. In this article, we will discuss the accuracy of sim racing and whether it can help you on real-life roads.

How Accurate Is Sim Racing?

Sim racing is accurate, and it’s designed to be as close to the real thing as possible. In fact, professional drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr and Max Verstappen use sim racing to practice their craft and learn tracks, but the accuracy of sim racing largely depends on your setup and the game.

Laser-Scanned Tracks

Many of the tracks on sim racing titles are so accurate compared to the real thing that it is hard to believe that they are virtually reproduced. This is because of laser-scanning technology, a technique used to capture tracks to the exact millimeter. This technology is used by iRacing, Assetto Corsa, and rFactor 2, which is partly why these games are renowned for their realism.

Laser scanning involves mounting a scanner on top of a tripod which then rotates 360 degrees. This scanner shoots out a laser pulse which hits the ground and records the data in front of it. Laser scanning leaves no stone left unturned when it comes to recreating tracks, and every crack, bump and pothole on the tarmac is recorded.

This is especially helpful for professional drivers, who use games like iRacing to prepare for real races. The drivers can identify their brake points around the track, work out which line they will take, and be prepared for any nuance on the track that they wouldn’t necessarily have been expecting.

Accuracy Of Game Physics

The thing that differentiates true sim racing games from simcade-style games is the detail that the developers put into game physics. The game physics in top-level sims such as iRacing are meticulously refined to be as close to the real driving experience as possible.

If you clip the kerb at high speed, you will feel it, both in terms of how the car behaves and in the reaction of a force feedback wheel. There will also be noticeable effects on tire pressure and other aspects of the car as you go round the track, forcing you to adapt, much like how you would have to in a real race.

Even from a viewer’s perspective, if you watch a race on iRacing you can see the weight transfer on the cars and the way they are affected by bumps in the road. There are examples of this motion being a little too overstated in Automobilista, and maybe a little understated in Assetto Corsa, but it is still impressive to see efforts being made to boost realism both inside and outside of the car.

Collision physics in iRacing are also realistic, with cars behaving differently depending on the angle in which the contact was made and the speed the car was travelling at. This means that if you were to be slightly knocked, it wouldn’t necessarily derail your race instantly as it may on a simcade title such as Gran Turismo.

Accurate Sound Design

One instantly noticeable feature of many a sim racing game is the sound design. This can make or break a game’s realism, as each car has a different voice. With the visuals being such high quality, sims can no longer get away with the clichéd zooms that characterized games of old.  Often underappreciated by racers, recording and mixing sound for racing games is a laborious and complicated process.

The main struggle when implementing recorded sounds into a game is that game sound effects are interactive and unpredictable. Sound engineers have to record sound in a way that can be edited and made to work in tangent with the way the player is driving the car. Assetto Corsa is widely recognized for its sound engineering, which is impressive both inside and outside of the car.

It is surprising how much importance lies within sound engineering as a whole in sim racing, but if a game can nail its sensory components of sound, sight and feel, then the immersion and accuracy of the game increases dramatically.

Can You Learn To Drive In A Racing Simulator?

You can learn some aspects of driving in a racing simulator, but there are some things that it cannot truly replicate. A simulator can help with the learning process and increase a student’s confidence and awareness. A simulator cannot, however, qualify a driver to earn their license. 

Advantages Of Learning With A Simulator

There are many advantages of practicing driving skills with a simulator. One is that it expels any real-life danger and makes it easier for new drivers to concentrate on their technique so they aren’t spooked by the experience of driving on the road.

A simulator is also capable of reproducing hundreds of real-world scenarios, such as carelessness from other drivers or other variables that take place on the road. This not only allows drivers to work on their reflexes and fine tune their cognitive skills, but also equips learners with a greater knowledge of the unpredictability of the road.

It is this approach to hazard perception which is impossible to teach in a real car, as it puts not only the learner and driver at risk, but those in their vicinity too. Driving simulators can also teach new drivers about the dangers that come with excessive speed and hopefully in the process reduce the risk of future accidents.

Because of the versatility of simulators, drivers who live in remote, rural areas will have the ability to learn how to drive in a bustling city landscape and vice versa. People have the ability to learn how to drive in environments they don’t normally have access to.

Disadvantages Of Learning With A Simulator

As realistic as a simulator may be, it isn’t the real thing. You cannot replicate the pressurized environment of a car for a new driver, and as making quick decisions under pressure is such a major part of driving, this is a substantial drawback. Getting rid of real-life dangers may cause a driver to be complacent when learning, which is a habit you really don’t want to take onto the real roads.

Simulators also restrict the driver’s field of view by disregarding the peripheral vision that they would have in a real car. This can either leave learners failing to check their side mirrors when they get into a real car or make that transition from simulator into reality seem alien and uncomfortable, as the two may feel like completely different entities.

For all the advantages that learning with a simulator can have, it is just impossible to achieve a full driving experience through a screen, meaning simulators should be used as a practice tool rather than a replacement for real-world driving lessons.

Do Racing Games Make You A Better Driver?

Racing games don’t make you a better driver outright, but they can offer plenty of transferrable skills to take into real-world driving, such as improved reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to track situations taking place in front of you.

It can be argued that racing games have a negative effect on your driving, because you wouldn’t drive a real car in the same way that you would drive a racing car. The technical skillset is different when driving around a racetrack and trying to get the fastest time than it is when you are driving on roads with the sole intention of getting from point A to point B.

How Sim Racing Can Make You A Better Driver

There are a few ways that sim racing can make you a better driver in both driving technique and in the training of your brain to react to oncoming situations with greater efficiency.

Cognitive Abilities

Sim racing, and video games in general, have been scientifically proven to improve players’ hand-eye coordination, reflexes, and their ability to process information faster. This is because of constant stimulation of the brain while playing, and the need to react quickly to win the game. This ties in with the need to be able to react to the ever-changing situations on real-life roads when driving.

Other functions that sim racing improves are adaptivity and problem solving. Because of the unpredictability of racing, players will often have to react in accordance with the situations around them, for example, avoiding cars that have spun out in front of them or adapting their strategy to work around the effect that different weather can have on a track’s surface.

Understanding How Cars Operate

Game physics have reached such a high level that the in-game physics of the cars are very close to the real thing. While sim racers may not be driving super cars around the streets, they can still achieve a better understanding of how the mechanics of cars operate in different weather conditions and the effect it can have on braking and steering.

Confidence

A driver’s ability is a reflection of their confidence, and sim racing can go a long way to improving this. Using a force feedback wheel and pedals when sim racing will make getting behind the wheel of a real-life car a familiar experience, and along with heightened hand-eye coordination, it will reduce the number of inputs that a driver has to consciously think about.

Mental Focus And Spatial Awareness

Having good spatial awareness allows you to focus on specific things such as changing conditions on the road ahead, despite the distractions around you. This is both a key aspect of sim racing and real driving. Sim racing also helps with the tracking of movement, which will allow drivers to concentrate on signs without losing sight of the cars in front of them.

Driving involves a bit of a sensory overload, with many sights, sounds, and feelings taking place all at once. Sim racing helps to train your mind to become at ease with having so much going on simultaneously, reducing the likelihood of panic and subsequent loss of control. 

Does iRacing Make You A Better Driver?

iRacing can make you a better racer by improving your consistency, technique and preparation for your next race. iRacing cannot, however, fully prepare you for the physical and mental toll that real-life racing brings, as no racing simulator can.

iRacing has cemented itself at the top of the sim racing tree, with its accuracy-driven approach to game physics and aesthetics. This realism has been utilized by many a professional driver, including NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr and Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen.

As drivers get relatively little time out on the track in practice before qualifying, iRacing means they can have unlimited preparation time in the week leading up to the race to learn the intricacies of the track and practice potential maneuvers.

A notable example of the effectiveness of this training was when a fresh-faced Verstappen mastered a very speculative overtake of Felipe Nasr at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2015,a move he had practiced virtually in the week prior to the race.

iRacing isn’t just beneficial for professional racers. Anyone with an interest in racing can make the most of it to improve their race craft. Techniques such as positioning the car correctly, going into corners, and finding reference points throughout the track are all trainable on iRacing. You can also practice both defensive and offensive driving maneuvers.

Where Sim Racing Won’t Help With Real Driving

While sim racing may help drivers learn the discipline that’s involved with operating a car, it won’t teach them how to abide by the rules of real roads. In track racing, road signs are replaced with colored flags, speed limits are redundant, and overtaking is encouraged. This is not the case for the real roads, and falling afoul of the rules of pedestrianized roads can leave you in big trouble.

Part of the joy of sim racing is throwing a car around a track at high speed with very little fear of consequence, as crashes can be written off at the click of a button. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for the real world, where there are pressures and dangers of driving a car that sim racing just can’t replicate.

A lack of consequence can potentially lead to a driver developing bad habits and becoming lackadaisical in their approach to driving. This may only occur in exceptional circumstances, but with the realism of modern sim racing titles, there is definitely a danger of blurring sim racing into reality.

Does Sim Racing Improve Karting?

Sim racing can improve aspects of karting. Although the size and handling of cars differs greatly from karts, the fundamental idea of the racing line is similar, and a good understanding of it from playing sim racing games will no doubt improve karting ability.

If you dig a bit deeper into the sim racing world, you will find there are a handful of sim karting titles to choose from, with the most notable being Kartkraft and Kart Racing Pro. There are karting options in Automobilista, rFactor 2 and Project Cars 2, but they seem like more of an afterthought than a serious attempt at making a karting sim.

Kartkraft has made a solid attempt at nailing the physics of the karts as well as gauging the sense of speed you get from being in such close proximity to the tarmac. The fact that the game uses the same engine as sim racing heavyweight Assetto Corsa Competizione is a huge boost for karters, as the graphics are almost photo realistic.

This level of realism and immersion, complete with VR compatibility, allows karters to hone their skills in vehicles that are close to what they would use when they themselves are racing. This dedicated training will give them higher levels of improvement than they would have if they were only able to sim race in cars.

Like sim racing, karting sims also lack the ability to replicate the physical side of driving. Karters endure physical strain from the minimalist structure of their cars, the way that they accentuate the bumps on the tarmac, and the regularity of being shunted from behind. Despite this, sim racing is beneficial when learning and improving on the fundamental aspects of karting.

Final Thoughts

Modern sim titles offer players a greater understanding of the physics of cars and can help improve vital cognitive skills. That said, there are elements of driving that can only be learned in a real car. Sim racing is a useful tool, but it can only go so far toward making you a better driver.