I’ll be honest, I make excuses to drop into the Virtual Race Academy any time I am in Mondello- which is quite a lot lately, courtesy of a number of projects I am working on. I strike up a conversation with Rob and/or Niall and just wait for them to say it. “You have to have a go of this….” I am pretty sure I am about as convincing in my “casual visit” persona, as a small child is when they actually think they are pulling a fast one on an adult!
Generally, the thing you have to have a go of is a new track/car combo they have been playing with. Last time it was the Lotus 79- probably my favourite Grand Prix car ever. The car that dominated the 1978 Grand Prix season in the hands of the legendary Mario Andretti. Not only did I drive the car- Rob then lined me up on the grid for a race at Monza- with the entire grids driving similar era Grand Prix machines! A DFV with no bottom end made it difficult to get off the line without massive wheelspin but at at the end of the opening lap I had held onto my sixth place grid position- and managed to get a run out of Parabolica and, aided by a monster tow, got alongside Niki Lauda as we crossed the line…… Anyway, I could bore you with the details of my escapades (which ended in the armco at Lesmo 1, in case you were interested) but the point I was trying to get across was that if you haven’t tried using a modern day simulator- you need to!
Forget the video games we played as kids, this is nothing like that. Most of the car/circuit combinations, settings dependant obviously, are extremely challenging. As an example, a friend of mine expressed an interest in buying a setup recently so I brought him down to the VRA. The first car he tried was Super Touring BTCC Nissan Primera around Brand Hatch Indy. sounds easy, right? Think again. Like the real deal, it is pretty much undriveable until you get heat into the rear tyres. Once you manage this, having visited the gravel on a number of occasions in the process, you have to deal with massive lift off oversteer into Paddock, and again at Clearways. The only way to save the resultant slide, as any FWD racer worth his or her salt knows, is to pin the throttle to the bulkhead and hope for the best. Added to this, you can actually feel the feedback through the wheel as the diff engages at Druids when you apply the power. All in all, an incredibly realistic experience. As my buddy discovered, an MX-5 Cup car, around the comfortably familiar confines of Mondello’s National layout, was far easier to master….
As Keith Rabbitt said to me, having just finished a VRA online race on a Wednesday evening “I don’t think I will ever race again. This is as much craic and you dont have to get your hands dirty or loads up afterwards or anything!” That may have been a touch tongue in cheek, but Keith has a point. On Wednesday evenings, you can log on and join some of Ireland’s top drivers- in equal cars on some of Europe’s top circuits. You maybe need to practise a but first though, as in recent weeks, almost 40 drivers took part in pre qualifying, just to be allowed to get one of 22 places for qualifying! I have even begun commentating on the Wednesday evening races for the VRA, and it is so much fun. I reckon I could recognise some of the drivers if you removed the names. Niall Murray, for example, is always right on the edge, using all the kerbs, showing great racecraft, and is great to watch. Former A1 GP racer Niall Quinn is as smooth as silk, but devastatingly quick, whilst Peter and Keith Dempsey’s Turn Three liveried cars are always a force to be contended with, as is their team mate Niki Meredith. Add this to a mix of really quick Sim racers who are keen to put one over on the big names and, as you can imagine, there is not shortage of entertainment!
So, what are you waiting for. If you want to get involved, give the lads a shout. It’s the most cost effective way of taking on the best drivers in this country- and as most professional drivers will tell you, it’s quite good for you too! The VRA also supply all the gear you will need if you want your own setup, and have only recently begun hosting corporate groups- running both individual races and team endurance events too!