Reality check

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Games makers have starting tapping into an infinite resource to get an edge on rivals: the drivers

The line between ‘game’ and ‘sim’ is becoming ever more blurred. Home set-ups aren’t a world away from those in factories – and pro drivers are taking advantage. They’re spending hours at wheel to get the edge on their real-world contemporaries.

One of those at the forefront is the unassuming, versatile and talented René Rast. The former LMP1 racer, LMP2 benchmark and recent DTM winner is not just a regular gamer, but he has also been adding his expertise to Project CARS in recent years.

“Project CARS 1 was a decent simulator,” he says. “But this second one is on a different level. It’s on the way to being a pro simulator.

“The car balance and physics are much better and that means it’s much more realistic. We’ve put much more work into the physics, with the input of [Corvette works driver] Tommy Milner, [ex-BTCC racer] Nic Hamilton and me. We’ve learned from the mistakes of Project CARS 1 and really tried to improve the game.”

That’s the only time he calls Project CARS a game; for the rest of our conversation it’s a sim.

His partnership with the game and creator Slightly Mad Studios came via YouTube. So impressed was he after being introduced to the game through wheel manufacturer Fanatec, that he was compelled to post his laps online. The makers got in touch and he’s been helping Project CARS ever since.

“My biggest asset is that I know how the cars handle,” he says. “So I’m testing all the cars and telling them what’s wrong. In terms of physics I tell them how it should handle, and if it’s realistic or not. The same goes for the track – if something has been missed like a bump or whatever I can tell them.”

He enjoys benefits, too. His home set-up allows him to jump behind the wheel whenever he pleases and learn the tracks he’ll be using in his day job.

“We don’t have all of the tracks I’m racing on, but whenever we do I play it. I try to build the set-up so it feels identical to my race car, and then I just do as many laps as I can. It helps me prepare mentally for the race.”

The proof is in the lap times, and the first game proved an online hit when he lapped Oschersleben within 0.025sec of his best that weekend in GT Open. Impressive by any sim’s standard, and the new version is no different.

“It gets pretty close. The real car always handles differently depending on track temperature, tyre situation and all that, but in general car balance can be replicated.

“Braking points, turn-in points, corner speed, lines, all of those can be practised. You build the rhythm and when you hit the track in real life you feel at home. You can do 100 laps on Project CARS and then, when you hit the track in real life, it feels like you’ve already done about two hours of testing.”

Project CARS will be released on September 22 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

DRIVING AMBITIONS

A rich seam of fresh options for lovers of racing games

There is a glut of games on the way in the coming months. First up is Formula 1 2017, released on August 25 for PS4, PC and Xbox One. Not only can you build a 10-year career and challenge for the world championship, but you can race classic cars such as McLarens MP4-4, 4-6, 4-13 and 4-23, and recent cover star the Williams FW14B. That’s joined by the FW18, four Ferraris (the 412 T2, F2002, F2004 and F2007), a Renault R26 and an RB6. It is also the game that will be used in the F1 sanctioned esports championship.

Project Cars 2 follows in September (see above). One look at the car list (visit motorsportmagazine.com) will confirm that its makers are cut from the same cloth as Motor Sport’s readers.

The flagship Xbox racer Forza Motorsport 7 is released on October 3, with stunning graphics and more than 700 cars available – including Mercedes 300 SLR number 722. Gran Turismo Sport is due two weeks later on PS4, with various packages available. The most exclusive features a limited-edition (real-world) AMG GT 1:43 model. In-game cars include the Peugeot LMP1s and Audi R18s, plenty of GT3s and even the F1 safety car.

Even the Nintendo Switch is opening its disc tray to racing – V Rally maker Eden is bringing its Gear.Club Unlimited game to the console later this year.

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