Apex Racing Simulator


posted 8/13/2010 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC
Racing simulators also went through a series of technological plateaus, each taking the virtual driver ever closer to an amazingly realistic experience. Improvements in computer performance allowed for more accurate graphics and physics modeling, even going so far as to provide race track models laser measured down to the smallest bank, bump, dip, and curb. The most recent development to bring the racer closer to the real feel of the intricately modeled vehicles and tracks was the force feedback steering wheel. At that point, racing simulators too were up against the capability wall that had stalled progress in the flight simulator world: motion.

Motion is important in both flying and racing simulators to help make up for the lack of visual cues and to accurately mimic forces that are critical for both the correct control of the vehicle and to aid in the suspension of disbelief required to get the "player" more fully immersed in the experience. In racing, for example, it is one thing to know that there is a bump at the apex of a turn that will kick your rear tires loose or that the car will get light at the crest of a hill, but it is something completely different to feel it.

Some of this feeling is transferred to the driver via the force feedback steering, but no amount of feedback from the wheel can provide the feelings of acceleration or deceleration, nor can the driver be made to physically sense the yaw arising from the rear tires breaking loose at the start of a skid. Less critical for control yet vitally critical to a realistic driving experience, the constant jarring a driver receives from the bumps in the track is also is a big part of racing. I remember quite clearly from back in my kart racing days having been passed or having made passes when I or the driver in front of me simply got worn out from the brutal beating being delivered by the rough track surface. If I didn't go home from the track with an eight inch bruise running up my spine, I knew I hadn't been racing hard enough.

In flying, there is a big difference between consulting the graphical representation of a skid indicator to ensure that the pilot is making a coordinated turn and being able to feel the incorrect or insufficient use of the rudder in the seat of his pants. This is one of the most difficult lessons to learn during pilot training because it is a very subtle sensation, but it can be a life threatening thing to ignore. Stalling an airplane with uncoordinated rudder and aileron controls is nearly always an invitation for the airplane to enter a spin. Certainly it is true that a flight simulator without a motion base is a valuable learning tool, but the addition of sensory input provides the last portion of realism required to make the training complete. Being able to feel the pre-stall buffet in the wing while sitting safely on the ground, for example, can prepare a student before experiencing what can be a frightening event when encountered for the first time in the air.

So, if we can all agree that adding a motion base to both flying and racing simulators is highly desirable and useful, we can begin to explore where SimCraft Motion Technology comes into the picture. At the time of this writing, SimCraft's premier product is the Apex Racing Simulator. The Apex is targeted at professional and high-end amateur racers that are looking for a simulator system that is accurate enough to allow them to get meaningful practice time on road or oval courses. In-car practice is very expensive, requiring not only fuel and transportation costs but also the costs associated with buying track time, if it is even available. With the Apex system, race teams can practice whenever they want at a fraction of the cost. Combined with sophisticated software such as iRacing, which uses laser grading to map every bump or dip in a track's surface down to millimeters of accuracy, the Apex can provide a highly precise and realistic simulation of dozens of tracks.

I recently had the opportunity to “drive” the Apex for a cumulative forty-five minutes across two sessions. It felt like much less time than that; it was so much fun that I had to discipline myself to not be greedy while others were waiting for a turn behind the wheel. Sean MacDonald, SimCraft's Co-Founder set me up in a Dallara IndyCar sitting in the pits at Lime Rock Park speedway in Lakeville, CT. This was a good choice of track for me since Lime Rock is a track that I have quite a few laps on in simulators like rFactor and GTR Evolution. Knowing the track fairly well would allow me to get up to speed a little quicker so I could examine the capabilities of the Apex without having to simultaneously learn a new track.
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