For most people, sim racing is the closest they’ll ever get to hopping inside the cockpit of a race car. But thanks to virtual reality, they might soon get even closer.
Thanks to the processing capabilities of modern computers and next-gen gaming consoles, racing sims are more realistic than ever before. Most sims are laser-scanned, which not only allows for more accurate physics engines, but more life-like graphics as well. It’s no wonder, then, that some of the top racing sims on the market, such as iRacing, DiRT Rally, Assetto Corsa and Project CARS, have begun supporting VR devices.
As far as iRacing was concerned, the decision to integrate VR capability was a no-brainer.
“We definitely heard it from a small group of members (who wanted VR support), but based on everything we understood about it, it seemed like a racing game would be the perfect application for VR,” iRacing president Tony Gardner told NESN Fuel. “Everything in iRacing is already to scale. Since we laser-scan everything, we build the exact environment, so (when) using virtual reality nothing would look strange or funny — it looks right.
“We thought that from the beginning, and that’s proven to be the case.”
Currently, iRacing only has full support for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which Gardner said are the clear benchmark for VR sets. The company has partially integrated other headsets but determined they weren’t up to par.
In order for VR to feel natural, a headset needs good resolution as well as good motion tracking. When both those things are well-developed, users are able to fully immerse themselves in the sim.
“Resolution is getting better and better, so your mind’s eye is telling you it’s real,” Gardner said. “That’s what we’re going for. I definitely think it’s a great tool to get that next step of full immersion and realism, so I think it definitely will help drivers.”
Anybody who’s tried sim racing knows the toughest thing about it is the lack of external stimuli. Unlike in a real life, where you receive constant feedback literally from the seat of your pants, in a sim you have to rely solely on vision and force feedback from the steering wheel.
With VR, your vision isn’t limited to a flat screen.
“Field of view is so important for racing,” Gardner said. “With virtual reality, being able to look all the way to your left and your right is so important when you’re racing head-to-head with other cars.
“Good VR feels real. You get a more real experience and I definitely think that helps sim racers go to the next level.”
As of now, iRacing estimates 5 to 10 percent of its members are using VR, but that number is expected to grow significantly as the technology improves, and costs come down.
Thumbnail photo via Oculus