Late last year we chatted to Sarel van der Merwe about using racing simulators to prepare for real life races in Europe, and he also got to experience a round of the local Sports and GT iRacing Championship after being invited to test the motion simulator of Len Gerber, another Capetonian who’s been involved in local sim racing for the past twenty years.
While Sarel prepped for the overseas races a couple of years ago on Len’s older rig, which uses Fanatec components, it was Len’s new model that uses motion actuators that Supervan would be testing, with high-end gadgets from very famous names in motorsport.
Gerber recently stepped away from competing every week to focus on his other endeavours, because as everyone who is competitive will know, it takes hours and hours of practice, and figuring out a set-up.
Love for flying
Len’s also trying to complete and is busy constructing a flight simulator, which will enable him to fly any of the Huey UH-1 helicopters, but panels in the seat slide, fold and disappear that turn it into a replica of the controls.
The throttle, joystick and control panel are replicas of the A10 Thunderbolt close-air support jet, with some external details that are a nod to the nose of the tank-killer, affectionally dubbed ‘Warthog’. After firing up the flight simulator for the first time a month ago, Len realised the motion actuators on the racing rig supported the simulator software for flight, and after flying the sim with someone else sitting in the racing rig and feeling the effect of flight, he was convinced that was the direction he was heading in for the foreseeable future.
In future, he’s looking to build a base, or a trailer, on which he can go easily from simulating racing and flight, and quickly too. But because he’s putting together one last racing simulator for a friend, hasn’t found the time to work on his own project.
The racing rig itself
Len’s prototype is simply that in theory, as it’s basically the guinea pig for his new designs and when he wants to upgrade an existing component or add a new piece of kit. At the bottom of the frame and seat of his racing rig are commercial grade motion actuators from Canadian motion experts D-Box, the kind you’d find in a 4DX cinema. Len says they’ve just launched an entry level version aimed at home use, that’ll set you back in the region of R200 000, but that if you want something that’s going to last forever, you’re looking at half a bar. His system features three inches of travel, with surge (forward and backward), as well as yaw, so you can feel traction loss at the rear.
“You feel the changes in road surface, you feel the curbs, it just makes virtual reality alive. The steering system is from Leo Bodner in the UK, a servo-motor equipped unit that cranks out 20 N.m of torque. If you’re about to hit a wall,” Len says, “then you’re definitely going to want to let go of the wheel.”
Step on it
The pedals are from Heusinkveld and are a load cell-based set-up. Len uses their Ultimate pedal set, but they also have the Sprint, which is about half the price. The elastomers you push against are customisable and you can easily remove them and replace them with stiffer examples. Len’s setup uses the softest ones you get, but you still need to generate 80 kg of force with your leg to generate full braking force. Included in the kit, he says, are elastomers that go as far as 130 kg, which is F1 level of braking force.
“The advantage of a stiff brake pedal is that you’ve got so much control of your trail braking, so if you want to only generate five or seven percent of your braking, it still requires some effort. Whereas if the pedal is super soft, you wouldn’t be able to brake at 10 percent just because you don’t have the feel. Depending on how much downforce the car has, you stand on the pedal for your initial braking, and as you let go of the pedal you’ve got so much control over how much braking percentage you generate as you approach the apex.”
The rest of the components
The virtual reality system is the original Oculus Rift CV1, which was the initial offering from the Oculus VR company in 2016. There’s also an H-Pattern gearshift from drivetrain experts Quaife, who have started to offer sim racing products as well.
The rig also has a sequential shifter to the left of the driver, which Len added just so that he could mimic an actual Australian V8 supercar, which was approved for use during the virtual championship he was involved with. In these cars you can upshift at full throttle by pulling the shift lever back, but to downshift you need the clutch as well.
“You have to clutch, blip the throttle or heel and toe , which is really cool, but when we started to do our practice events online for the race, there was a second a lap I was basically getting left behind because I was engaging in this fancy footwork. So, I started to practice with paddle shift and clutch assist, so I could left-foot brake and do what everyone else was doing and be competitive.
Len also chose a Tillet carbon-fibre seat with very little padding so that all the forces generation by motion in the sim racing rig are transmitted directly to the driver’s body.
iRacing the software of choice
“I was invited to join the league, and those guys believe in iRacing. I’ve been an iRacing user since 2013, even though initially I didn’t race online and mostly just fooled around. There are however, many other good simulators like Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione, RaceRoom Racing Experience. Project Cars is also enjoyable, and even though a lot of people tend to shoot it down by saying it’s a little arcadey and the cars don’t behave like they should but it could be quite fine. There’s bits and piece of rubber flying around, dust and a lot of things happening. I found it to be one of the most unrealistic sims, but at the same time very immersive.”
We race on iRacing, it’s got very nice lobbies and is very nicely geared for online events, and its very easy to join races, too.