Virtual rallying has hit new heights amid the daily struggles created by the world’s current coronavirus crisis. With the prospect of any real-life rallying still a long way off, rallying games and home-built simulators are keeping many drivers and fans occupied in these challenging times.
The demand is clearly there in the current climate but is rallying in front of a screen a valid replacement for the real thing?
The truth is that no matter how advanced the technology now is, virtual rallying cannot replace the real thing. It simply cannot match the feeling of driving a fully-fledged rally car down a gravel track or an asphalt road.
Virtual stages are shorter, incident damage is less critical… it just isn’t the real thing.
Despite this, it is a lot better than nothing at all. And you can be sure that the virtual world can have an important part to play in the future of rallying.
It will never be able to completely replace the feeling, the atmosphere, and the all-round skill of mastering a rally car at the highest level. It can, however, go a long way in getting more people involved in the sport and helping the next generation realise their world rallying dreams.
Guiding a rally car through a stage on Dirt Rally 2.0 requires a genuine amount of skill.
Think it’s easy?
I urge you to tackle a stage in Sweden using a Ford Sierra Cosworth, your eyes will be opened.
Okay, so it’s tricky, but how can it train an aspiring driver or keep a current driver sharp?
In both cases to be quick through any virtual stage, you need to understand how to handle a car, you need ultra-fast reactions, and more often than not you’ll go back to your natural driving instinct.
Is there a better way to stay sharp if you don’t have access to a real rally car?
For kids who have never driven a car in earnest, it’s the perfect way to master the art of finding the perfect driving line through rallying’s many variations of corner, junction, and jump.
Braking points, oversteer, understeer, handbrake turns. It’s all there. Even developing a knowledge of how set-up changes affect the way the car behaves.
If a teenager has spent his summer holidays finding the limit on his home-built simulator things like left-foot braking and operating a sequential gearbox will be second nature.
Northern Ireland’s Jon Armstrong is proof of all the above. His virtual training provided him with a method of preparation for two R5 appearances in the World Rally Championship when he had no way of getting real-life seat-time.
His practice paid off and a fastest R5 stage-time on Rally Germany was his reward.
Perhaps for those concerned about a virtual takeover, just look at what Armstrong wanted to do after becoming the WRC’s Esports champion – get back into a real rally car!
So as with all things in life, to make the most of a situation, you must look to the future and see the opportunities, and limitations, of new scenarios.
Virtual racing and rallying have proved they have a place in the motorsport world.
WRC must seize the chance to engage with a gaming community that otherwise might never tune into the highlights of the latest championship round.
People must get away from the idea that gaming will take away from the sport we currently have. It won’t.
The ladder to the highest level of rallying is always a point of discussion – the financial requirements of realising the rallying dream puts it out of reach for the majority of hopefuls. Esports presents an opportunity to find the next generation of talent and engage the next generation of fans.
The opportunity is there.
Here is my only concern. While Dirt Rally has flooded social media with championships and challenges, the official WRC game has barely surfaced.
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