Driving, but not in a real car

On 2 February I drove an Aston Martin GT3 race car on the VLN set up on the Nürburgring.
The catch is that I never left the UK.

I went to Base Performance Simulators in Banbury to see for myself what driving in a simulator is like. And it’s a lot harder than you may expect.
When I called I simply requested an Aston Martin (what else?) on the Nordschleife. The reason for this is that, as you may know, I have done one lap of the Nordschleife in the Ringtaxi. At the time I felt I wouldn’t want to drive there myself, but – as it happens when time passes – I have change my mind and now would like to try. However, the Nordschleife is a notorious track and I am not confident enough to take it on at this moment in time. So when the opportunity arose to try a simulator session at Base Performance I took it with both hands.

When I got there I was introduced to my instructor/coach, Dave, who explained how the simulator worked. He also told me the simulator had been set up as a GT3 Aston as these are easier to drive than the GT4. I was thankful for that pretty soon!

It’s interesting to be told your feet are too small. I usually don’t have any issues with my size 6 feet, but apparently I would have a bit of an issue braking because my feet didn’t fully cover the pedal. Dave turned out to be 100% correct: I had to put more of an effort in than people with bigger feet and eventually resorted to moving my foot so I pressed on the brake pedal a bit higher. That certainly made it easier.

The first surprise came when the session started: having three screens made me seriously dizzy. Dave had to switch the two side screens off to make it even bearable. This meant that I lost my peripheral vision, which is not ideal when going through corners. It took me approximately one lap (which is rather large!) before I managed to deal with the vision. I have to admit it never did go normal, there was always a bit of an effect, but it didn’t hamper me…thankfully.

My second surprise was how heavy the steering wheel was. Even though the Aston has power steering the tyres would be big and have no profile (slicks, as these are called). I hadn’t taken that into account, of course. At then end of the session my arms were quite tired.

I am not particularly short (1.70m), but the position within the car is quite low. As a result I couldn’t see the track at all when going uphill. Very interesting, as you will not know what’s coming next…unless you know the track very well, and I don’t.
I also kept on crashing in the same corner. The reason being that I approached it while driving on the right side of the track and this was a righ hand turn. As a result I turned in too fast and too sharp and skidded nicely to my left into the armco. Oops!
Even though I couldn’t see the track until very shortly before this corner, I don’t want to use that as an excuse. After a few laps I knew it was coming and I made the same mistake every single time. I believe I managed to just stay clear of the armco, but was still on the grass. I need more practice.

All in all, it was a great experience and I am considering repeating it. One or two motion sickness pills should help with the nausea, so I can use all three screens. And I intend to do my homework and study the track before any future attempts.
I managed 4 laps and went from 12:29 to 10:40. My aim is not to drive one lap as fast as possible, but to get an idea on how to drive that track safely. Chances are therefore quite high that I will try another session so I can eventually move on to learning to drive there in a real car. Watch this space!

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