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The tech behind truly high-end driving simulators

By Chris Thompson, 14 May 2020 Features

The tech behind truly high-end driving simulators

There’s plenty more to sim racing than a wheel on your desk for a few laps in iRacing

Everybody’s doing it. Professionals are doing it, kids are doing it, we’re doing it, and you’re probably doing it. Sim racing has become the new ‘normal’ for motorsports while the real thing is on hold in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Australia that’s meant drivers competing in the Supercars series have taken to building their own sim racing setups, or getting their teams to do it for them.

Aside from a couple of relatively rudimentary initial setups (Rick Kelly’s involved a camping chair), the world of sim racing has become rather advanced over the many years since the first arcade-style rigs existed.

While there are sim wheels so basic most enthusiast gamers might question the point, there are also sim setups so complex the casual observer would wonder why you wouldn’t just buy a real car.

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CXC racing simulator motor

Pictured is that end of the scale, the CXC Motion Pro II. At USD$57,000 (more than AUD$87,000), the entry-level version is already the price of a decent sports car, but the top-spec version with all the options is more than USD$115,000 (AUD$176K). But why?

For a start, it’s not just a scaled-up version of your home rig. The motion of the wheel is driven differently in high-end sims, connected directly to the motor (direct drive, this is called) rather than via a belt or gear. Most basic force-feedback wheels are gear driven, which can be jerky and loud due to the transfer of torque.

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Belt-driven force feedback is a better option, and likely in your home setup if it’s cost you a bit to gather, but direct drive is hailed as the ultimate.

CXC racing simulator wheel

As with many high-end rigs, the seat is perhaps where the most obvious difference lies. Rather than a fixed unit, many professional simulators feature a pneumatic system underneath which move the seat in as close a mimic as possible to a real car.

Many simulator constructions move the entire seat, wheel, and screen combo, though the pictured CXC unit only moves the seat. While this means slight movements are independent of the wheel and pedals, CXC says a person’s kinaesthesia (a sense that your body has moved) is able to allow the body to adjust accordingly and lose none of the realism that a simulator should provide.

CXC racing simulator base

Why has CXC made this decision? It says moving only the seat rather than the entire setup allows much more rapid, accurate movements by the hydraulic lift due to the much lower weight being lifted by the system. These are the lengths some manufacturers go to in ensuring their system is as accurate as it can be, and the reason they cost as much as a sports car.

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Interchangeable wheels

Unlike most simulators, the interfaces on high-end systems can be swapped out. Want to drive an F1 car one race and a Jaguar E-Type the next? Trade your race car wheel for a vintage version!

Screens or VR?

While most race in simulators with a screen or a wrap-around series of screens, products like the HTC Vive or Occulus Rift allow drivers to experience simming in proper virtual reality.

Vehicular variety

If driving gets a little repetitive (unlikely!) some high end sims can be used for other vehicle simulations, particularly interesting is the ability to fly aircraft with some models.

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CXC racing simulator  wheel detached

Weigh it up

CXC says a normal system would need to move about 170kg with the entire system, where its rig moves only the seat and driver, averaging about half that all up. Is the extra speed worth the discrepancy in movement?

Immerse yourself

Some more dedicated simulators also feature a ‘box’ around the seat and screen setup, and move the entire construction for full immersion into the sim, much like a miniature version of a ‘4D’ theme park film ride.

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