Masters of Virtual

According to guest editor-in-chief of MASTERS Magazine, Jordi van den Bussche, the boundaries between virtual and physical reality are increasingly blurred. This is also true in automotive, where cars from the virtual racing world are making their tracks on unadulterated asphalt and, conversely, concept cars are making virtual mileage so that drivers can train 24/7 without the costs and limitations of physical racing and testing.

When Gran Trak 10 was released for Atari in 1974, it was the first time it was possible to race, rather primitively, on a computer. In 1997, the first version of Gran Turismo was released in which several existing cars could be driven. It was the first game that sought to create a realistic racing simulation. With the release of GT2 in 1999, more dream cars were already being added and this trend has continued in the following years. In this second edition of Gran Turismo, our favorite was the Renault Espace F1. On the outside, this 1995 concept car was an Espace, Renault's popular SUV. Under the skin, however, it was a carbon fiber racing monster with a 3.5 liter V10 Formula One engine and a chassis that came largely from the Williams F1 team. By 1999, the Espace F1 had long since been parked at the Matra Museum, where the public could thus only look at the one-off concept. Until the car was thus incorporated into GT2, after which it could be driven virtually ever since.

The simulator "games" of the last century have evolved rapidly and have become increasingly realistic. Today's games approximate the driving experience of the expensive setups Formula 1 teams use. Most simulators of F1 teams are based on rFactor Pro, with a lot of proprietary software on top. The rFactor games are also based on rFactor Pro, yet the differences are substantial. Current F1 simulators can measure and process an awful lot of data. Everything the car does with a given tire, setup, road surface, temperature, air pressure, crosswinds, and so on is measured and detailed. An F1 team's simulator, including the associated measuring equipment, servers, terminals and the like costs at least ten million and is the size of a very nice apartment.

Virtual vs. reality

The first sim games were the inspiration for today's F1 simulators. Teams saw their potential, and when unlimited testing for F1 teams was curtailed starting in 2003, they became especially interesting. F1 teams spent millions on simulators and software to compensate for the testing ban. Since then, new parts are always tested in the simulator first, and only when everything is correct and fine-tuned do they go to the wind tunnel or the track. New designs and concepts are designed with CFD software. Computational Fluid Dynamics study the flows of fluids or gases. So in the case of F1, CFD software analyzes the effect of air currents on a race car.

In 2010, as a newcomer to Formula 1, the Virgin Racing team dared to completely skip the wind tunnel and design everything in CFD. There were two other newcomers to F1 that year, and Virgin did not underperform the other two. But yes, all three started with such a technical and financial backlog that they are now long gone. Still, Virgin Racing's choice illustrates the importance of CFD, as it is also indispensable for current teams. F1 teams currently combine CFD with wind tunnel testing. However, only when the engineers are satisfied with the measured numbers, graphs and simulations, are they considering testing the new parts and cars in the wind tunnel or on the racetrack at all.

Max and Lando

Sim racing game manufacturer iRacing is working closely with TotalSim, a world leader in CFD. Thus, iRacing creates a high degree of realism in the aerodynamic behavior of the cars in their game. And so the boundaries between virtual and physical reality are increasingly blurred. The consensus is that iRacing is the best game for an authentic racing experience. Formula One stars and top sim riders like Max Verstappen and Lando Norris call iRacing their favorite game because iRacing comes closest to the feeling of racing in real race cars. For example, you can feel a small change in the car's setup immediately reflected in its handling. Or as Lando Norris describes it in race car language, "You immediately feel the feedback in your steering wheel." That's why the cars in games like iRacing or rFactor approach reality very closely. Even if virtual cars are developed specifically for sim racing games, they have to be extremely realistic. Which immediately explains why there will be no nonsense creations, such as a Smart with 2,000 hp, driving around in serious sim racing games.

Car manufacturers go virtual

In September 2021, the Porsche Mission R concept car was introduced at the IAA Mobility in Munich. This electric racing car with all-wheel drive and up to 1,100 hp was designed as a study model for future Porsches as well as to live on in the virtual world. Moreover, the Mission R's cockpit module can be used independently as a simulator. In it, drivers can thus train 24/7, without having to go onto the track, and thus without the costs and limitations of physical racing and testing. In addition, the Mission R can also be raced on the iRacing platform. In the physical world, Porsche is participating in the Formula E World Championship for electric single-seaters. Here Porsche is testing the electric future of sports cars on the track. The Mission R, on the other hand, will never drive on a real racetrack, yet this virtual two-seater is also testing Porsche's near future. And this includes gratefully incorporating feedback from iRacing.


Curious about the rest of the article? The winter issue of MASTERS was created in collaboration with Jordi van den Bussche. Many will know him as YouTuber Kwebbelkop, yet he has been working hard as an entrepreneur for some time, as he reveals in the Big Interview. What's new is that his company JVDB Studios is offering to do social media marketing and short-format content marketing for other companies. "They can also go and figure it out themselves, but we cracked the code." Jordi gives a stage to like-minded entrepreneurs such as Jay-Jay Boske, Demy de Zeeuw, Chahid Charrak and Marcella de Bie, and discusses developments around games, crypto and NFT: "Just as bitcoin turned the financial system upside down, the same will happen with gaming." This extra-thick winter issue also features Lengers' first own ship, an interview with Corendon chief Atilay Uslu, specials on the new BMW 7 Series and Samsung foldables, and - exclusively for MASTERS! - an interview with Max Verstappen.

MASTERS #52 with guest editor Jordi van den Bussche