by Tony Rickard on September 17th, 2010
If you ever envy motoring journalists who get to drive exotic machinery before it becomes available to the wealthy businessman and footballers (let alone the fact that most of us won’t ever get to drive them), then at least we can console ourselves with the knowledge that a virtual Grand Prix car costs the same as a virtual VW Jetta!
Of course if you are an inRacingNews journalist then you just might get to drive the upcoming Williams FW31 before it is made available to the membership. Feeling envious? You should!
Mind you, the car isn’t quite finished. The engineers are completing tweaks to various components including wiring up those little dials on the steering wheel to actually work. The wheel-modders are going to have a field day when this thing is launched and I can’t wait to see what they come up with.
I was always a fan of modern GP sims, right up until Grand Prix Legends was launched (which I thought was an odd choice of era until I drove it). Since then modern GP sims have never really excited me. I have always felt more involved with the low grip, non-aero cars in simulations as the driver involvement can be simulated but the sensations of sheer speed and high grip are harder to convey. Even the good simulators have felt a bit “arcadey,” as if things have simply been speeded up.
So one question when I fired up the Williams for the first time was whether it would just feel like it was in time-acceleration mode. I didn’t get to answer that question at first because what you initially notice is the sound. It’s the best yet in iRacing. Internally it sounds great; externally it manages to almost convey that first time you hear a Grand Prix car in the flesh. I say ‘almost’ because nothing quite prepares you for the sheer brutality of a GP car on full chat, but this is much - make that much – closer than TV.
Select first, give it some throttle and that brutality extends to driving this car for the first time. It isn’t necessarily the speed at leaving pit lane, nor the wheel spin that impresses as much as how it conveys getting all the power through the drive train to the rear tyres. I found myself gingerly pressing the throttle as I tried to identify just how much the back-end could take. But it feels controllable and you can instantly relate to those on-board shots where the drivers are feeling for the traction on corner exit and the revs rise and fall. You certainly need to be quick to deal with it but there isn’t the instant spin switch – the driver remains involved.
Of course cornering speeds are higher than anything else in iRacing and yes, you need to be precise, but it feels very involving. The car may twitch as it loses grip at one end, but with quick correction it’s brought back in line – very much what we see in real Grands Prix. These little errors lose fractions of time and the driver is being made to work, but it never feels impossible.
This is what I love about this car. I am not the fastest driver, especially when it comes to the top-flight, high downforce machines. Yet I feel like I have worked hard driving the Williams on the edge of my ability. With every other modern GP sim since Grand Prix Legends I have felt like I have just been memorizing points on the track to brake, turn in, accelerate, track out; which of course we do in every sim and every car. But the iRacing Williams FW31 adds a new level of fidelity to driving a Grand Prix car in a simulation and manages to convey the sensations of raw power above and beyond simply driving very fast.
Like a kid in a sweet shop I have driven at Silverstone, Virgina International Raceway and Road Atlanta. I even tried Summit Point to compare with a certain Ferrari test track, dipping into the 54s and it was an awesome experience. The feedback when a wheel locks under braking or loses traction under acceleration feels instantaneous and there is a true feeling of man and machine in harmony – even if my harmony is two seconds slower than the next man!
This kind of reminds me of Grand Prix Legends for the opposite reasons. I had little interest in ‘60s Grand Prix racing and yearned for a modern GP title instead. Of course I was hooked when I drove GPL. Since then, modern Grand Prix has done little for me in racing simulations, so the thought of an iRacing GP car wasn’t a great deal for me personally. However, I may be hooked again!
The one plea I would make to iRacing is that ten years ago most Grand Prix Legends races ran at Class D or C race distances and the setup garage was relatively simple compared to that of a modern day Grand Prix car. Making Grand Prix available for the masses is something we can do in sim racing, so a short, fixed setup series to complement the top flight GP series would be fantastic.
GP is back!