Features

Driving Ginetta’s state-of-the-art racing simulator: how realistic is it?

Ahead of his first-ever car race, in evo’s Fast Fleet Ginetta G56 GTA, Yousuf Ashraf had the chance to sample Ginetta’s highly advanced driving simulator

I built a home racing simulator to quash boredom during the Covid lockdowns, and I’m pretty happy with it. With a feelsome direct-drive steering wheel, three wraparound displays and near motorsport-grade controls, it's more tactile and involving than some real sports cars I've driven. Would I trust it to teach me everything I need to know before stepping into my first car race without a single lap under my belt? Probably not. But would I trust Ginetta’s state-of-the-art sim, which puts you inside a genuine GT car cockpit with software developed by the firm’s factory drivers, to do that job? I’m going to have to…

Having been drafted in for an intensive customer testing programme, evo's Fast Fleet Ginetta G56 GTA has barely taken a breather since our own James Taylor drove it to an impressive double podium result at Oulton Park. We'll be racing in the GT Academy series once more at Silverstone, where I, as a complete novice, will share the drive with James. But with our G56 tied up with other duties until then, there’ll be no time for me to get a feel for it until lights-out. Gulp. I’ve never driven a racing car of any kind before, and the prospect is daunting and deeply exciting all at once. 

Thankfully, I won’t be going in completely blind. Ahead of Siverstone, Ginetta invited evo to its factory in Leeds for a driver training session on its simulator, with guidance from works driver Charlie Robertson to further help prepare me for the race. As a former Ginetta Junior and GT4 Supercup champion with a top-five Le Mans finish in the LMP1 class, Charlie is the perfect man to help get the most out of me, the G56 GTA and the Silverstone National circuit at which I’ll be racing.

Developed by British firm SimTrack, Ginetta’s simulator is built around the cockpit of a real GT car (in this case an Aston Martin Vantage GT3) with sim racing hardware integrated seamlessly into it. A direct-drive motor is installed at the base of the steering column to relay feedback through the wheel, with electronic sensors in the pedal box to translate inputs into the sim software. The brake pedal in particular is ingenious, as it’s hydraulically linked to a real caliper and disc to provide accurate feel and response. The system is tied together by the popular Assetto Corsa software, albeit with a bespoke car and tyre model developed by Ginetta’s works drivers to replicate the 3.7-litre V6-engined, 270bhp G56 GTA and its Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S rubber. 

Sitting inside and looking out at a curved, six-metre panoramic screen, the sense of scale and depth is incredibly lifelike. With the display filling the windscreen and side windows, your brain is fooled into thinking the car is in motion, but your body’s internal sensors say otherwise – it’s a bit like sitting in a stationary train and watching the carriage next to you begin to move off. At first, I sit in the passenger seat as Charlie talks me around the 1.64-mile Silverstone National circuit. In typical racing driver fashion he’s eerily calm at the wheel, nudging up to the limits and gently scrubbing the digital Michelins across the track beautifully. ‘It’s such a difficult track on which to find time because there are only four corners, but it rewards the best drivers because of that,’ he says, setting a benchmark of 1:03.9. 

Charlie and I swap places, and the car’s friendly nature puts me at ease straight away. The road-biased tyre model provides a wide operating window that makes it easy to find the limit, but making best use of the available grip still requires finesse. The feedback from the wheel is heavy and hyperactive, kicking back over the bumps and kerbs that I suspect won’t disturb the real car (the steering effort and response is adjustable in the software), but the pedal box feels bang-on and immediately intuitive. After four or five scruffy laps of wrestling the car I manage to keep it clean and post a 1:03.8, pipping Charlie by half a tenth. What ensues is essentially two hours of friendly but highly competitive one-upmanship as each of us swap in and out of the sim to set quicker laps. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and forces me to hone in on the finer details of my driving. 

We step out for a well-earned cool-down break (it gets pretty muggy in the sim despite the onboard fan) to look at the data. Charlie and I are lapping within a few thousandths of each other in the mid-1:03s now (near last year’s GTA pole time), but the way we’re approaching the lap is quite different. I tend to drive a slightly tighter line into Copse by being harder on the brakes into the apex, while Charlie carries more mid-corner momentum but loses out on the exit. This trend continues through Maggots, Brooklands and Luffield, until we cross the line pretty much simultaneously. Charlie reckons that – if I can pull it off on race day – the real G56 GTA will respond well to my driving style, but that’s still an enormous unknown. Ginetta’s sim certainly felt believable and aligned with James’s impressions of the car after Oulton, but the simulator is intended as a supplement – rather than a replacement – for real seat time. I could be in for a rude awakening at Silverstone.

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