As we work our way through month two of the lockdown, we catch up with long-time Club Lotus Australia member and sprint competitor Syd Reinhardt to find out how he’s using his time away from the track to spend more time on the track.
When faced with retirement after a lifetime of business activity, many men just fade away. Boredom can be fatal.
I was young when I retired, but I’ve never been short of interests, I travelled and lent an extra dimension to my travels by becoming involved in digital photography. I enjoyed the processing of the images that I’d captured as much as creating the image in the first place.
I enjoy early motor cars and was able to restore some interesting vehicles and drive them all over the world. Motorsport was always a favourite pastime, and now I could indulge myself.
Until the big bang. Not what you might think, the bang was nothing to do with my foray into historic motor racing, or supersprinting my delightful Lotus. It was my coming to earth with a thud. That thud was the explosion that is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everything just stopped.
As a person well into his seventies, I was high risk. (I knew that anyway, long before COVID). But now, I was under house arrest. I could no longer go out to take photographs, couldn’t drive, was forced to cancel some amazing travel experiences that were booked and paid for, withdrew my entries to two historic race events and work on my restoration project of a rare and delightful ancient sports car ground to a halt.
Now what? I’m stuck at home, and the delights of housework are limited.
Enter the world of sim racing.
I had been seeing more and more publicity about E-racing. All of a sudden, it started to make sense for me. When I was young, pinball machines were the height of techno-wizardy, but I could never afford the sixpence they cost per game, so I rarely played them. Now, in this digital age, I could take a leap into circuits like the Nurburgring and Laguna Seca and drive them in my virtual car of choice. I would need a PC or a game console, pedals and a wheel and then my only limit would be software.
What an interesting world we live in. The delights of thrashing around Silverstone or screaming through the green hell of the Nurburgring could all be just a click away. Oran Park might have become a housing estate, but I could drive a laser scanned accurate digital version of a track I last drove many years ago.
Not so fast, Sunshine.
Which wheel? Which pedals? Pc or Console? Single screen, or triple? Or hey, what about virtual reality? I did my research. And what of the software? Games abound, choice is endless.
Knowing that at my age I need all the help I could get, I decided to move my sights upwards, away from the basic gear. Not that there is anything wrong with that gear, I just thought that I’d have greater satisfaction with “nice kit”.
Yeah, right. Pricing the “nice kit” gave me a reality check. My cheeky wish list and what I thought would be a reasonable spend were at opposite ends of the spectrum. Not that this is anything unusual for most things that I aspire to.
I turned to eBay and Gumtree and then came upon an advertisement placed by a motor racing colleague who was selling a complete and very nice middle of the road sim racing rig. In no time at all the deal was done and I became the proud owner of a virtually new sim set up.
My new sim features a really upmarket suede leather covered Porsche style wheel (Sorry Rob B.!) adorned with 14 (I kid you not) programmable function switches. So, far I’ve programmed the ability to rescue my crashed car back to the pits…
It boasts flappy paddles, but also includes a manual shift option that has up to seven gears and is switchable between H-pattern and sequential shifting (in practice the number of gears selectable correspond to the car specification).
The wheel has a full race quick release and is driven by a Fanatec belt drive motor. Elegant aluminium pedals are also by Fanatec. When I think I’m at the right level, I might upgrade the brake system from the current Hall effect to a load cell.
Good gear? You betcha. I’m ready. Or so I thought.
You’ve no doubt heard of a bum steer. Usually, that refers to poor advice. In my case, being a traditional old school racer, I rely on my bum to help me steer, to let me know what the car is doing. My new rig has a very comfortable race seat, but no bum feedback.
Of course, it is possible to fit full motion to a sim rig, but the dollar pain of doing so is more than I am ready to suffer. So, for now I have to rely on the feedback I get through the steering wheel, the sound track and the screen. It is tough, a whole new learning curve adapting to different and often very subtle input, but lots of fun. It is always good to learn a new skill set.
My rig came with some software. However this was a few generations old and included driving on tracks that I’m familiar with like Eastern Creek and – I’ll never know why it has been renamed Sydney Motorsport Park – jeez that rolls of your tongue doesn’t it? However, this first generation software just wasn’t really accurate and I found this frustrating. As a result of research on the web I downloaded Assetto Corsa and enjoy that very much.
The fun I’m having is enhanced because I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. There’s an enthusiastic Club Lotus group organising regular race meetings, – see the Aussie Elises forum, where a discussion on what to do during social isolation developed into a racing group. See https://aussieelises.com/topic/14355-i-series-racing
The group selected iRacing as their software of choice. The selection of cars is extensive and so is the choice of race tracks. Tracks are laser scanned, very accurate and realistic, and the cars allow set up tweaks that affect performance.
iRacing can offer as intense an experience as the user chooses, with licences graded according to skill and experience, constant online races to join or the ability to stage one’s own online real time races with mates.
So on Wednesday night, I had my baptism of fire. Seven or eight of us went to Phillip Island, where we practised, qualified and then went on to race.
If you are the person that I T-boned in turn one, well you forgot about your cold tyres and lost it big time and I’m sorry but there was nowhere for me to go. No harm done and anyway, and over the race distance, I made heaps of errors myself, probably more than most. I stuffed myself into a bank, went farming several times and somehow, did not finish stone last.
I’m left wondering, post COVID when we get back on track, will there be a benefit? Will my skill set have improved?