The world is in an economic downturn. Food, water, electricity, it all costs more… But I don’t mean to get you all bent out of shape. I mean, after all, we still have our motorsports! But… wait... it would seem these hard times are even hitting the race track. That beloved fossil fuel we call gas (or petrol) plays a bigger role in the realm of motorsport than any other sport the world. That, along with other cost related issues, have resulted in teams cutting down testing time and dropping out of championships altogether. Okay… so maybe there is cause for concern. With teams having less and less track time available (time which was already limited as it were!) what are they to do? How can they possibly train their drivers? What could possibly help the ailing world of motorsports! Hmm… well, how about “simulated” racing? Duh! And, yes, everyone’s heard of Red Bull and Ferrari’s top-secret, ubber realistic monstrosities that even simulate the way your digestive track reacts to too much pizza in the mid-afternoon light, but what about the smaller teams that can’t afford such equipment? Heck, such simulators costs more than actual race cars… So are smaller teams left in the cold? Well, thanks to a company known as Advanced Reality Constructors (otherwise known as ARC_Team) they don’t have to be. ARC is an Italian based company that traces its roots back to 2003. Their small team of data electronics designers, software developers, and test drivers have been hard at work since the company was founded. They train pro racing drivers using driving simulators. But it wasn’t until 2005 when Ferrari called and asked the company to develop trackside simulators that ARC began building cockpits for professional use. Their first installments with Ferrari were successful, and ARC have only gotten better at their craft since. Naturally, I was curious about this small bunch from Italy, so I contacted them for an interview. Well, Advanced Reality Constructor’s CEO himself, Andrea Rossetti, replied in a matter of minutes, agreeing to sit down with RaceDepartment and answer a few questions. The first question I asked him was how a driver goes about receiving training from the ARC_Team. “The driver or his manager contacts us to know which simulated cars are available..." Andrea explains. "If we have developed the requested vehicle already, then we prepare everything that is necessary to do the training session on the requested track; otherwise, we agree to use a car that is similar in performances.” Back when Ferrari first asked ARC to create simulators, the idea was to recreate physical reproductions of the "simulated" cars Ferrari had developed. And what that means is when Ferrari made simulators for, let's say, a GT car, Ferrari wanted to take it to the next level by creating an actual cockpit for their drivers, so their pilots could get a better sense of being in the car. That's where ARC came in. And that's the general idea of how ARC's F1 simulators work today. They build the cockpit of an F1 (or GP2) car, fully equipped with motion simulators and the like, and drop the drivers in to take laps. So after a driver had been trained on this simulator, I asked Andrea if they usually came back for more. "It depends," he says. "Some drivers just do the training to learn new tracks, others sign on with us to do a whole driver training program." He goes on to explain how ARC inked a deal with newly formed GP2 team Trident Racing. "...we developed a new car together with their engineers. Their drivers come here before each race to learn the track if they don't already know it, or sometimes to do a specific training program aimed at improving their speed or adjusting the setup." The next question I asked him was about the price of their simulators. With such detail and an attention paid to the level of equipment, I wondered if it were at all possible to recreate such technology for domestic use. "Definitely yes. Driver training hardware is available for domestic use..." He goes on to add. "If you don't mind spending huge money." Andrea uses Ferrari's sale of Anton Stipinovich's motion simulator as an example of people purchasing high-end equipment for personal use. (Ferrari sold the units to a few celebrities for a whapping 300.000 € a piece.) "We have a similar system... and our complete simulator will cost less than 200,000 €." With such a high price, I immediately put this type of equipment out of the realm of possibilities for someone like myself. But what about the drivers that used such a system? Could they ever play lesser sims like rFactor or iRacing, or were they spoiled for life? "Many of the drivers training here are also passionate game players," Andrea says, to my surprise. "...they always have a very critical point of view toward products on the market; but if they are satisfied with the driver training simulator we use, they are usually okay with some of the home products out there." And the final question for Mr. Rossetti was about the actual simracing software ARC uses. It says on their site that they use a heavily modded version of rFactor, so I asked exactly how heavily did they mod the game. "They are completely two different things," Andrea tells me. He compares their version of rFactor and the regular one as a car being bought from the dealership and then adjusted for actual racing. "Think of it like a car where you keep the original body panels but changed the engine, gearbox, differential, suspension, brakes, and anything else substantial under the hood, with racing parts. What do you get? You get a car that looks like the one you just bought from the dealer, but as soon as you start the engine, you will feel that you're driving a race car." He goes on to explain that the process of modifying rFactor took four years, and the ARC engineers reached a higher understanding of the G-Motor2 engine that the game operates on than some software companies that built games based from the G-Motor2 engine... This modded version of rFactor was also built based off a substantial amount of real world input; Andrea tells us it's entirely possible to setup the virtual car with the same setup the real car uses, and the virtual car will also output the same telemetry the real one does to a certain degree. Andrea was nice enough to bring in a few of the drivers currently training with ARC to answer some questions as well. Among them were a slue of GP2 drivers, including Fabio Onidi, Rodolfo Gonzales, Stepane Richelmi, Julian Leal, and Stefano Coletti, who also is a Formula 1 test pilot. Also Gianandrea Crespi (GT Open), Mirko Zanardini (Lamborghini Spuertrofeo), Daniel Mancinelli (F3, GP3) and Maximilian Gunther (Formula BMW) took part in the interview. Andrea points out that a few of the drivers had even tested in Red Bull’s Formula 1 simulator. I sent them all the same set of questions you'll find below, and the drivers agreed to answer anonymously. The best response for each question I chose to fill in as the answer. First, I asked them how the experience of driving this top-dollar simulator compared to the real thing. "There is a difference between the simulator and the real car, and it is very perceptible. But if the simulator is able to communicate some of the feelings, replicating the car's behavior—especially managing throttle and brake—then I will say it is realistic. The ARC simulator is able to communicate a physical and tactile feeling that gives you the possibility to control the car in a realistic way and allows me to push to the limit without requiring too much time to get the correct feelings." I then asked how much they value simulation driving when it comes to preparing for an event, and whether or not they think it gives them an edge. "Yes [it does give you an edge], because the simulator requires a great mental commitment and concentration in a short time span. If you do the simulator training, you will take much more advantage of the short time available in the practice sessions at the circuit to get ready for the race; the simulator puts you in a mental condition where you already know what you will have to do. If other drivers don't use it, you get an advantage; conversely, if everyone else uses it, it will keep you from being at a disadvantage." The next question was about the future of motorsport, specifically whether or not they thought simulation racing was going to play a bigger role in factoring the top drivers. "Today for us drivers the simulator is part of our training and improvement. To emerge in motorsport it is not enough to have great concentration and reaction skills if you don’t apply and hone them, always improving. Since the track time is always short and costly, it is necessary to find the most realistic alternatives." The final question for the drivers was how the actual simracing software (ARC's modded version of rFactor) compared with the original game that the rest of us play. "I play rFactor, iRacing, and other games often, but the differences are huge. A professional driver training simulator is created with the best possible synergy between elements... A game doesn’t share that much with a professional simulator in that sense. It can be really entertaining and engaging, for sure, but if I had to use a game to get ready for a race, I would find myself in trouble on track." With that, I let the ARC crew and drivers get back to work. From my time with the ARC_Team, it strikes me as obvious that simulation driving, indeed, is taking on a bigger role in motorsports. And it's not just for the richest teams in the world anymore. Thanks to groups like ARC, it is possible for lesser known drivers and teams to get valuable work and practice done. RaceDepartment would like to thank Andrea Rossetti, the ARC_Team, and the many drivers that took part in this interview for their time and input. And if you're interested in any of ARC's products or services, head over to www.f1driving.it to learn more, and visit their store found here! ARC_Team gathers telemetry for Trident Racing. Rodolfo Gonzalez takes a few laps at Nurgburgring GP.