It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to go to the Nürburgring, let alone for the first time. The track is situated in the heart of Germany - practically in the middle of nowhere - surrounded by dense forest in the Eifel mountains, thus giving the Nürburgring its own unique and incredibly unpredictable weather system. Getting to the track by means other than a car would be rather tricky, nonetheless, when I was asked to join several members of RaceDepartment staff for a day at the Ring I almost instantaneously grabbed at the chance with both hands. And, what a special, historic and inspirational location it is to attend your very first motor-racing event! I was awestruck before we even arrived - the views, as you travel through the rolling hills, are magnificent, and the stunning, winding roads really help to get you in the mood! At the circuit, I could barely contain myself as we waited in the lobby of the Info° Centre for our Media passes. This would also be the first time that I would meet fellow RaceDepartment members face-to-face. I was definitely a little apprehensive, but also excited and intrigued to finally put a face to all of those names and voices I heard via TeamSpeak on a weekly basis. It was Blancpain Endurance Series weekend - Nürburgring1000, final race of the season - and the heavens very much had their own plans to make it interesting. Sunday, race-day, was a complete washout; thankfully we went on Saturday, and the weather was typically British-like, which certainly made the on-track action interesting. A quick heavy downpour, and even the professionals were struggling to keep the rear of their cars in check; there was a few hairy moments - spins, and entries into the gravel trap - that even got the adrenaline of us spectators flowing! The sounds of the cars were simply sensational - the vibrations from the roar and might of the engines penetrated your body and made your spine tingle as it travelled through. This was all very new to me, and I was taken aback to say the least! In addition, our Media passes granted us access to the paddock - the “behind-the-scenes” of motor-racing. This allowed us a brief glimpse and insight into how racing teams function and prepare - not something you see everyday nor would always have access. Given our importance, we also expected to find free food; unfortunately, there was none - only coffee! However, RaceDepartment didn’t merely attend to watch other people race... oh no! That weekend at the circuit, the Ring° Boulevard played host to the world’s first SimRacingEXPO; we were truly blurring the line between real and virtual racing! At the exhibition were a number of newly-found and leading hardware and sim-racing rig manufacturers, for professionals and gamers alike, including Ellip6, Simulationstechnik Lingnau (STL) with their ‘Actoracer’, Vesaro, D-Box Technologies, the Motorsport Simulator Company, and MPM with their ‘TriplEX’ cockpit, in addition to Fanatec. The price of rigs varied between €5000 for basic, simple setups - racing seat, ButtKicker, and motors to simulate being in a car, driving around a race-track - and €60000 for the top-end, most “realistic” cockpits, that would simulate every bump and undulation in the road, tossing you like a rag-doll as you try to keep the car on track and stop yourself from getting motion sickness. In terms of feel they were all incredibly impressive and immersive: I'm not going to lie - the quality of the simulation from the high-end rigs was second to none compared to those built for home-use, but I am incredibly tempted to save up for and buy one of the “cheaper” rigs! Being able to test this hardware was rather a novel experience; never before had I used, or was I aware of, for that matter, such sophisticated hardware to better the feel of sim-racing, especially for noncommercial use. Many of these sorts of simulation rigs would once have been locked behind closed doors, in the lairs and top-secret testing facilities of Formula 1 teams, only to be used by professional racing drivers! It really goes to show that regardless of how comparatively small and niche our community and hobby may be, there is a large, highly lucrative market, aimed at an ever-growing user base. Meanwhile, iRacing (sponsor of the Nürburgring1000), and Sector3 with RaceRoom Racing Experience (which has a permanent residence at the circuit's RaceRoom Café) dominated the software demonstrations. This was also new to me, as I was yet to try both iRacing and R3E: they were impressive in their own ways, but I think that I’ll still stick to rFactor 2, at least for the time being. In addition to these was a small preview of DriveClub from Sony (PS4). Practically a no-show was Slightly Mad Studios with Project CARS (there was one rather forlorn-looking representative, but that was all) in spite of the fact that they were expected to make an appearance and provide a demonstration. Even the original rFactor made an appearance at the Ellip6 stand! All in all, the SimRacingEXPO was seemingly a big success. The hardware on display, and the demonstrations on offer, really opened my eyes to how big and popular sim-racing has actually become in recent years. The advent of more affordable hardware, such as the Logitech G25/G27, computers in general, and games such as Gran Turismo and Forza that have encouraged gamers to pursue even more realism, have together resulted in a surge of new, ever more talented and ambitious sim-racing drivers. Our only criticisms at the end of the day were that much of the hardware was very specialised, thus potentially discouraging casual gamers and those that are new to sim-racing - it would have been better to see a separation between rigs and software for home and commercial use - and there was no free food! To sum up what was a fantastic day at the Ring, we have put together a short video which will show you some of the awesome things we experienced on that day, and the incredible opportunities we have in which you can potentially get can involved in the future! Hopefully we’ll see you at next year’s SimRacinEXPO! Photos and video courtesy of @Ricardo Edelmann.