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by Graham Cookson
in Company culture
on 09 November 2014

Digital Contact go to: Let's Race

At Digital Contact, we believe in the old adage: “work hard, play hard”. It’s that outlook on life that leads to some fantastic days and evenings out with the team and other like-minded companies we've worked with. We’ve had BBQs, evenings out to pubs, bars and clubs and bowling nights – with many more new and unique activities planned in the pipeline. More recently we were able to experience what it’s like to be a Formula One driver, for a fraction of the cost...

On the 28th August (2014) the Digital Contact team shot down to sunny Surrey, just past Gatwick Airport, to a virtual Formula One fanatic’s dream: Let’s Race - where we were joined by some of the team from The Site Doctor and Pomfrey Accountants, for an afternoon of simulated Formula One racing.

Let’s Race is an advanced racing simulator, featuring (what is said to be) the only full-motion F1 car racing experience in the UK.

Partnered with Carlin Motorsport, the technology within each simulator pod is said to recreate the full experience and feeling of driving a genuine Formula One vehicle – without the risk and cost of putting inexperienced race drivers at the wheel of a multi-million pound powerhouse.

After an introduction to the technology and a health and safety demonstration, our party of 14 was split into two groups and we were guided into the simulator room, where we were greeted by a small spectator stand, 10 F1 race car simulators and two giant projector screens, for spectators to view the action on.

The first group hopped into their designated pods, each featuring replica F1 driving positions, full motion mechanics (i.e – the pods move about when driving to simulate breaking, turning and accelerating) and three screens to simulate your racing view.

Both groups took it in turns to complete a timed qualifier round through the chosen track, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada.

It takes a lot of getting used to. Unlike driving a normal car or racing in a videogame, these simulators are mimicking the real performance and physics of an F1 vehicle and by slamming on the accelerator and turning the wheel, you will spin out.

It was a humorous sight, to say the least, when we each drove out of the simulated team garages in the pits and half of the group immediately started spinning out of control, because they didn’t anticipate the lack of grip at low speeds and the raw power of the F1 race car.

It was a similar affair when it came to touching the grass or grit on the sides of the track: losing all control and slamming hard into walls. And unlike videogames at home or in the arcade, the Let’s Race pod would let you know you’ve hit something as the whole pod jolts and tilts as you crash into the tyres, walls and other vehicles.

The only unrealistic element to the ‘game’ was that the vehicles showed no sign of damage, tyre wear or fuel consumption - and thank god for that! I, myself, experienced far too many crashes to have come close finishing a single lap (let alone the race) if realistic damage had been turned on. And judging from some of the other drivers I saw on the day, it’s fair to say that Digital Contact’s team head count would have been significantly reduced had we been in real F1 race cars.

After the qualifier rounds were completed, we went on to the main race – each person starting in their designated grid positions following their performances in the previous round.

At this point the event really heated up. Small rivalries had formed between drivers and the urge to really compete kicked in as we raced to see who could achieve the fastest lap times within 30 minutes.

Racing round the track, you soon appreciate just how difficult it is to drive in Formula One vehicles; the steering wheel bites back at you in a way that your regular hatchback wouldn’t dream of doing, the lack of traction control or braking assists that you are used to are all gone and a simple corner suddenly feels more like a brick wall fast approaching.

The simulated speeds are also something that are out of this world. Driving at 70mph feels pretty rapid in a your town car, but when you hit the straight and are approaching speeds of 200mph (even in a simulator) you are suddenly aware of how fast those well-paid drivers on TV are really going – especially when that straight is rounded off with a lovely S-bend and you have to rapidly drop from 8th gear down to 2nd or 1st in the space of a couple of second, otherwise you’ll be going head-first into spectator’s stand!

At the end of the afternoon, the results were in and Digital Contact’s fearless leader, Gareth Mann grabbed the pole position with the fastest time (I’m sure it didn’t help that he’s been to the Let’s Race venue before…), in second came Patrick Gaunt from The Site Doctor and third was Matthew Creed from Pomfrey LLC.

All in all the day was very enjoyable, with a few frustrated employees – who perhaps hadn’t done as well as they had hoped… or had just been beaten to the finish line by a rival. But that’s all part of the experience and added to the fun of the day.

While it may look like an expensive arcade machine, make no mistake, the Let’s Race simulators are incredibly advanced and offer an experience unlike anything else you would get to try, outside of real racing and track days. But, being a simulator, there’s less cost involved, less danger and everyone can give it a go without fear of destroying millions of pounds worth of machinery.

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