A Brief Look at Sim Racing Through the Years

sim racing driver rig

Sim racing has come a long way in the past 30 or so years, developing into its own esports category and making the Formula 1 scene more accessible to enthusiasts.

Many of today’s sim racers still remember what it was like to race in arcades and can appreciate how far the tech has progressed. Here, we’ll take a look at sim racing’s evolution through the years!

1980s: The Full Body Experience

In the 1980s, arcade games began to utilize hydraulic systems to give players a realistic racing experience. More than simply displaying images on a screen, developers began incorporating telemetry and realistic physics into their games.

In 1986, Konami released the first game to try and accurately simulate race car driving: WEC Le Mans. Courses were approved by the Automobile Club de l’Quest, and the car would jump up and down, could spin up to 180 degrees, and required counter-steering to avoid spinouts. Soon after, Sega released Super Monaco GP, which featured a steering wheel with paddles used to change gears, making the experience even more realistic. Games like these established the genre, and paved the way for the next generation of titles.

1990s: Multiplayer and Customization Take Root

With the popularity and accessibility of personal computers and gaming consoles came the emergence of new trends in sim racing. In 1992, MicroPose’s Formula One Grand Prix allowed racers to hook up their machines with a null modem cable and race against one other player. Leagues where racers competed by sending their single-player records formed, and competitive sim racing was born.

Online racing also emerged with Papyrus’ NASCAR Racing series, which allowed racers to dial in and race against others. Moreover, in 1997, Gran Turismo was released for the PlayStation, forming the backbone of all modern racing games on consoles. With mechanics like car customizations and an open-ended career mode, Gran Turismo gave what many players felt was missing from sim racing: the experience outside of the track.

Early 2000s: The Physics Engines and Advanced Graphics

Graphics accelerator cards allowed game developers to create more realistic environments and implement game physics without overloading the system’s main processors. Developers like Papyrus made use of this new technology and even allowed players to jump online to race against other leagues.

Independent teams focusing on modifying games to add new content or improve current mechanics were formed, improving the longevity of well-loved games. Many of the simulators developed in the early 2000s, like Assetto Corsa and iRacing, remain in use and have huge followings because they allow racers to continue modding and creating new content.

Today: The Intersection of Sim Racing and Real Life

The development of great sim racing software has since been complemented by the production of high-spec racing rigs that simulate the physical experience of racing on a track. Advancements in PCB design and manufacturing have resulted in high-speed and high-density designs for electronics with powerful tuning engines. These have allowed more complex designs that are able to realistically mimic F1 racing.

The experience is so realistic that even professional racers have used sim racing for training. And with many events being canceled due to the pandemic, the online sim racing scene has never been more active. NASCAR is even using advanced augmented reality technology to set up a virtual iRacing event in Chicago, scanning Chicago’s streets to create an accurate representation for the event.

There’s no denying how far sim racing has come, and with participation in virtual events increasing due to the pandemic, we’re likely to see even more exciting advancements in the coming years.

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