Thanks to cutting-edge computer simulation technology, drivers who want to compete for a world championship don't need a high-performance race car anymore. In fact, they don't need a car at all.
This summer, more than 10,000 drivers -- both professional and amateur -- will compete to determine the world's fastest virtual race car driver. It's part of an ambitious eSports initiative based on the popular Project CARS racing simulation game for PC and console systems like the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
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Around 200 teams in total have registered for the Logitech G Championship Series and NVIDIA Challenger Series, which function as virtual racing circuits running parallel to real-world racing events. Competitors use the driving simulator, plus their own highly customized race seat rigs, to drive around laser-scanned virtual race tracks.
The tracks, in turn, are modeled on actual venues like the Sonoma Raceway in California or the Monza Grand Prix track in Italy.
Following last year's inaugural season, this season's virtual races are scheduled to coincide with real-world motorsports events around the world. Lap times are recorded for each event and points awarded for position. In October, the world's fastest virtual race car driver will be crowned and awarded a cash prize.
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Racing sims have become enormously sophisticated in recent years, with advances in both hardware and software providing the virtual horsepower to match real-world auto racing. I've played around a bit with the PlayStation 4 version of Project CARS and the verisimilitude really is impressive, even with standard console controllers.
Players who are really serious about the simulation experience, however, take things to a whole ‘nother level. Customized race seat rigs can cost upwards of $20,000 and feature force-feedback steering wheels, gear shifters and pedal mounts.
Project CARS is fully compatible with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, as well. Here's a video that gives a sense of the action, with real-world Formula One driver Max Verstappen trying out the virtual side of things. Verstappen, by the by, is the youngest pro F1 driver in the history of the sport -- he made his debut at age 17.