Living the Sim Racing Dream

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Thomas Randle is nothing if not inspirational. A highly-talented racing driver, the 24-year-old’s credentials include race wins in British Formula 3 and a title in the New Zealand Toyota Racing Series – a category contested by some of the world’s best open-wheel drivers and many who have subsequently progressed to Formula 1 – in 2017.

Like other Aussies who pursued the European dream and ran out of funding well before they ran out of talent, Randle returned to Australia to chase a career on the local scene and has been notching up impressive results in the Dunlop Super2 Series.

At the beginning of 2020, Randle’s racing ambitions were brought into question when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. A lesser man may have crumbled under the stress and pressure, but Randle underwent surgery and then jumped back in his Supercar for the opening Super2 round like no such health scare had ever occurred, winning a race and finishing second overall.

And then of course, the entire racing world was thrown into disarray with the COVID-19 pandemic but Randle used the adversity as an opportunity, creating the Dream Simulation business out of his family’s workshop in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

“When I was racing in England in Formula 3, I visited a couple of simulation businesses, and that inspired me to create something similar in Australia,” Randle said.

“A lot of people have their own simulators at home, but in terms of an actual facility that’s run by a driver coach or engineer, that has telemetry, data and full motion technology, not many people have those sorts of capabilities.

“It’s been a big process for us to put it all together – we have a dedicated soundproof, climate-controlled room and the simulator lives in that room.”

While most simulator setups provide the driver with vibration feedback through the steering wheel, along with the audio and visual outputs, the main thing they lack compared to real race cars is the “seat of the pants”-type feedback that allows the driver to feel things such as slip angles and G-forces. It’s something Randle has attempted to replicate with some advanced motion technology.

“Our simulator has a CKAS Mechatronics motion platform with six degrees of freedom; as well as the pitch and roll, it can also twist and move diagonally, which enables us to replicate the behaviour of a real race car much more accurately.

“You’re never going to get an exact copy of a real race car – even in a Formula 1 simulator costing millions of dollars – but having our sort of motion setup allows you to get very close. The way our sim works, everything moves as one, so the frames of reference are the same as they would be in a real car.

“Especially under braking, you can get a much better feeling of if you’ve over-slowed the car, or haven’t slowed down enough.”

Like all top-line simulators, the Dream Simulation rig packs plenty of punch when it comes to computer power, including an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics card, an Intel Core i7-9700KF processor and a solid-state hard drive. Combined with monitors with a high refresh rate, Randle said the system can produce frame rates of around 130fps.

“You want the frame rate to be as high as possible, but it’s also essential to avoid lag because that’s a big distraction, especially if you’re competing in online races,” he said.

Highlights of the simulator hardware include a Sparco steering wheel connected to a direct-drive system, Heusinkveld Ultimate Pedals including a load cell on the brake pedal, Hybrid Race Simulation cockpit and steering wheel electronics, an FIA-approved Momo race seat with harness and a combined gear-shift (Jinx shifter), brake bias and roll-bar adjustment unit.

On its own, the Dream Simulation setup is among the most sophisticated in Australia, but Randle says one of the main benefits for clients is the one-on-one driver coaching packages.

“It’s not just about people coming along, having a drive on the sim and then going home – we want to provide our clients with an experience where they can genuinely improve their driving technique, and go home afterwards having learned and improved,” Randle said.

“Behind the simulator, I have a desk with live telemetry and data. I use the MoTec system, which is the same as the system used for data analysis in a lot of real-life motorsport, so it’s a good tool for enabling our clients to learn how to read and understand data.”

Randle is expecting Dream Simulation’s clients to include a combination of real-life racing drivers who want to practice a particular skill, and dedicated sim racers who want to fine-tune their technique.

“At a real race track on a test day, you might only get five 20-minute sessions, and you can only look at the data in between sessions,” he said.

“In the sim, there are no restrictions on session lengths and you can analyse the data straight away.”

Dream Simulation offers a range of packages, starting with a basic Bronze Hire ($200 for one hour) and increasing in price and features all the way up to the four-hour, $1,500 Platinum Experience, featuring full driver coaching and data analysis from either Thomas Randle or Lee Holdsworth.

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