INSIDE GP Extreme. Showroom, simulator, race team. Dubai, UAE


Off to one side, past a small library of motorsport biographies and behind an almost ominously heavy door, is one of only six Base Performance Simulators in the world. The price for one will cripple your bank balance by a good five figures, and it’s setup is appropriately massive.

Mounted in the centre of the room is the bisected chassis of an Aston Martin Vantage GTE, as prepared by the British marque for a World Endurance Championship season. Trivial add-ons like wheels, suspension, and the V8 engine have been removed, but the electronic steering and the hydraulic brake and throttle pedals have been developed to create as close an approximation to the real thing as possible: every input the driver feeds to the system through the pedals, the paddle shift gearbox and the steering wheel have all been honed and developed by two-time Le Mans winner Darren Turner – who also heads up the Base Performance program – for maximum accuracy, and deliver performance just over a second slower than in the real world. This is most definitely no toy.

Mounted across one wall of the 30 square-foot training room is an arcing series of LCD display screens, designed to offer drivers – Stéphane refuses to use the word ‘players’ – a 270-degree view of the virtual track as they would in real life. Much as Stéphane and his boys are keen to wax lyrical – and lengthily – about all things F1, they’re very serious about introducing casual fans to motorsport, and even helping aspiring young racers work their way up the ladder with this much-needed experience.

“It’s a professional simulator. It’s important to remember that. It’s a service we offer to teach and train people about basic racing. So this starts with live assistance for the driver through a headset to help him work on his lines and braking, etc, through to the data the simulator gathers to see where he can improve. With it we’re hoping to educate either a new generation of fans or help young racers take the next step: there are drivers coming from karting for instance to single seaters or GTs who could benefit a lot from the experience.

“There are two ways of driving: you can treat this as a game, or you can drive it as you would a normal race car: if you’re a gamer, you just concentrate on the speed and usually you will struggle through the corners; but if you are ‘racing’, it’s much smoother and you get much more out of the experience. Plus, because it’s a simulator, that helps take the pressure off: obviously you don’t want to crash but if you do, you won’t damage anything.”

I manage to hold out a full 25 seconds before asking Stéphane if I can have a go. There’s that smile again.

Scrambling aboard, complete with racing gloves, involves stepping over an FIA-approved roll cage and planting myself in the carbon-backed sport seat complete with four-point racing harness. Again, this is no toy. The centre console is awash with switchgear to adjust the anti-lock braking, kill the ‘engine’ and adjust the traction control, while in front of me the driver information screen feeds speed, rev and lap time information to the driver. Via a headset and microphone, I can hear Stéphane in ‘race control’ (a small room off the side with a bank of computer monitors) through which he proffers advice concerning corner entry and exit speeds, racing lines, braking points and recommended times for gear changes, plus – during one blunder – why spinning into the tyres at 220kph probably won’t do my tyres any good. Almost an hour disappears without me noticing, during which Stéphane applauds – generously or otherwise, I’m not too sure – my improving efforts. My race engineer ends the simulator experience with a printout detailing how ‘on it’ I’ve been through the corners. Turns out I’m only, ahem, four seconds slower per lap than the fastest time set so far. Which may or may not have come down to half a second when I relay the news to the rest of the team later that evening.

One word of note though: the experience is an addictive one, and you will lose all concept of time. Bear that in mind when considering the costs involved, from $130 for 30 minutes up to $1900 for 10 hours.

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