Sim vs on-track racing: same or different?

Josh Rogers is the reigning Porsche Esports Supercup champion and, with victories in this year’s iRacing endurance races at Daytona, Bathurst and Sebring to his name too, the 20-year-old Australian is one of the world’s best sim-racers. After finishing runner-up in the inaugural on-track W Series season last year, Beitske Visser leads the brand-new W Series Esports League. So, as our 10-round season reached the halfway stage, the pair sat down to pick each other’s brains… 

Beitske: I’ve used simulators for different series and teams since I was 16, but only got my home rig in April. When did you start sim-racing?

Josh: I started playing racing games when I was nine and proper sim-racing when I was 14. I was terrible at first! I was competing in karting and used the sim when I wasn’t at the track. The biggest shock was switching from using your whole body and feeling what the car is doing underneath you to using different senses, putting more focus on the feeling through your hands and what you’re seeing and hearing. Sim-racing requires you to focus on fewer things more intensely. Is that something you’ve found?

Beitske: Yes. The driving technique is the same but I’m missing the feeling I normally get through my body and that takes time to get used to. When I started, my reactions were a bit late and they still are, especially at the start of races, because I’m missing that physical element, but I’m trying to improve. I’ve lost count of how many hours I’m putting in each week. Sim-racing is not hard physically, but mentally it is harder than real racing because, without that feeling through your body, your mind starts to lose focus.

Josh: I agree. I do about 20 hours on the sim each week. There isn’t much physical training because we’re not experiencing G-forces and temperatures like you do in a real car, but you need to eat and rest well so your head is in the right place. Mental strength is important because you have to maintain focus and ensure you’re not making mistakes or being pressured into things. In a long championship that’s vital because scoring consistently is key. In that sense I guess you approached the W Series Esports League in the same way as the on-track W Series season last year? 

Beitske: Absolutely. In the Esports League, just as in the on-track championship, the aim is to get the most points not the most wins. So, in the W Series Esports League, I’m risking everything to win races one and three, but in the reverse-grid race I’m more conservative and that has really paid off. It feels like there is more to lose than gain in that race because the damage model feels more penal than in real racing so it’s important to stay damage-free.

Josh: Even though I won the Porsche Esports Supercup last year, that’s something I’ve tried to improve this year. My approach is a little more conservative, especially in the first half of the season. It’s better finishing fourth, for example, than risking a move that could ruin your race. I wouldn’t go for a Hail Mary unless it was completely necessary and that’s the same as in real racing, but I take lots more risks in practice to test the limits.

Beitske: That’s the same for me. To find the fastest lap, if you tell me I need to brake 100 metres before the corner I will brake there on lap one in practice on the sim. In real life, I will start at 120 metres and build myself up because if you crash you ruin your day. So getting up to speed and learning new tracks is a quicker process on the sim because you can push the boundaries and press restart if it goes wrong. But race-craft and the process of finding lap time is the same – I try to brake later and take different lines just as I would in real life.

Josh: Exactly, the process of getting quicker is the same. You try different lines, alter your braking technique – using different pressure or going further into a corner – and you constantly adapt because if you’re trying the same thing every lap you’re not learning anything. We also compare data with team-mates and we all get along which makes the racing better too because when you trust your competitors you feel more comfortable pushing the limits. So lots goes on behind the scenes in terms of racing together and I guess it’s the same for W Series – one big team where everyone is trying to learn and improve.

Beitske: It’s been so nice to drive with all the girls and it’s just like in real racing where we have a fixed set-up but can compare data and watch each other on video to see if people are faster anywhere. Sim-racing has been so important for me during the last few months, learning a lot, and it can change motorsport for the better. It’s a cheaper, more accessible way for young drivers to get a taste of the sport and the more that the technology continues to develop and get closer to real life, the more sim-racing will help us develop. I’ll keep using mine at home to prepare for real races. 

Josh: I’ve been blown away by how much sim-racing has grown in the last few months. I’m sure it will drop off a little bit as real racing returns, but sim-racers are treated differently now compared to a few months ago and I think that’s here to stay. It’s a genuine career path and it rewards competitive, driven people – just like real racing. There’s been a noticeable increase in female participation and interest across the iRacing community too and that’s been really cool to see.