See, I was really there...

Now, we at Badger like to keep our ears close to the ground, so when we got wind of a company claiming to provide ordinary punters with the chance to enter a virtual world involving car simulators, corporate hospitality and a place called Horley we simply had to find out more.

So it was that your intrepid correspondent found himself travelling on the train out of London to the deepest, darkest depths of Surrey (alright, fine, it’s next to Gatwick Airport but bear with us, we’re building suspense here) to the launch of the first PureTech Racing Centre.

PureTech is a joint venture with BallRacing Development, purveyors of simulator technology to an array of the world’s motorsport teams. Essentially, the idea is to bring the technology used by racing teams to the general population and, in the process, to allow them a sniff of racing action, albeit virtually. If this centre works well, their eventual plans involve rolling it out across the country and internationally.

The centre boasts ten full motion racing simulators capable of simulating 1.5G and, because everything is virtual, the capability to simulate a range of race formats and formulae. Mega, eh?

Ready to race

Now, for the bit you’re all interested in: is it any good? Well, your correspondent was amongst the first of the guests to have a go and can exclusively reveal that yes, it’s really rather good fun. Lowering yourself into the car (and getting out at the end) in a graceful fashion is the main challenge and, once you’re safely ensconced in the cockpit and have adjusted your pedals, it’s time to go racing. You’ve got three screens in front of you, a steering wheel with paddle shifters and a set of headphones, all for obvious reasons. The first thing that strikes you is just how low down you are within the car, so much so that the screens feel really immersive.

Make sure not to sit on the headphones, a painful error you correspondent made
Nifty, eh?

The three screens give you a rounded view of what’s going on around you and, when you start racing, you’re immediately struck by how much the simulators move. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have videos to show exactly how dramatic some of the movement was but, suffice it to say, when your correspondent had a little spin it really felt realistic. For those watching, there are three projected images on the wall: 1) F1 style live timing, 2) TV style images of the race in progress and 3) a visual representation of where all the cars are on the track. It’s certainly not dull.

What a happy chappy

So, what do you get and how much does it cost? According to promotional materials Badger has seen there are two formats of package: “Test” and “Race Experience”. A “Test Session” is £15 and consists of a pre-race briefing, 15 minutes on the simulator, and a post-race debrief. All told, it’s about half an hour. The “Race Experience” session is a more competitive affair, with a qualifying session of 15 minutes followed by a race of similar length; the whole thing taking about an hour and a half. As well as a membership scheme involving race leagues and championships, it seems PureTech have got a variety of options for motorsport fans.

Now, are there any drawbacks? Yes, in that it’s not as pick up and play as a computer game, for obvious reasons. The increments of time PureTech are offering customers probably won’t be enough to let you get a good rhythm going in the car and really push the limits. It also felt as though some of the in-car graphics could have been improved upon as, having seen the soon to be released F1 2010 in action, they don’t look quite as good. Having said that, realism is the real selling point for PureTech, so doubtless they’ll be most concerned about making it feel right, with the graphics coming second.

The most important things will be: a) how well the business model works being based in Surrey rather than London, b) how willing people are, especially given the straightened economic times, to shell out for a limited amount of time in the simulator and c) how much repeat business PureTech will manage to secure. Is it a novelty or here to stay?

Either way Badger would like to thank PureTechRacing for having us and letting us play their quite simply amazing simulators – good luck chaps.  If you’re reading this and want to know more see their website.