Last month we delved into the BlueTiger Motion Simulator from the technical and racing application perspective. We discovered that this is a tool that has serious racing applications way beyond being just accessory to a video game system.

The next step in our discovery process is to give a broad section of drivers from various forms of racing a chance to try out the motion simulator. We have selected eight drivers with extensive experience in circle track racing, both dirt and pavement; along with some others with road racing experience-and from various levels of the sport, from the pure hobby racer all the way through semi-professional. These guys gave us further understanding and insight to the driving process and the potential uses of the BlueTiger. Impressions of four of the eight appear here. For all eight drivers' takes on the BlueTiger visit www.circletrack.com.

We gave our racers enough time to immerse themselves in the experience. Then we asked them a series of questions that will be the same for all the drivers. The intent is to try to understand just how the value of this simulator would be to a driver at various stages of his or her career, both past and present. The first question will revolve around the experience as a whole. Was it real? The key to that point was not just if it was real, but was it real enough?

We will also be asking about the value to the new racer and as a tool for developing communication and or chemistry.

The experiment started by taking our drivers back to school with a lecture in basic physics and motion simulation thought processes given by Dr. Robert Childress-one of the principals of BlueTiger. The content of the lecture talked about both the physical and mental aspects of motion simulation. The trick is to make your mind believe that you are driving a moving car and the motions and sensations your body is experiencing are linked to the visuals that you're seeing on the monitors. The idea is to immerse the driver into a very physical and visual situation that has all of the components of driving a race car-the feeling, the sights, and the tactile inputs-all of the cues that are really involved with the driving experience. The fact is, that a driver will see a visual that shows him entering a lefthand corner, at a very high rate of speed with several other cars. This is a difficult situation to simulate, especially when your mind knows you're sitting in a warehouse on a Thursday evening. But as we'll come to find out, the BlueTiger accomplishes this with ease.

Once the drivers had completed the basic introduction to motion simulation, we let them start driving.

We used a variety of different racetracks-from short ovals, to medium-sized and tri-ovals, we even tossed in a road course or two. It was interesting to watch the drivers as they progressed from just having fun to serious; it was like flipping a light switch. It was very clear that all of the drivers selected were experiencing cycles of learning with each session as they learned the tracks and started to get a bit braver and more familiar with the various tracks.

The Results
Our first driver was Chuck Kuehl who got his start racing Pure Stocks, then moved into Street Stocks, and is now racing a Modified on dirt tracks around Arizona, regularly running at the front of the pack. A true racer, Chuck works a regular job, takes care of his family and in the evenings he works on his race car.

Circle Track: Chuck, what did you think of the virtual experience?

Chuck Kuehl: At first it was just a bit difficult to believe that I was in a race car, because I wasn't. But as time went on, I found myself getting more and more involved and my level of concentration went up considerably. I was determined to make every corner and improve my technique entering, through the middle, and on the exit. I was really amazed to be able to feel the tires going away as the laps progressed. What was really surprising was that the track was changing as well as the tires going away. I made several attempts to go high early in the session but when I tried the same move later in the session, the car wouldn't stick and I could feel the difference in the track from the blacker groove and the grey at the top. When I put the helmet on and blocked out a portion of my peripheral vision, I was seeing less of the warehouse and more of the racetrack. That was when things got even more realistic. It was really incredible the difference the helmet made in the believability of the simulation. This thing is way cool. Can I take this one home?

CT: I think that could be arranged. We'll talk to Bob later. Do you think this would've helped you when you were first learning to race?

Chuck: When I first started? This would help now. The idea that I could practice every day would be a huge positive and it would give me a clear advantage over the rest of the competition on race day. I would roll into the gate having already driven in multiple races over the week with a complete mental tune-up. When I first started this would have helped identify and correct some bad habits I had to work through as a new racer.

CT: How would you evaluate the ability to develop communication between a driver and his crew chief?

Chuck: I think that this simulator could be a real benefit. The idea that you can make many changes quickly, drive the "car," and then talk about the change in a very stress-free environment would be a very real advantage. I can see having a Thursday night with my crew chief and just take turns driving the BlueTiger and compare notes. This is something that every racer who wants to win should have in the shop or in the living room.

Nathan High is currently racing Sprint Cars and Midgets on dirt. While he started out racing Karts on dirt, he has competed all over the country.

CT: Nathan what did you think of the virtual experience?

Nathan High: That was a great ride. I could feel the car underneath me all the time. It took a bit of adjustment, but once you got your mind right, it was very easy to really feel the car. If you let yourself, you can get truly convinced that this is a real race car. The tracks and the graphics on the iRacing tracks were very realistic even the landscaping was realistic. You never completely think you are in a real race car but it's really close. In each session I could see improvement. I have never driven a sports car on a road course, but I think using this simulation I could learn to race that type of car and be really ahead of the curve should I get the opportunity at a later date. This thing is really cool.

CT: Do you think this would've helped you when you were first learning to race?

Nathan: I started in Karts and this would've made the transition to Sprint Cars a bunch easier. Learning how to handle the increase in power would have been a real advantage. Some of the cars we drove on the simulation required a very controlled method to applying power. You couldn't just mash the pedal down and go; too much throttle and the car would get loose or it would spin. Even as a Kart racer this would have paid some huge dividends learning about car control and learning when to start and finish a turn. The ability to travel without leaving home would be a huge cost savings, especially when it came to learning tracks that you were going to race in the future. This would be a great way to make learning much faster.

CT: How would you evaluate the ability to develop communication between a driver and his crew chief?

Nathan: My car owner, Robbie Allen, used to be a driver and it's pretty easy to communicate with him about what the car is doing and what we should be doing next. If I had a crew chief who I didn't have a relationship with and didn't have the common experiences that Robbie and I have, it would be a very different situation. I can see where spending some time doing simulations would be real easy to build a common set of experiences.

CT: Do you see the fact that you have some common experiences with your crew chief as a positive or a negative?

Nathan: I look at that as only a positive. Having a common set of experiences between us gives us some common ground in racing to really help us communicate. Even with a common set of experiences, doing some simulations would be a good thing for the whole team, not just the crew chief. It would be a great team building activity to have the whole team get together and work on the BlueTiger and just give everybody an opportunity to drive the car without risking anything. I can only see that good would come from that type of activity.

Jeff Catlin was the only driver in the group who had started out as a crew chief then gravitated into the driver seat. Jeff traveled all over the Western United States racing both Sprint and Shifter Karts. Currently, he races in ASA's Speedtruck Series.

CT: Jeff, what did you think of the virtual experience?

Jeff Catlin: This thing is unreal. When can I buy one? It doesn't take long and you are completely into the experience. The feeling is so realistic and it completely ties in what you see to what you're feeling as you sit in the seat. The fact that you are strapped in makes the slightest motion of the seat transfer to your body instantly. The BlueTiger is the best racing simulator I've ever had the opportunity to use to date.

CT: Do you think this would've helped you when you were first learning to race?

Jeff: I wish I had one of these when I started racing. I would've accelerated my learning in a huge way. The idea that I could practice every day would've made learning a much more positive experience. I mean, you still need to drive the car, but those opportunities usually only come in small bits of time on the weekends-and, then you have to share the track with other drivers. So just getting down and driving and doing laps by yourself is a very rare occurrence.

CT: Jeff your circumstance as to how you arrived as a driver is very different from the other drivers in this experiment. You went from the pit box to the seat; usually it goes the other way. How would you evaluate the ability to develop communication between a driver and his crew chief?

Jeff: I would love to have my current crew chief in a chair next to me while I was driving the BlueTiger. The fact that he could see what was happening to the car as it was traveling down the track would be a huge advantage. Having the ability to see just the effect of a chassis adjustment and what it was doing to my ability to drive the car while it was happening would be a huge learning accelerator. The crew chief could directly observe the effect by watching the driver as well as the car and not just base the effect or magnitude of a change on lap times alone.

Our last driver was Darren Young. His experience in race cars spans the full range: Karts, road racing, and short tracks in everything from Open Wheel to Dodge Vipers. Currently, Darren is racing in the ASA's Speedtruck series and is a three-time series champion.

CT: Darren, what did you think of the virtual experience?

Darren Young: This thing is unreal. It should be a mandatory part of any new driver's training. I can see where it would benefit the weekly racer by being able to keep the racing reflexes sharp and in tune. I want one of these. If I had one of these, I'd probably never leave my house except to go to the track. This is an incredible tool for developing drivers and the ability to adjust the car.

CT: Do you think this would've helped you when you were first learning to race?

Darren: Yes! The fact that you could accumulate hundreds of hours of seat time in such a short period of time would be a great thing for a new driver. That would be a real competitive advantage to the new driver and to an experienced driver as well.

CT: How would you evaluate the ability to develop communication between a driver and his crew chief?

Darren: This is as big a jump in learning to communicate with the crew chief. Just as big as when we started to use computers to help define and develop chassis setups. I think this would not just help with the crew-chief-to-driver communication but it will help with the whole team. The more people on the team who have developed the skills to understand just how the various adjustments on the car make it work, either better or worse, is just leveraging the team to be more productive. Every crewmember could be learning and getting a more complete understanding of vehicle dynamics as they relate to the tracks the team races on a regular basis. I need one of these things.

Conclusion
The results for the most part were very positive, all of the drivers could see real advantages for learning, training, and developing stronger pathways for communication between the driver and the crew chief. Several of the drivers had some difficulty seeing past the video game aspect of the simulator. And, even they felt that they could overcome this issue with time.

The big question that all the racers had was how much does BlueTiger cost? The simulator is available in various level of completion that allow a large range of owner-upgradeable options, or you can buy it complete with a computer, ready to plug in and go racing. The cost ranges from $7,500 to $12,000. While that may seem like a good bit of money, keep in mind what it costs to rent a racetrack and all of the cost to bring the car and the crew to the track. The last time I checked it was $7,500 to rent Phoenix International Raceway for one day, and that doesn't include the cost of the ambulance. So the cost is not that far out of line with what it would cost to rent a major racetrack for a day.

The only other cost is the software, a good deal of which is already compatible with BlueTiger, including: iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations (www.iRacing.com); rFactor from Image Space Incorporated (www.rfactor.net); ARCA Sim Racing from Sim Factory, LLC (www.arcasimracing.com); and several others.

There are more and more software vendors making their games compatible with BlueTiger every day. You can also program the BlueTiger to run flight simulation games. So after you learn to race and get the big high profile ride, you can use the same simulator that improved your raceday performance to learn to fly your Gulfstream G500 Jet.

SOURCE
BlueTiger LLC
www.bluetiger.com
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