I am a racing fan. I wanted to drive a real open-wheel race car to feel what the drivers were going through, to kinesthetically empathize with my heroes. But as I sat in a Formula Ford cockpit, I was terrified. I knew I didnt have the skills or more importantly, the guts. I needed practice, lots of driving fast at the edge of control which is very expensive and dangerous. I had spent years in arcade driving games, but it wasnt challenging enough anymore. I craved the next level of realism and difficulty but what was it?
One day, wandering through a store, I spotted a game that inspired it all: Grand Prix Legends. I bought this software immediately even though at the time I didnt own a computer. This brilliant game enchanted me so much, I now had a reason to build a race car trainer. I could have virtually unlimited amounts of practice at realistic levels of difficulty. I would gain the confidence and skills needed to drive a real formula car. According to those who have driven both, the training cars on GPL mimic, almost exactly, the physics of the Formula Ford and the Skip Barber cars.
I now had the top of the system, the brains, the reason for everything else to exist. The next step was to start at the bottom (quite literally) and lay the foundation. I searched the local junkyards and found a beauty, a Recaro black leather bucket seat from a Porsche 944 with only 14k miles. Now I could sit for hours in splendid Teutonic comfort, being able to make small adjustments to the slide and tilt on the fly.
From my arcade practice, I learned to depend on the force-feedback steering wheel for sensory input. To push the car to the limits of adhesion, I need to feel the grip and slip of the tires. It was a toss-up between the few top models. I chose the Microsoft wheel because it is aerodynamic and matched the seat color. I wanted the form of the Virtual Roadster,(VR) as I started to call it, to be as minimal and invisible as possible so all the elements had to be either black or silver.
Now came the fun part, to design a structure to hold all these components. The main objective is to be flexible and have open-ended architecture. Every device must be easily changed or adjusted. What if I want to convert it to an airplane cockpit or robot controller? It had to make seamless conversions. More importantly, I am a tweak nut. I want every distance between components fine tuned to the millimeter. Every angle can be adjusted to the single degree. And, I wanted to make these calibrations in seconds. This is why I chose this style of tube connectors. NASA uses them, they are gloriously expensive and worth it. These extreme connectors, named Speedrail, are used on the shuttles launch tower. They withstand eight million pounds of thrust and the fireball of the booster rockets during blast-off. Speedrail has been to the bottom of the ocean and to the moon. Completely corrosion-proof, their rugged functionality exemplifies the overall design concept of flexibility.
I experimented with the shape of the chassis with models. The cockpit had to be minimal, non-claustrophobic and have easy entry. One thing became immediately clear, I hate vertical lines. They made it look boxy and static while I was trying to convey with structure and line, a sense of movement and speed. By naturally following the concept of adjustability, the structure emerged more beautiful and dynamic than I could have ever imagined. The design is an outstanding example of form following function and machinery elevated to art.
To feel the speed, I wanted the seat and cockpit to hum and vibrate with the RPMs of the engine. A powerful sub-woofer was inefficient because to make the chassis shake satisfactorily, it had to be painfully loud. I needed something that was designed to transmit its energy not through air but through a solid. I found a device that is used in military simulators called a force transducer. Its strength is measured not in decibels or watts but in hundreds of foot/pounds. I mounted it to resonating board underneath the seat and the whole chassis vibrates and roars like a real car. There are less expensive devices called bass shakers that attempt the same sensation but have a limited frequency response. They cut out at 90hz whereas the force transducer goes all the way to 17khz which is essential for feeling those high pitched F1 engines. As an unintended bonus, the bucket seat has become a massage chair. The RPMs go up and down my spine. When I am in tune with the car, I can feel when to shift gears.
Best of all, the VR feels like a real car. You are surrounded by the same components that are used in authentic sports cars. The Recaro leather seat, Momo suede wheel, genuine 5-point racing harness and steel shifters all are supported by a thick and polished aluminum tube frame. The structure is strong but has a slight, steel-like flexibility. To sit in the comfortable leather bucket seat with the chassis humming quietly (or loudly) underneath you, the suede-covered wheel tugging against your grip and the gentle breeze tickling your skin all combine to create the most convincing sensation. You can feel the speed in your bones. And when the race is over, you can slide the seat all the way back, stretch out your legs to the side, and recline into a comfortable position to watch the replay.
The Virtual Roadster has everything that I wanted:
-racy, aerodynamic styling
-minimal, non-claustrophobic design
-easy and open entry
-comfortable for hours
-to feel the roar of the engine
-highest quality components and materials
-integrated ventilation system
-indestructible yet lightweight
-custom fitted like a suit
-feels like a real car
I was so pleased with the design, I became curious. Did someone else come to the same solution as me? Was this an unique design? Like a soap-box derby, I knew others would have embraced this design opportunity so I started looking on the internet. I found around 20 different styles of racing simulators varying from simple plastic tube structures to full-motion, full scale mock-ups. None of them have the style or level of adjustability as the VR. It is unfair to compare because most of the other cockpits were designed for mass production, using economical materials and simple construction. By contrast, I was not restricted by the cost of anything. I wanted the very best and usually most expensive components and hardware. Integral to my concept of a luxury simulator is the quality of the materials.
Compare for yourself. You might agree I have created a very sensuous and adjustable racing cockpit. That is why I am here. I think someone out there might enjoy my creation.
I have always gratefully received and became enriched by the fruits of mankinds creative energies and now finally, I feel I have something worthy to share. I owe more than I can ever repay to all the creative people, living and dead, who have inspired my life. This is just a small opportunity for me to offer a tribute my heroes, the race drivers who risk themselves to confirm that there are forces and causes greater than one mortal life. Like astronauts, with sheer guts and totality of focus, they wager their one precious life in the pursuit of perfection and in so doing, inspire and embolden us all.