World Rally Championship star Craig Breen is about to take simulated rallying to the next level with Tuesday night’s Suirway Group Mk2 Escort Challenge.
It’s little wonder the Hyundai driver’s a touch paler than normal: he’s locked himself away in a darkened room for the last three months, sharing that time between the treadmill and pounding out the miles in an ever-improving Mk2 Escort. Working with Digital Motorsports, he’s been around the world on the Assetto Corsa game. The soundtrack to his days, the virtual Millington Diamond engine beneath the virtual bonnet of his sim.
The end result is the ultimate simulation of an intergalactic, mind-blowing paddle-shift class H14 Mk2. And a race with his mates on Tuesday evening.
“We’ve all seen the incredible growth in gaming during lockdown,” Breen told DirtFish, “but this really is the next level. I’ve got to say, I’ve had my mind blown by what’s possible with the guys at Digital Motorsports and the developers of Assetto Corsa.
“I’d done some endurance races, some fairly serious stuff, but I was really keen to push what could be done with rallying. We set out to recreate the ultimate Mk2 and we’ve totally done that. It’s taken months, but we’ve worked closely with Millington, developing the engine off their dyno sheets to give exactly the right sort of feel. It’s the same with the suspension and the transmission, we’ve taken the physics of this thing to another level.
“Driving that car on the simulator is as close as you’ll ever get to the real thing.”
The sim and game set-up is designed to offer rally drivers and fans the chance to take their sport to the next level.
“You need a simulator to play this game,” said Breen. “It’s a bit more niche, a bit more for folk who want to take their gaming a bit further.”
And once he’d got the car and the game sorted, it was time to invite some friends around to give it a go. That’s where Tuesday’s Suirway Group Mk2 Escort Challenge comes in.
“The guys behind Assetto Corsa have put together a two-stage event,” said Breen. “The first is a short superspecial at Mondello Park, but it’s more like something from the Monza Rally. The second is a 10km stage from Slovakia and that’s some piece of road. It’s fantastic.
“We’re looking at getting 20 drivers involved, with the cars going off at minute intervals like you would on a real rally. This will be the closest thing we get to competing on an event in lockdown – we’ll even have end-of-stage interviews with Killian [Duffy] asking the questions.”
The Breen developments and upgrades to Assetto Corsa are only available on the PC version so far.
“The next thing for me is to start work on the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC,” Breen continued. “The car’s already in Assetto Corsa, but it needs the same sort of work we did on the Escort. The Escort was a more straightforward place to start, there are so many different parameters to work on with the World Rally Car and the i20 R5, but we’ll get there.”
Stars from the WRC, Formula 1, GT Racing and drifting are expected to compete on Tuesday night.