A lot has been made, written and discussed about the realism of Esports in comparison to real-life motorsport. But what’s it like going back to real driving when you’ve spent the last few months exclusively on a simulator?
That’s exactly what DirtFish instructor Jack Harrison found out this week when he returned to work in a limited capacity at the DirtFish Rally School in the midst of competing in the Solberg World Cup on DiRT Rally 2.0.
Last week the competitors were fired into the penultimate round of the season: the gravel roller coaster of Finland’s Castrol Rally Jämsä. Sam Albert scraped into the top 100 with a 99th place finish, while Harrison beat his previous best result by 23 spots in 445th.
“It’s nice to see consistent improvement over the rallies,” Harrison tells DirtFish. “Even if we have what feels like a poor event the result is still feeling positive.
“It was a tough rally. We had some really good times on the stages I could keep clean but we did rack up about a minute’s worth of penalties just from honestly driver error and missing some pace notes.
“There was one section in particular where I came pretty flat over a jump, missed the call that there was a left two immediately afterwards [and went] straight off into the woods. It didn’t even give me time to save it, it just immediately reset on the road. Otherwise we did pretty well.”
Like all proper season finales, the conclusion to the Solberg World Cup is in Wales for the Volkswagen Motorsport Rally Powys.
Albert sadly won’t be able to complete the season but Harrison is out for one last hurrah on roads that are familiar to him.
“I did do some testing on the [Twitch] stream the other day,” he says. “In the dry, I’m quite confident. The gravel and the roads are quite similar to what we have over here in Washington.
“It’s going to be in the wet where it’s tough because it is such heavy gravel, it’s very thick and feels almost like driving through soup. I’m assuming there’s going to be a lot of wet stages so I’m definitely going to have to do a lot more testing. But it should be a fun one, I love the roads in Wales.”
But the experience this time round is very different, as Harrison has been back behind the wheel of a rally car for the first time in three months. The burning question: what’s it like jumping back into reality?
“It’s a little strange. Being so long in the sim, you learn to drive visually. So you’re trying to adjust the attitude of the car, just by using your vision.
“When you get back in the car again, you can feel the weight transfer and movement of the car, it’s almost like having super powers and can be a little overwhelming at first. It has taught me a lot.
“[The] driving is about the same, but what was more interesting was on the stream the other day, I had a total day [of driving] and then immediately went onto the sim and [I was] realizing that the adrenaline from actually being in a car is a lot more detrimental going into the sim setup where it requires being a little more delicate and patient.
“Because I’m not feeling the car anymore, I can feel myself being way more aggressive in responses. It was quite enlightening, realizing how calm I need to be on the sim, which is what we teach when we’re actually in car but I wasn’t expecting it to affect me quite so much.”
What’s that old saying, practice what you preach? Even the best can get caught out. Let’s see how this collision between virtual and reality affects Harrison this week.