For me, winning a National Online Racing title was a big deal. I knew the effort I had put in. So did my fellow competitors. I played a racing simulator game. A very realistic one! Very few drivers ever win a race. Many feel rather accomplished after just finishing on the podium. Driving a car around is a little harder than you'd imagine. Even finishing a race is something to be proud of. Our races last between 90 minutes and 3 hours. Make one mistake and you're out. Your car is bent up and you can't drive any further. Touch another car and you're both out. Not only ending both of your races, but ruining your reputation and credibility as a guy who they'd like to race against.
The game itself? As for car performance, it has to be any real-life racing organiser's dream. For starters; the simulator starts everyone with exactly the same car performance. There isn't a way to upgrade your engine to make up for lack of talent. There isn't a way to touch up any part of your car to make it better than anyone elses. You all start each event with equally good equipment. If you're slow... you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Two weeks before an event, its time to start your home-work. You need to put in practice laps. There's no better way to learn a track than to do the hard work in the beginning. By now you should already know the car handling quite well, having driven around other tracks before, so most of the time on a new track is all about learning where to hit breaks, where to accelerate and how fast to take each corner. As you put more and more laps in, you learn how the car tires wear off and how fast. You learn how long it takes to wear down and how to change your driving style through certain sections on the track to make it last longer. You also go to the garage and make minor changes to help with speed/tire wear... whichever you're struggling with most.
After about 10 days of working on the car setup and learning the track, you've put in about 300 laps. You then put some time aside and do a simulation race in private. Sitting alone, you do the number of laps that you'll do on race day in preparation. It gets you used to the length of the race and you take notes on different things as you go... Like, if the car is handling as you'd expect. If you have enough fuel for each stint. How you are feeling (when/where you're getting signs of fatigue). You still have a couple days to iron out the problems. You work on the setups a little more and your own conditioning.
Finally, race day arrives. The race length is probably 40 laps in total. You've done over 500 laps in preparation. So have most of the other drivers that are competing for a win. Everyone is a little tense. Everyone watching each other like hawks just incase there's something the other drivers have learned that you've missed. You cruise around with other cars and get used to each other's braking markers. Practice session is only an hour and you get as much data in as possible.
Qualifying starts. Its a single lap - balls to the wall affair. You want to push as hard as you can, but one little mistake means you could start in the middle of the pack (or even last). You push as hard as you feel comfortable (and if you've put the right number of laps in, you just KNOW you won't mess up).
Then there's 10 mins before the race starts. Its your time to get in the zone. You make sure you have the correct setup loaded. You get yourself used to driving with full fuel tanks again after the low-fuel qualifying run. You may go out on track and shake some nerves off, but doing that is a bit like showing signs of weakness to some. Most just sit in their garages. Waiting.
Then the race session starts. Everyone clicks their "join race" button. That plonks you on the grid, in your car, engine idling. Once the last person has joined, the starting lights blink into action. There are 5 lights. Each go on, one by one until they're all on. The race starts when they all go out together.
First light goes on, you blip your throttle. You swing the wheel around a little making sure everything looks normal, watching the next two lights go on, one by one.
Fourth light goes on. You engage the clutch, put the car into first gear. Pick the revs up and hold them just off the red line.
Fifth light is on... your heart is racing. Your ears ringing. Suddenly you feel so small... surrounded by other cars revving their engines to the max. You're in the middle of it all. The lights could go out in a fraction of a second. Or in two seconds. You hold your breath. Your head spinning. Tunnel vision, focused on the lights.
The lights go out and you drop the clutch. The car in front moves to the side, you counter and go the other way as you gain on him. Out the edge of the screen, you see the car that started next to you push up next to you, almost touching you. You're boxed in and the car behind you had a perfect start, closing in on you.
You're approaching turn 1. You're not used to the cold tires, the heavy fuel. Where do you hit brakes? You don't have the reaction time to brake when the car in front brakes. You must brake at the same time as him; any later and you end both of your races before you even start. 500 laps of practice down the drain. Brake too early and the car behind hits you. Game over. Its all suddenly instinct. At this stage, if you're thinking, you're too slow.
What you'd give to get through that corner without hitting anyone and nobody hitting you. And at the same time...
There's nowhere else on earth you'd rather be.