The cheapest way to get some experience for One Lap is virtually. Unfortunately, I didn’t have computer laying around that could really serve the purpose. Since modding a sim-racer on a PlayStation 4 is basically a non-starter, I had to go shopping. This was an exercise in restraint. I could go all out and build a new gaming PC, but parts (GPUs specifically) are hard to find. I could by a pre-built, that solves the supply issue but the cost goes up. Every dollar I spend on a gaming PC is literally a dollar away from the real OLOA, I went with the third option: a refurbished gaming PC. Newegg has a reasonable selection, the challenge with most things is picking the right item at the right price.
The sim-racer that I choose for my virtual training is Assetto Corsa. There are plenty of options, but AC seemed to be the best option. First, it is new enough that the graphics will better translate to real life (and won’t make my eyes bleed); it has tons of modding support; and it is old enough the modest PC hardware will run very well on it.
Knowing what was available in the refurbished stock, and knowing what my usage was going to be made it just a process of elimination. There are plenty of benchmarks for various hardware running AC, so I could get a general idea of performance. The display is a 1080p TV running at 60hz. All I needed was a PC capable of pushing a high enough framerate to make for a good experience.
I settled on a PC with:
- Intel i7-6700
- 16GB DDR4 Ram
- GeForce GTX 950 2GB
- 256 SSD
After some FedEx delivery guessing, it finally arrived. The PC was provided by “Computer Headquarters” in California. The PC arrived, and everything was exactly as described.
Now, it was just a process of getting things setup from scratch. Thankfully this PC serves a single purpose, so the to-do list was fairly straight forward:
- Windows 10
- Assetto Corsa
- Logitech’s GHub
- Content Manager (for AC)
- AC mods
That’s it. The GHub thing took a bit, I couldn’t figure out why AC wasn’t recognizing the wheel in the game when it was functioning in windows. Logitech’s website was particularly helpful here, but all in all it wasn’t that hard to get it sorted.
As far as mods for Assetto Corsa, I kept it fairly simple. I got the shader update, and SOL2.2. Then it was just the tracks and a Mini as close as possible to my real car. Running the benchmark with everything loaded up to ultra, the PC was able to push a steady 90+ frames per second. Not bad for a PC in the $400-500 range.
Running some initial laps at Barber’s Motorsport Park, I found that I was immediately faster in the game by 15-20 seconds, and about 10-15 mph higher top speed down the straights. Some friends from the Grassroots Motorsports Forum, we’ve been running a league for like 15 years now, have jumped in and helped get things sorted. Based on my feedback one of the guys modded the car. Running that version with the street tires in AC got the feel of the virtual car to a very close approximation of the real experience. I’m still faster in AC (probably because there are zero consequences) but the pace is in line to where I thought I could get in real life. I ran a 1:58 in my first HPDE at Barber’s, my fast lap in the first session in AC was a 1:52. I feel that a mid/upper 40s are possible, and that feels right in both the real car and the virtual one.
The last piece of the puzzle is getting the tracks all sorted. Thankfully, for the most part the tracks were already available. There are 2 versions of Barbers, I went ahead an paid for the VRC version. It is much better in my opinion and worth the couple dollars.
2 Tracks don’t exist for AC: Hallett Motor Racing Circuit and Heartland Park. There are rFactor versions of the tracks, and the internets tell me that it is a fairly straightforward conversion. Here’s the issue: I don’t have time to learn all the required tools and techniques to do the conversion. Between work, family and kids, the holidays, and trying to get the real car ready… it just isn’t going to happen. Good news, I found a guy out in Spain that said he could do the conversion. To be continued…