I visited the SimRacing Expo in Nürnberg, Germany, for two days this week. I paid exorbitant prices for currywurst, waited for a bus while it snowed and fell asleep in an airport while my return flight was delayed.
I did all this to see the latest and greatest sim racing equipment and innovations. My word, there were many. The industry is booming, the brightest and cleverest minds finally working on news ideas following chip shortages.
Yet my favourite item from the show was the Fanatec Podium Button Module Rally – something revealed way back in February.
On the face of it, this is not a revolutionary product. It’s not hewn from a block of solid granite, nor contains frankincense. There’s no massage feature, dry ice dispenser or whatever this week’s gimmick is.
There’s not even a wheel included – it’s literally just the button set, a tiny screen and a set of buttons, switches and chips.
Yet, it made me feel like Sébastien Loeb and that’s all that matters.
Paired with a Sparco wheel rim, I’m convinced this is the perfect set-up for rally simulation driving.
Using WRC Generations on a PC, the ClubSport Shifter SQ V1.5 to smash through the ratios – rightly boycotting the paddle shifters like the real-world Rally1 machines – I’ve never felt more at one with a simulator.
The DD1 wheel base plays a lead role, sure. The combined steering wheel takes centre stage, however, as the size and roundness are perfectly balanced for one-handed control. The buttons are logically placed, helping you focus on playing with the Puma’s weight transfer.
These hybrid WRC weapons have long braking zones, and the Swedish stages mix fast straights with tricky second-gear snow-banked lined hairpins.
On the brakes initially, then off the middle pedal, flick to the left, then back on the brakes again as you swing to the right, tucking the nose in – the car artfully four-wheel-drifting into the apex, but not scrubbing speed.
I’m doing this all with my left hand and my right bangs down the gears. The force feedback strength was perfectly in tune with the required driving style.
Almost balletic, I was dancing through the Scandinavian woodlands. That was until I cracked under the pressure of being watched by Dörr Esports driver Moritz Löhner, then I ate snow.
The same button module – save for one small tweak to switch movement – is used in the World Rally Championship by the M-Sport World Rally Team and won this season’s Rally Monte Carlo. That’s an incredible feat of engineering and marketing.
As an avid bobble-hatter, the association adds an extra layer of gloss to the experience. For five minutes, I felt like a rally driver. It helps that the product itself is excellent. There are some of the most tactile switches along the bottom, and tastefully backlit buttons elsewhere, but the extra sprinkle of Le Maestro’s magic makes the difference.
Ultimately, when I was in the zone blasting through the frozen virtual stages, I had a giant grin spread across my face. I completed the same stages two further times – without crashing this time, Moritz, honest – and then at the end of the day, I came back for another try.
My feet were aching, my bank balance severely wounded and there was a Fanatec end-of-day gathering underway with GamerMuscle DJing. But I was there, at the back of the stand once more, pretending to be a nine-time WRC champion.
Now, if anyone’s interested in a modestly-sized semi-detached house please let me know as I’d like to buy a full Fanatec rally set-up instead. Maslow was wrong, shelter is overrated…
Images: Traxion.GG, SX Group and Motorsport Images