Picture the scene. You’ve purchased a Ferrari FXX K, a track-only hypercar that you can only use at Ferrari’s discretion. No doubt about it, the time of your life, but access is restricted. When you do hit the track, you’re petrified of any potential damage bills.
Enter Tech & Sym, a simulator company with a difference.
Founded and led by Alessio Cicolari – you may know the charismatic Italian from his other work as CEO of AK Esports, the company running SRO’s and Lamborghini’s esports competitions, among others – this is the highest of high-end virtual driving.
Its first product, the Virtuoso Simulator, made its debut at the venerated Goodwood Festival of Speed and that is your first clue as to where this set-up is positioned within the market.
Forget a technology conference or a gaming exhibition. No, clients could test out the new set-up on the Lanzante stand, a company that makes long-tail conversions of McLaren P1s and a Formula 1 (TAG) engined Porsche 911 930.
The simulator costs a whopping €100,000, and proudly so. The motion cockpit is tuned to each customer’s requirements, matching specifically the car they’d like to drive. The team works with Assetto Corsa Pro developers Kunos Simulazioni to make sure the movements match specific cars authentically.
Let’s say the aforementioned FXX K owner. They could use the Virtuoso as an advanced form of driver training in between track days.
Then it’s wrapped in a carbon tub built by Dallara Automobili. The same Dallara that builds LMDh and IndyCars.
“We have three-axis movement, plus a seatbelt system that actually acts as a fourth axis of movement,” explains Cicolari to Traxion.GG.
“We have four motors for the seatbelts alone, to help deliver a sensation of yaw. Especially under braking, we can give you an extra layer of information to understand what the car is actually doing.
“The aim is to give all the information that we need during driving and not to provide movement just because people think they need to shake. It’s not a roller coaster, it’s proper training equipment.”
Curved monitors, a custom (carbon, naturally) steering wheel and forceful pedals round off the package.
On track, Imola in a McLaren GT3 in my instance, it was the kerb detail that hit home first of all. As you enter Tamburello, there are small yellow and black speed bumps placed at the apex. While the car can handle them, it’s quicker to avoid their use, as they can be unsettling.
In the Virtuoso, there’s a new deterrent – you can feel your mistakes, in your backside, in your rib cage and even your crotch. Do. Not. Hit. That. Kerb. Again. It made me a better driver.
More than that, however, the subtle movement of my posterior coupled with the tightening of one side of the belts during Acque Minerali tricked my inner ear into thinking I was diving downhill, braking while turning, before blasting up the other side again.
A clever play, analogous to the extra depth virtual reality can bring, but without a sweaty forehead.
At times, when quickly moving from one direction to another, there was a slight delay in response, but Cicolari and AK Esports UK’s Michael Yau assure me that this could be fine-tuned out of the system during initial set-up sessions with each driver.
“You could use this for esports, sure, but mainly we see this for use as driver training and also developing new automotive products,” hypothesised Cicolari.
“We are also about the launch an extra service with the Virtuoso Simulator – a dedicated engineer that can help in both the real world and the sim world. This would be remote or in person. This is a luxury product with a luxury service.”
Would I have one of these in my garage or sim cave should I have the requisite funds? You betcha, especially if it matched my latest real-world track toy. My muscles were left a little sore from the experience, in the same way I imagine they would be from driving a GT3 car near San Marino. As it should be.
You may be forgiven for thinking that at €100,000 you’d want your motion rig to jolt from side to side or even do loop-the-loops. But trust me, you don’t. The experience is visceral, but not exaggerated. Realism trumps all. I just need to find a way to be able to afford it…