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Virtual racing simulator arrives in Indy 

click to enlarge The Cruden Hexatech 6-DOF racing simulator.
  • The Cruden Hexatech 6-DOF racing simulator.

Since 1997 Mark One Composites, Inc. has been a destination for teams in need of carbon fiber work, drivers in search of energy-absorbing custom-molded seats and race team members eager for a pick-up game of basketball after work. But now a unique attraction lures racers to the Park 100 business.

The Cruden Hexatech 6-DOF simulator allows drivers to learn new tracks in a realistic format, explains Jeff Mowins, owner and president of Mark One. For example, he says, Takuma Sato used it to learn Watkins Glen.

As it teaches, it also hones skills. Elongated hydraulic shocks, part of the "six degrees of freedom" electromechanical motion system that mimics the forces a driver feels in the cockpit, elevate the cockpit within sight of three 42-inch screens that project an accurate and realistic image of the selected race track, thanks to the integration of hardware and Cruden's own in-house customizable Racer Pro software. Racing pedals, a formula-style steering wheel with paddle shifters and seat belts that replicate the tension exerted on a driver add to the proper "feel."

Car and driver

Beyond driver familiarization, the Cruden simulator can be used for car optimization. Drivers can get a feel for changes in car settings.

The advanced telemetry analysis software provides real-time performance data - and the opportunity to change vehicle settings on the fly. Settings that can be changed include chassis, wheelbase/track, tires, suspension, drive train (engine, gearbox, differentials and drive shafts), aero loading, aero draft, steering, brakes and driver aids such as traction control and ABS.

Using the simulator as a set-up tool saves time during testing, which has become particularly important in a series that limits on-track testing. "There are no testing limits for the simulator," Mowins states. Replacing on-track testing with simulator sessions saves time and money; there are no travel expenses or fuel and tires to buy - nor are there weather restrictions.

One of a kind

There are few professional racing simulators - and only one in Indianapolis. "The technology is widely adopted in F1 and throughout Europe," says Claire Dumbrek, director for Propel Technology Ltd., a marketing agency representing Cruden, "but in the U.S., it's still new." Keen to breach this market, Cruden knew that if they were serious about penetrating the U.S. market, it must be in Indianapolis because the teams most likely to adopt this technology are in IndyCar. Dumbreck says Mark One was the logical choice because "Jeff is well-connected with the teams."

An average of two drivers a week practice in the simulator at Mark One. Mowins would like to see a few engineers in it so they could feel the effect of changes to the car. He has also proposed that aspiring Indy Lights drivers be allowed to log hours less expensively on the simulator in order to earn their licenses. "The business is changing," he says. "You have to think outside the box."

One of Mowins' ideas is to create a simulator center like the ones at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world's largest indoor theme park, I-WAY in France and Vortex Racing in Canada so drivers can compete against each other in real time.

While Dumbreck considers the racing simulator "the big news in motorsport since 2009," Mowins believes it also incorporates an element often overlooked in today's racing: fun - an element that draws people to Mark One.

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