If you want to get the most from your sim-racing experience, however, then you need to venture up the totem pole and immerse yourself in sims like iRacing, rFactor or SimRaceway. The latter is new and well worth checking out. The physics are developed by pro drivers like Dario Franchitti, Alan McNish and the late Dan Wheldon, and as this sim progresses, expect it to be a true rival to the more established names in racing simulators.

I'm not a fan of rFactor but iRacing is fantastic. The physics are spookily lifelike and although the setups and driving styles required to go fast are as grossly misleading as one of Mitt Romney's tax returns, if you chose to stay true to reality and not get carried away trying to beat the hundreds of Markku's out there, then you'll get the most realistic racing experience available.

The tracks even embody the bumps identically and the racing between fellow ‘onliners' is amazingly realistic. Here you can truly develop and hone your skills, like perfecting the racing lines, race craft, braking and throttle techniques and more. As I said, just don't get too carried away memorizing setups in the hope that they will work in real-life — because they won't.

I know this because, during a rainy practice day for the 2011 Indy 500, my engineer and I decided we would fight our boredom by hooking up iRacing, selecting the Dallara IndyCar at Indianapolis and inputting our current car setup. I then hit the computer-generated racetrack to discover if we could make some changes that might correlate with reality. But it felt completely different and totally alien to my IndyCar that was sat just 20 feet away. To make it drive somewhat similar it required an equally alien-like setup.


Still, it is an online racing sim for the masses; you can hardly expect it to be 100% lifelike. If it were, then F1 teams like McLaren would not have invested nearly $40 million to develop their in-house, über realistic simulator that can actually develop racecars.

Racing isn't like golf, where you can head to the range to hit a few balls and swing till your fingers bleed. If you want to practice racing then you need to be prepared to spend a crap-load of money doing so and even then testing will likely be sporadic and limited. This makes racing games one of the only attainable options available, even for the pros. More than anything, they keep your brain in race mode and your reactions sharp and precise.

Of course driving flat-out around a 120 mph blind bend at Sonoma is a lot easier on a game than it is in real-life. That's why I told you how to disengage the part of the brain that advises you to lift off when times get a little scary, and creates images of greeting the barriers in a fiery, burger-roasting ball of flames.

After all, in reality there is no reset button.


About the author: @Alex_Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He's competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice and the Indianapolis 500 four times — placing fourth in 2010. The native of MADchester, UK began racing karts at age 8, open-wheel race cars at 16 and finished second to Formula One World Champion - and close friend - Lewis Hamilton, in the 2003 British Formula Renault Championship, followed by a stint representing Great Britain in A1GP and winning races in Formula 3000. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Samantha (also from England) and three young "Hoosier" children. He also enjoys racing in triathlons and is rather partial to good old English cup of tea. But not crumpets.