• 2023/03/16

From Virtual to Real Racers: Challenge Program Underway!

Mazda is making a full-fledged return to the world of motorsports with its participation in the final round of the Super Taikyu Series in 2021. Last year, Mazda launched the MAZDA SPIRIT RACING Club to expand the scope of motorsports. First of all, a “Road to Super Taikyu” program was established, which gives outstanding drivers in grassroots categories such as party racing an opportunity to participate in the program. Then, in 2023, another new roadmap, “From Virtual to Real” action will begin. This is to provide a path from the world of e-sports, which has been adopted as a national sporting event, to real motorsports using real cars from 2019. The program is designed with the hope that participants will experience the “joy of driving,” which Mazda considers important, and grow up to be leaders of a new era of motor sports culture.


Last year, it was already announced that training opportunities would be offered to the top performers in the “MAZDA SPIRIT RACING GT CUP 2022,” an e-sports competition organized by Mazda, if they so desired. In order to participate in motorsports with an actual car, you must be at least 18 years old and have a regular driver’s license. And this hands-on program, “MAZDA SPIRIT RACING REAL CIRCUIT EXPERIENCE,” was implemented to help participants acquire the skills and manners necessary to drive on a circuit. Taking into consideration the convenience of the participants (19 in total for the two sessions), the program was divided into two sessions, held on February 16-17 and March 8-9. The venue was Tsukuba Circuit in Ibaraki Prefecture. On the first day, participants learned the basics on the compact Course 1000, and on the second day, they experienced driving on the faster Course 2000. Of course, the program also included classroom lectures, a familiarization walk, and analysis and advice based on the verification of in-car video and logger data. The top drivers who are deemed suitable among the participants will also have the opportunity to make their debut in a real race. Specifically, they are scheduled to participate in the second round of the “Matsu Endurance Race” to be held at the Mobility Resort Motegi on June 18.


The chief instructor for this year’s event was Teruaki Kato. All three are top professional drivers who have competed and won Super Taikyu races in Mazda cars. Senior drivers who are already active in party racing and also have a career in e-sports also assisted the instructors as mentors. At the beginning of the two-day program, Mr. Kato said, “Please use your virtual experience in the real car. Perhaps you have more experience in virtual driving on Course 2000, which we will be driving tomorrow. However, it does not mean that those who drive faster will be selected. One of the criteria for evaluation is whether you understand the tasks given in each curriculum, feel the difference between the virtual and real car, and make it your own by performing them safely and accurately,” he said in his speech. The participants nodded in agreement.


The training began with tips on getting in and out of a roadster equipped with a roll bar and the driving position, followed by slalom driving mainly to experience the behavior of a RWD car, braking from high speed, repeated practice of clutch and shift operation, and high-speed turns in the second run. In the afternoon, the course check begins with a familiarization walk, followed by two full course runs. While reviewing what they have learned in the morning, the participants check whether they have cleared the issues by analyzing the actual driving data from logger data and on-door cameras installed in each car, which do not rely solely on visual and sensory data. The participants of the digital generation were truly “fish out of water,” and I felt that this program would lead to a dramatic improvement in their skills.


The second day was a full course run on Course 2000. While the curriculum allows participants to fully test the skills they acquired on the previous day, this is a course that all participants have probably driven hundreds or even thousands of laps on virtually, and it is a stage where the differences between the real and virtual cars can be felt even more (since Course 1000 on the first day was not recorded on the virtual course). (Course 1000 on the first day was not recorded in the virtual). Here again, the instructors’ appropriate advice based on logger data and on-board camera analysis was indispensable for the participants. Especially meaningful was the comparison of logger data and line-taking between their own cars and those of the instructors, and it was impressive to see them listening to the data and advice of the other participants.


Thus, the hands-on program, which was divided into two sessions, ended without incident. All participants, who ranged in age from 18 to 32 and came from all over the country, showed amazing progress. Each participant had a good look on his or her face, expressing a sense of accomplishment and a challenging spirit for the future. The challenger from virtual to real motorsports will be chosen soon.


Text by MZRacing & T.Ishida/ Photos by MZRacing


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