An Interview With Professional Sim Racer Nils Naujoks
With movies such as Steven Lisberger's Tron, the idea of being completely immersed in a digital world with the intention of racing was the stuff of sci-fi back when it was released in 1982. However, merely seven years later, racing simulations, or Sim Racing, was born. Now in 2020, technology is so advanced that we no longer have to look to fiction to see where we're heading - the future is now.
With hyper-realistic visuals and home setups that would make even Marty McFly's eyes water, it's no longer a game. It's a physical event.
However, the game itself is now becoming meta, with luxury car manufacturers such as Lamborghini realising the true potential of esports as a logical step forward, ensuring their brand isn't left behind at the starting line. Their competition aims to blend the real world and the virtual world into one sporting event. The game is also used by official Lamborghini Squadra Corse test and race drivers in their real-life prep.
GGRecon sat down (digitally) with Nils Naujoks (aka n1lyn), a professional sim racer since 2003 and now manager of Red Bull Racing Esports as well as G2 Sim Racing to discuss Lamborghini's The Real Race - a global esports competition open to Assetto Corsa Competizione players of all levels.
Nils explained: "The Real Race was organised by Lamborghini, and they’re looking to give Sim Racers the opportunity to race, or to drive, in a real car – at least get a test. And since I was missing out last year on a similar opportunity, I thought I’d make this my shot this year,
"At the start of last year, I was at the Race of Champions, that they extended to an esports competition, and for people qualified to be invited to Mexico to be in the normal race. Then we had a competition amongst the Sim Racers in the real cars, where the first of us would get to compete in the Race of Champions with the actual champions."
Until this point, Nils had never driven any kind of vehicle on a race track, let alone a race car: "When we were in Mexico I think I was more surprised, I mean, I was always overly confident we could do it, but actually being able to transition quite quickly to the real car and just doing similar inputs and kind of assuming the same reaction and predicting the car in a way that was very interesting."
The accuracy of Sim Racing setups had prepared Nils for the real thing. Which, when we look at games such as Guitar Hero that are so far removed from reality, is a testament to the developers. He said: "I think Sim Racing if you do the right Sim Racing (like the hardcore simulations), it kind of prepares you for the real car. Not so much the physical side, but definitely for the way you’re looking to perceive the car and know what you have to do with it to get it around the course."
However, when it comes to The Real Race, it's virtual. The global series is open to Assetto Corsa Competizione players of all levels, and features the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo on world-renowned tracks. It launched on the 29th May in a virtual studio in Italy and will continue up until September 2020. Nils explained: "It all started with a time trial, everybody was putting up laptimes, and then the top few would advance to the final. I know I’m good in this game, and I didn’t know too many people on the leaderboard, so I thought ‘oh okay, I might get lucky here, and it won’t be too hard to qualify’,
"But the guy who was in second place, I underestimated him a lot and he was giving me a really hard time to stay in first place in that race. He was always very close in the mirrors. So feeling-wise, I think there was a lot of pressure. I knew that even if I were to lose first position it would still be fine, because we were pulling away from the rest of the field, but I still wanted to come first. I think that’s the nature of everyone in competitive sports. The pressure was more than I expected."
With Lamborghini opening up The Real Race to players of all levels, Nils gave us his tips to anyone starting out: "I think first of all they need to be very tolerant of frustration. In my opinion, Sim Racing is one of the hardest games to play. Well, it’s not one game but several games, but I think it’s one of the most difficult games to get into. And it takes the longest amount of time to rise to the top, I think.
"So they need to be patient and they need to be ready to invest the time and really do laps after laps to build that feeling, that you need to understand what the car requires you to do. The other tip would be to get advice and try to learn from those who are already fast, so you don’t need to repeat the mistakes that they already did."
In terms of essential items for a home setup, Nils had some thoughts on that too. He explained: "In Sim Racing you can’t get around [investing in] a steering wheel and pedals, so you want to drive the virtual car like you’d drive the real car. You can definitely start with entry-level equipment of $200-$300, but if you already know you’re going to be more serious, you’re going to end up updating your equipment further down the line,
"So if you already know that you will stick with it then maybe you want to skip the entry-level equipment and just go one rung higher on the shelf right away."
With Sim Racing getting bigger, and the obvious benefits of safety issues and it being financially less of an investment than traditional racing, we asked Nils if he thought it could take over real racing as technology progresses.
"I studied economics and one of my topics was digitisation, and in that process we of course look at many examples that we did in the real world before, and they became entirely digital," he explained."That basically happens with everything when we talk about digitisation. So just following that pattern, there’s a chance that some sort of racing will become digital, but I don’t think that something like Formula 1 or WAC or Nascar, all of the big series, they probably won’t become entirely and only virtual.
"I guess especially around the young folks that are picking up racing, and just how digitisation reduces the costs of everything that comes across, we’ll certainly see that Sim Racing has a chance to replace lower league car racing when talents are developed early in their life."
You can still get involved in The Real Race, with registrations open for each event as follows:
Round 3: Nurburgring
Registration is open from 26th June to 2nd July.
Online Race: 5th July.
Round 4: Suzuka
Registration is open from 10th-16th July.
Race: 19th July.
Round 5: Laguna Seca
Registration is open from 24th to 30th July.
Race: 2nd August.
Finals: 18th Sept - The top 12 drivers will make their way to the live finals in Sant’Agata Bolognese in Italy, the Lamborghini headquarters.
To register, or watch the events, head over to the official website here.
Images via Lamborghini