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Happy New Year to you all! I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas, didn’t put on 3 stone in weight, and are looking forward to a great 2016!

One of my Christmas presents was a subscription to iRacing.

For those of you who are even later to the party than me, iRacing is an online racing simulation used by thousands of gamers and real life racing drivers from all over the world. You have to pay a monthly subscription fee (you can get this from $4 if you watch out for offers or take out a yearly subscription) which gets you some basic cars and tracks, and then you have to buy any extra cars and tracks you want for around $12 each.

One thing that had been holding me back is that I only have a laptop, which isn’t ideal, but at least I upgraded the CRT TV to a flat screen HD one recently! You can pay hundreds for specialist racing wheels and pedals, or even virtual reality headsets to really immerse yourself in it all.

I have an old crappy Madcatz 2 steering wheel for the Xbox 360 that I paid about £30 off Ebay. Surprisingly, when I plugged it into my laptop, it actually worked! It doesn’t have any feedback or vibrations of Ferrari logo’s, but it’ll do. A quick word of warning that my Xbox 360 controller doesn’t work with my laptop, for some reason…

I downloaded all the stuff I need directly from the iRacing website, and paid up with my voucher and details whilst that was downloading, and then after a quick calibration of my controller, I was ready to race!

It takes a while to learn how to drive a simulator, so don’t expect to be able to jump on and win everything. There is also a good/bad (haven’t decided yet!) rating and licence system, which in theory means all the nutters only into knobbling everyone else will stay racing against like-minded idiots, whilst anyone trying to race a bit more realistically has an opportunity to upgrade their rating so they are also put into sessions with equally sensible drivers.

The only problem here is that it’s very hard to get your rating up, because you either bin it as you’re learning to stay on the track, or you get taken out by idiots which lowers BOTH of your ratings – your fault or not.

Even with my controller, it feels pretty good straight away. If you get a slide on, it’s extremely difficult to get it back without spinning – but that’s what it’s really like in real life! This might put off a lot of gamers…

After my first few days of playing, my Rookie rating had taken a serious bashing (down to 2.19!) but my racing was definitely improving! Today I finally had a clean race where I finished 3rd after a great battle with someone I had a brief chat to after the race, and that endeared me to it all a lot more.

At my level all I can really do is race an MX5 around Lime Rock Park (nice little track!) on the hour every hour, or race ovals in the Pick Up Cup. I haven’t really driven any of the other tracks, yet.

Ovals are a bit crap – especially when you’re trying to stay out of trouble to get your rating up. The good news here is that there are two separate licences for ovals and road courses, so you could quite happily leave the ovals to the ‘Merkans.

You can also do Time Trials, where you have to do around 8 totally clean laps minimum within 30 mins. This is harder than it sounds if you’re used to Forza and other games!

I will have to buy some of the UK tracks to see if it helps my Formula Vee racing in real life, and the closest car in the game to a Vee has to be the Skip Barber car, so that will also be getting bought. I am looking forward to getting that out around Oulton Park, Donington and Brands Hatch. Snetterton should be in the game soon, and having just checked, not only is Silverstone there, but so is the International layout!

There isn’t any other game with those UK tracks on them, and there really are some cracking tracks from all over the world, with more being added all the time.  There are also a load of instructional videos that apply to real life just as much as iRacing, and so I figure it can’t harm my race preparation.

If you’re on it, then please feel free to add me on there – weirdly enough I’m on there are ‘James Cater’.

If you’ve got any tips or advice for me, I’m open to it all – and feel free to ask me any questions, too!