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We drive the Dynisma DMG, the world’s most realistic (and expensive) driving simulator

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The instant we touch the throttle, we’re immersed. The reality melts away – the sleepy Somerset B roads we drove down to reach Dynisma’s HQ, the room full of hydraulic pistons and people on computers, the embarrassing little cap they gave us to wear so that our view of the top of the giant screen in front of the cockpit would be obscured – all of that’s gone now. It’s been shaken out of our mind by the DMG simulator. As far as our senses are concerned, we are now absolutely gunning it along Spa-Francorchamps in a GT3 car. 

We’re here to test out the DMG-1 automotive simulator, a super high-bandwidth, low-latency motion generator platform used by carmakers, F2 and Formula E teams to put vehicle concepts, setups and drivers through their paces. Dynisma supplies simulators to F1 teams including Ferrari, and recently signed up as McLaren’s official motion simulator partner. As CEO Ash Warne and former McLaren engineer tells us, the company’s journey has reached a poignant milestone with that deal.

“McLaren was a great team to be in, because they were pioneers in the development and use of the simulator,” he said. “In fact, McLaren was the only team who went as far as manufacturing and selling simulators to other customers in motorsport and automotive industries. Now we have come full circle and McLaren Automotive are purchasing simulator technology from us.”

The state-of-the-art simulators F1 teams were working with a decade ago, Warne tells us, still had significant fidelity gaps in vertical and longitudinal motion. It didn’t quite feel like driving a car. So Warne decided to set up his own company in 2017 and develop the technologies that might allow for even better feedback. It’s gone quite well.

“In motorsport we are clearly leading the market through our performance, especially on those three key parameters of high bandwidth, low latency and isotropic six-degree of freedom performance. But from the beginning I was also interested in the automotive market, and we are steadily proving that those same differentiators are also vital to automotive development. Today, around 50 per cent of our business is with automotive customers.”

Which is how we come to be sitting in a vast, darkened room, wearing a black cap and appreciating anew how stomach-churningly undulating the famous Belgian circuit is. 

As we accelerate, the cockpit moves back on the platform. Together with the vast screen and the granular rumble of the LIDAR-scanned track surface, that’s enough to utterly convince the human brain of forward motion. Braking into the first-gear right hander at turn one is just as convincing, not to mention violent. Sure, that six degrees of freedom stuff is great, but the seatbelts in these things don’t get the praise they deserve. 

Impressing lead-footed journalists isn’t the typical use case of Dynisma’s DMG. Car manufacturers generally use it to prove potential new concepts and optimise tyre performance, a process that carries significant advantages using a simulator rather than the old-fashioned way, Warne tells us. 

“Use of the simulator, together with other virtual tools, can shorten the overall development time by up to 50 per cent and halve the number of prototypes. 

“The cost savings vary because some manufacturers tended to produce a lot of prototypes in the past and some made fewer, but bearing in mind that the typical cost of a prototype car is between $250k and $1m, you can see that the savings quickly run into the tens of millions on those alone.”

Given that software is working its way into the fabric of every modern car, it also makes sense to develop those cars and their software in the same testing environment. 

“The beauty is, you don’t need a complete car to start testing – you can introduce new technologies alongside existing ones where there may be a mixture of virtual and real components working together, but all essentially in connection with a real human driver.”

Then there’s product differentiation and innovation. If you’ve had the growing sense that cars are starting to homogenise, it’s because the cost of trying something new has become prohibitively expensive for many manufacturers. 

“With simulation we enable the creativity of our customers,” says Warne, “because it is so much easier and faster to evaluate new concepts right at the start of the development process.”

Which is all well and good, but it’s not helping us tame the back end as it steps out during an ill-advised attempt to take Radillon and Eau Rouge flat-out. All those years in front of racing sim rigs and arcade cockpits have taught us some bad habits, it appears – while a sensible, skilled test driver might establish a baseline time and then chip away at their sectors, adjusting brake markers by a few metres each lap, we can’t seem to shake ourselves out of full send mode. 

So as not to launch us into orbit, the DMG-1’s feedback kindly disengages at a certain point when we head off-track and towards a horrific collision. While we reflect on what would have been a totalled vehicle and a trip to A&E, there’s a few moments of apologetic radio chatter (us), calm assurance that they’re just going to reset the system (them) and, perhaps the seventh or eighth time it happens, a gentle reminder that the old adage might serve us well here: slow in, fast out. 

It’s a fine adage, too. But the thing is, you’re never offered the chance to drive Spa with this much reckless disregard for your own safety. The immersion’s intoxicating. Even losing control feels great, because it feels like – well, losing control. The progressive way that you lose rear grip is fantastic – you can feel the tyres momentarily regaining some bite on the tarmac, then slipping out again, a juddering tightrope act of traction that’s utterly indiscernible in the moment from feeling a real vehicle’s back end stepping out. The rumble of the track furniture too, is addictive. We find ourselves pushing track limits just to feel the kerbs again and reconfirm how believable the sensation is. 

All of this is giddy, dizzying fun, but it doesn’t make for an especially quick lap of Spa, nor an especially convincing job interview for a test driver role. And with setups like Dynisma’s DMG-1 gaining momentum in both the motorsport and automotive space, this will increasingly become the test driver’s office cubicle. The old school will have to adapt.

“Sometimes we find that one driver will like the simulator cueing to be set up differently to another,” says Warne, kindly refraining from outright mentioning our repeated trips into the Green Hell’s sandier bits, “but we have a cueing system which allows a lot of very easy adjustments. Not only in terms of making the adjustments but also understanding and being able to communicate the changes with the driver.”

This isn’t a change in the way a driver interprets a vehicle’s feedback or reports on it, but a change in their surroundings. Real-world testing is about travelling to numerous locations, searching for the right roads, waiting for the perfect weather conditions, and managing the variables that are out of your control. 

But simulators like this are a lab environment. “We choose what variables to fix and what to change. We can load any location and weather conditions in seconds, reconfigure the vehicle with a few clicks, all in the same day and in the same building. It’s much more efficient, but it doesn’t sound like such a heroic experience.”

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