Gearheads have been racing each other online for years, and a couple have managed to parlay their online success into success on the track. Now six of them are going to go head-to-head with former F1 hotshoe David Coulthard.
On Monday (Labor Day), the 13-time Formula 1 winner and current DTM ace will climb into a Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS “Gullwing.” At exactly the same time, six gamers will roll out of the Gran Turismo 5 paddock in their own Gullwings and line up for a 10-lap showdown against Coulthard. We’ll be live-streaming the action right here on Monday.
The competition follows a shakedown that saw 24 gamers selected at random compete for the chance to face Coulthard. The ultimate winner gets a trip to the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Coulthard, 40, is no stranger to the digital realm. He was well into his Formula 1 career when McLaren got its first racing simulator. The gadgets, which cost millions of dollars and are the next best thing to actually driving a circuit, are now commonplace in F1.
“Any new circuit that a grand prix driver would go to today, he would go to the simulator, and he would drive as many laps as he feels until he’s got a mental picture of that racetrack,” Coulthard says.
Still, Coulthard concedes he isn’t as big a gamer as, say, F1 drivers Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso. But he’s excited by the challenge and eager to see what it’s like when the real and virtual worlds collide.
“How well can they drive? How well can they choose a line through the corner? How well can they visually decide what is the point to brake,” he says “You know changing gear is a much more simple thing whether you’re in a road car or in a simulation world, but picking your line, imagining where you’re going to position the car for the next corner… I’m fascinated as to what the outcome of that can be.”
The playing field will be as level as possible. To keep everyone honest, Mercedes won’t reveal the track until it’s time to race. Everyone will drive the same car. Precision will be rewarded, shortcuts punished. There will be no cutting corners.
Of course, the stakes are just a bit higher for Coulthard. Crash your Gullwing in Gran Turismo, and you lose face. Crash your Gullwing on the track and you could lose a lot more. But Coulthard is game for this and, with no real benchmark for this type of thing, he knows his chance of winning or losing is hard to gauge. But he’s looking forward to a close race.
Coulthard won’t be able to see his challengers, but he will receive updates by radio. Stressful, perhaps, but nothing he didn’t deal with during the 247 races he competed in during his F1 career.
“The best gamers in the world understand intimately the nuances of that particular software and how to get the maximum out of it,” he said of his competitors. “I understand in detail how to get the best out of the car. The challenge from David Coulthard to all of the gamers out there is, ‘Can you beat the real thing? Let’s see if you can beat me.’”
Photo: Mercedes-Benz. Coulthard at the wheel of his Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes C-Class.