“ F1 Race Centre, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire, UK. Sim Racing Ltd provides racing venues for driving entertainment and advancement. Through Sim Racing's Drivers Challenge activities, Sim Racing makes these facilities available to the public. Sim Racing provides enjoyable and accessible activities, complimentary to real world track days, racing and go-karting. „
Hooray, something thats not on Wikipedia. This review is specifically about the Sim Racing centre in Chandlers Ford, Southampton in Hampshire. (Update I started writing this a couple of weeks ago before I got really really busy at home and at work, however following the armed raid at this location recently it reminded me to finish it).
When I joined Norwich Union about a year ago I had expected to be working at their office in town, however shortly after it became obvious that this wasnt going to be the case and that I would be working in the comparative wilderness that is Chandlers Ford. In case you havent guessed theres not a lot to do there, except go to the enormous Asda or drive to one of the local pubs that arent near enough to walk for a lunchtime drink. Of course, like many people I could go running, however thats not very likely to happen any time this century. Instead I was introduced to Sim Racing.
~~~~ Other stuff ~~~~
In the middle of the very quiet shopping precinct in Chandlers Ford its very hidden away (ok, its usually very quiet with the exception of the one armed raid). Parking is provided free for 2 hours for visitors to Sim Racing so this is very handy as there is very little parking nearby, other than on street which is usually taken up by local workers (along with police and security vans)
There is a variety of other shops and the location including a hairdressers that no-one goes to and an HSBC that people shoot in and out of.
~~~~ So what is it ~~~~
Ok, onto the subject in hand, Sim Racing is basically a racing simulator. However its a big step up from Arcade racing games as it is incredibly realistic. The car handles like a race car should handle and thus most of the best people that go there are also racing drivers in their spare time. The screens are 108 wide screen and as you are quite close to them its hard to look at anything other than the screen. You sit in a well designed pod that is similar to sitting in a race car, you get the mandatory steering wheel and 3 pedals, and the pod is adjustable for most heights and is wide enough to cater for people probably up to about 19 stone (Ive never actually seen a 19 stone person trying to get in one though).
Basically they have hundreds of circuits to choose from. Each month however there is a set track that is used for competition purposes. The tracks are generally fairly well known tracks such as Monza, Monaco and Brands Hatch. The tracks are accurate to the real life thing which is good as it provides a good challenge but one that can be mastered with practice.
At this point I realise how much detail I could go into with this review but Ill try and focus on the main points. Basically there are 7 cars that you can use, each one progressively faster and more powerful than the last. The bottom of the pile is the Ferrari 512, this is the beginners car but can be very twitchy and lacks good downforce. The next one up is the Lotus 33, this is a bit more powerful than the Ferrari but more twitchy. The other main one is the Brabham BT26A, this is for the pros and is the 3rd best car available. All of these cars will qualify you for the monthly prizes.
For £5 you get 20 minutes track time (Tuesday-Friday 11.30-7.00) and this gives you the opportunity to enter the monthly competition. Each time you go the best lap you do is recorded on the website along with everyone elses. To start with you begin in Class C and can enter the Class C trophy by driving the Ferrari 512. The fastest 3 laps win a tenner each, and gain you promotion to Class B. Getting the best lap in a Lotus 33 will win you £15 and help you on your way to Class A, where you get £20 for having the best lap. You also get a small trophy for having the best lap in your Class. However the good thing is you can only enter the competition for the Class you are in, i.e. someone who is in Class A cant win Class C, therefore this gives everyone a chance to win it. However, I think someone in Class C could win Class A, not sure though however its very unlikely to happen.
Like go-karting there are many different types of competition you can do, these range from £24 up to £34 each for between a minimum of 70 minutes up to 120 minutes driving time. This is actually really good value compared to go karting where you can end up regularly paying about £1 a minute. Again you get trophies for the winners and its set up like a proper competition with practice, qualifying and a series of races. If you want to do any of these then booking is definitely essential as it is open to the general public at all times.
To go occasionally you dont need to be a member and you will pay casual user prices. However you can pay for membership if you wish and this saves you about 16% on prices with Silver membership or 33% with Gold. However you need to ensure you use it as membership is expensive.
Silver is £21 for 3 months, £42 for 6 and £84 for 12.
Gold is £90 for 3 months, £180 for 6 and £360 for 12.
However if you are loyal then there is a loyalty scheme that allows you to get 15%, 25% and 50% off your renewal fee for 3, 6 and 12 month memberships respectively.
Is it worth it Well if you go regularly then yes it is, however if you go less than 3 times a month and only generally do the 20 minute sessions then probably not.
So is it any good? Personally I really enjoy it, although Im not really that good. I enjoy racing games and so thats helped me take to this. I dont go regularly currently as its more fun with other people and Im currently trying to convert people to go at least once a month as a challenge between departments. There are a lot of people that do go though, and its become more popular recently, most of October there is a group booking every day, of course many are regular users. There are normally well over 200 people who record times each month in Class C, about 50 in Class B and about 50 in Class A, many are friends from work.