THE racing world, it seems, is increasingly turning to the virtual world in order to entice younger fans into the sport.
Earlier this year I was in Las Vegas, where I saw gamers compete for a massive $1million (£800,000) prize purse by thrashing pixelated Formula-E cars around ultra-realistic race circuits.
Now it’s the turn of rallying legends Kris Meeke, pictured on the left, and Petter Solberg, right, to impart their wisdom on the gaming community as Dirt Rally 4 is on track to hit the shelves in early June.
“These games are beyond realistic now,” explains Meeke, who returns to the real World Rally Championship with Citroen this year. “Working with the developers of Dirt Rally 4, it was my job to tweak the way the virtual cars looked, sounded and handled.
“It wasn’t far off working with the mechanics and engineers during a real pre-season.”
The game has been hailed as one of the most realistic rallying simulators available and it can trace its roots back to the popular Colin McRae titles on the first generation PlayStation.
Solberg adds: “Colin wanted to get across his aggressive driving style – but he would be amazed at what they can achieve now.”
READ: The Formula E star who started as a gamer
Petter is fresh from dominating the Race of Champions in Miami and will once again take on the biggest names in World Rallycross this year.
But he wants games such as Dirt Rally 4 to encourage a new generation to get involved.
What about virtual racing taking over from the real thing?
Meeke doesn’t think rallying has much to worry about – despite agreeing that the audiences for “e-racing” are massive.
He says: “Formula-E, Formula 1 and even Rallycross are circuit-based and it’s slightly easier to make a perfect simulation for these sports.
The terrain could be a problem in WRC, but I can see virtual races being introduced to some of the shorter stages. There’s such a huge audience for it.”
Whether or not e-gaming will take over from the real thing remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure now though, if you want to start your kids on the road to being the next motorsport world champ, the first port of call is an Xbox or PlayStation.