Late last year, the BMW M4 GT3 racing car made its debut on the iRacing sim racing platform as a prototype ahead of its first real race outing. For the first time also, the steering wheel for the new race car developed in cooperation with Fanatec will work in both a race car and a race simulator. BMW says that absolutely no modifications are required for it to be used in the race car. The carbon steering wheel is a motorsport design, with illuminated buttons and magnetic, dual-action shift paddles also made of carbon.
To learn more about the steering wheel and the company’s iRacing efforts, we sat down with Rudolf Dittrich, head of BMW Motorsport SIM Racing, and CEO of Fanatec Thomas Jackermeier. “We’re still in the early phase of iRacing,” says Dittrich. “SIM racing has actually still lots of potential in eSports. This is the only sport where if you’re good in simulation you can benefit in the real world.”
The difficult 2020 year delivered some opportunities for the BMW Motorsport division. Dittrich says that the SIM Racing growth BMW saw during the lockdown continued even after. Furthermore, the BMW Motorsport SIM Racing director says, that in the future, the racing series will co-exist with the digital racing series and it won’t be unusual to see “hybrid” drivers racing in both.
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Naturally, SIM racing also expanded the software and hardware opportunities for many companies in the field. Thomas Jackermeier, Fanatec CEO, says there is huge demand now for their platform with a much broader audience. He also expects this demand to last and even increase in 2021.
Fanatec’s collaboration with BMW Motorsport goes as far back as 2010. At that time, Fanatec built a steering wheel to be used in their racing platform, but it wasn’t functional in a regular race car. “The technology is still a step ahead of what we had before,” says Jackermeier. ” We worked with molded carbon fiber, we had to learn about canvas and weatherproof. Lots of challenges we’ve never experienced before.”
The new steering wheel was developed with functionality in mind, especially since the race drivers were requesting that the steering wheel will be “as real as possible.” The steering wheel weighs only 1400 grams and we might see it in 2021 in track racing as well. Prototype steering wheels are now being used in the testing of the M4 GT3.
Pricing is of concern, of course. But according to BMW and Fanatec, the new steering wheel will be competitively priced with an expectation to have an MSRP of below 5,000 euros. The steering wheel is likely to become available in the second quarter of 2021.