August 14, 2014

 

Philip Cullen speaks candidly about the season that never was and the struggles to balance between life and sim-racing.
This season was supposed to mark a return to full-time racing. Instead, I find myself sitting once more standing in the back of the garage after starting the season snug in the cockpit. Promises, hopes and expectations all dashed. That insatiable urge to race remaining unquenched.

Yet as the years roll by, the sim-racer goes from care-free student with too much free time on his hands to full-time worker with free time adding up to the smallest of gaps in qualifying. The hours once available to practice and hone one?s skills replaced a mundane daily routine that leaves little, if anything to the imagination.

There once was a time I competed on average about four to five races a week. It feels like a lifetime ago and did in fact help me escape the drudgery of study and struggles of finding a job. It also helped that my social circle did not often expand beyond those that I raced with. The guys (and occasional girl) I raced against where my friends. Still are.

The past couple of years, I have just about managed to maintain one race every two weeks that the schedule here at the GPVWC provides. Even that has become a struggle. My failure to embed myself back into the Superleague last year stems from the fact that you need to be able to find the proper balance to fully commit to that level, along with a dosage of skill. I failed on the former, thus finding my season ending early on in the year in pure frustration.

As I said at the top, this year was supposed to be done right. The every changing goal posts that is a Superleague car replaced with the static Supercup vehicle. The season started well, the pace was still there with a team-mate I could rely on to work with. There was teething issues, particularly those god awful starts! Working late shifts every second Wednesday also hurt when you factor in the changes in track conditions that occur on the day throw a big curveball to strategy.

The season started to come off the rails with a mandatory 18-month upskilling course, every Tuesday. On those aforementioned late weeks, suddenly I found myself having little to no laps forty-eight hours before an event. The ever growing competitive nature of the GPVWC, that?s akin to driving one hand behind your back. I persevered, for the love of the racing. Racing was competitive, battles were fun and I found myself on the pace, even if the results didn?t show that.

Nothing replaces the adrenaline surge you feel as you go for that overtake, the beat of your heart against your chest thumping ever louder as you look to get that perfect qualifying life. It?s a drug, and like any addict, I find myself itching for my next fix.

Yet here I sit, writing this feature piece when I should probably be basking in the afterglow of wringing my car around the fabled Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps last night. I?m not a big believer in things happening for a reason, but I do sometimes wonder. Dealing with a limited schedule to hit my marks in practice; that was just about okay to deal with. However when the game decides it?s had enough, you do begin to question.

A long-standing rFactor issue cropped its head with screen freezes. Manageable in the past, they began to pop up in the race, leading me to call it quits. Somehow, anytime it occurred, I didn?t hit anyone. Had I continued, surely it would only have been a matter of time. From a purely selfish point of view, would you race knowing you were going to have a handicap of anywhere from five to ten seconds a race. That in itself is pretty soul crushing.

Despite some help, most avenues have been explored. From talking to tech heads to complete reinstalls. At the A1-Ring, it looked like the fixes provided by Lewis (Redshaw) had solved it. Throughout practice and the race, not one problem. Then came practice for the German event and a freeze occurred. The joy of been able to race again extinguished in the patchy conditions I found myself practicing in. New computer parts have arrived, but little hope I find in them upon reading how Lee (Morris) had done and top to bottom computer rebuild and still had similar problems.

So here I sit wondering, what to do next. My rFactor career seemingly at an end. The new parts open up avenues that rFactor 2 will now run. But that needs to wait for the series to come along in the future.

Help out in the background, I hear you say. I?m guessing many probably see me as anonymous in that regard. Hey, it?s that guy we never see yet has a green name tag. Must be one of those people who just coasting on reputation. Well, what isn?t publically well known that is that formally left that post early last year. I help out, when I can, but really I checked out then. Although I did have to formally try to quit again this year because I thought they hadn?t realised it. They chose to keep me around, in name at least and I?d like to think if a good idea comes around, I can still have some valid input into it.

Why not do more? Well that goes back to where I spoke earlier about time, work, relationships etc. I?ve never shied away with the utter amount of respect I have for the Dave and Chris, without whom this league would cease to be on a weekly basis. I always wonder when they will eventually burn out, like I have and hope that if that day comes, the supports we have put in place will be strong enough to share the load.

Part of me still wishes to be stuck into things on daily basis. But I try not to kid myself. For that sort of job, you need to have the time to commit and commit fully. I would be, and have been, the first to lampoon someone if they were doing a bad job and I?d be a hypocrite if I didn?t judge myself in the same way.

Out of the house for work and travel for twelve hours of a day on average, coupled with needing about eight more for sleep. That leaves just about four hours to cook and eat, try to spend some quality time with the missus and trying to do old mature person stuff like trying to figure out how far the weekly paycheck will stretch to cover things. Boring stuff like that. All of it regulating me to that old guy sitting on the porch telling the kids to stop walking on the lawn.

I?ve often thought I have been at crossroads before in my time as a sim-racer. Where to race; what car to drive; what team to work with. Now the question seems to be simply, what to do.

Like all the big questions and decisions we deal with it life, there are no easy answers for that. Even for something as trivial for something that people outside our close-knit community would see as ?just a game.?


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