At the gracious invitation of Evotek Engineering in Maranello, Italy, I was very fortunate to be able to grasp a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit their production facilities. Included in my visit was the newly opened race centre, housing Evotek’s stunning simulator creations. The race centre is literally a stone’s throw away from the Fiorano test circuit, and hallowed home of the most famous cars and F1 team in the world.
After a long twelve hour drive from our home in The Netherlands, we arrived at the Planet Hotel in Maranello. The hotel is located directly opposite the new headquarters of Ferrari’s F1 team and in the same block as the Ferrari store, Galleria Ferrari museum and the Ferrari factory itself. From our balcony, we had a great view of the entrance to the Ferrari factory and were able to see many Ferraris passing the factory gates. It seemed to me that nearly every facet of life in Maranello is influenced or touched in some way by the presence of Ferrari.
Race Centre In The Heart Of Ferrari Country
After a night’s rest, our itinerary for the day was to first visit the newly opened race centre which is literally situated right next door to the Fiorano test circuit and check out Evotek’s formula simulators. The race centre houses four examples, three previous gen 026 monocoque cockpits and one new gen 027 cockpit. Following our visit to the race centre, we were to proceed onto Evotek’s production facility, which is situated just outside Maranello.
Nicola and Antonio from Evotek were our hosts for the day. They greeted us cordially at the hotel, after which we headed over to the race centre. On the way there, I saw so many Ferraris it made my head spin, mate! Upon arriving at the race centre, We were ushered inside the building, walking past even more Ferrari 458s and Californias before reaching the front door.
Stepping inside, this space just screams motor sports! There was Ferrari memorabilia everywhere and a cool lounge style arrangement, with Evotek’s simulators neatly lined up in a row. When you see images of these simulators, they just do not come anywhere near close enough to conveying how beautifully constructed and engineered they are. They look like you could just bolt on suspension, wheels, engine and a gearbox and go racing with them. I will go into more detail regarding their construction a little later in this article, as there is just so much detail to take in when you see these simulators in real life.
The 026 chassis
Nicola suggested that I should try the previous gen 026 cockpit while we were at the race centre, and later on I would have more time to try the newest ‘’Club’’ 027 version at their nearby production facility. This way, I could make a good comparison between the two generations of cockpits currently in use.
Driving Imola In The 026 Simulator
Time to break out my Sparco racing gloves and climb into this awesome looking machine! Getting into the cockpit is an exercise in dexterity, it is just like installing yourself in the real thing! Stepping into the cockpit one leg at a time and then resting both hands on the sides of the cockpit, I support my weight and lower myself into the snuggly moulded seat. Once seated, I notice that the seating position was a little high. I find myself looking down onto the nose of the cockpit, instead of along its nose towards the front wheels.
The moulded seat feels very comfortable, although I would not want to be much bigger, as it has a real body hugging shape and I am truly cocooned within the cockpit. It is not claustrophobic at all! I can envision myself sitting in a real world formula car, which would not be far off how this cockpit feels right now. I settled into this amazing simulator, ready for what was to come!
The pedals are electrically adjustable, Antonio makes sure my legs are extended to the correct angle to have my feet comfortably fall onto the two quite closely spaced F1 type pedal faces.
The wheel, as with all the components that go into the construction of this simulator, is a no-compromise full blown F1 style wheel. You could put it straight into a road-going formula race car! It has more buttons than I can hope to use in the test drive I am about to have. Antonio points out a few of the functions to me before I select a circuit and difficulty level.
Evotek proudly uses a custom designed version of Assetto Corsa with their race centre cockpits. The title has been optimised and co-developed expressly for Evotek. Incidentally, fun fact, Kunos used Evotek’s equipment to develop the now popular title. I was informed a little later on in the day that the simulator platform can accept any software capable of driving it, right up to real F1 telemetry!
My choice of mode was for ‘’difficult or no assists’’ and the circuit was Imola. Well, we are in Italy, and it happens to be one of my favourite circuits in Assetto Corsa, so that was an excellent place for me to start!
Ready to drive, I start off slowly and try to quickly get a feel for the motion, steering reactions and importantly, the brakes. I drive a lap or so at about half speed just to get used to how everything works together and how I react to the motion and forces I am experiencing. With more confidence, I start to press on and go for some flying laps. My times start to come down quite rapidly. Reaction time of the motion system is quite good, it is not neck snappingly fast, but it does feel quite progressive and reacts well to what the car is doing on-screen. Braking is very linear and gives me great feedback through the pedal, the throttle is easily modulated, allowing me complete control in all situations. Driving in the simulator, the immersion level is something I really look for when it comes to sim racing in general, and I have to say this is a great experience. The motion is unlike any other motion simulator I have tried until now, and I am pleasantly surprised at how responsive it is.
I continue to lap as quickly as I can with a best time in the low 1:28s. I know I can do better, but all too soon, my stint in this simulator had come to an end and we prepared to travel to Evotek’s production facility a few kilometres away.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of an industrial estate just outside Maranello, stands the global headquarters and production facilities of Evotek Engineering. From the outside it was not really apparent as to what was going on behind the unassuming facade. That all changed the second we stepped through the door and into what could be seen as a race team’s preparation garage for formula cars. Minimalistic and very neat indeed, I also spotted the bright yellow 027 chassis sitting in a space of its own, patiently waiting for me at the back of the facility!
We were introduced to the personnel responsible for these masterpieces of industrial art. We met Miria, Gianluigi, Flavio, Alberto and Frederick, all of whom warmly welcomed us to their facility. With the introductions out of the way, I was permitted to ask as many questions as I liked and have a good look at what was being produced.
My eye fell immediately on the nearly complete carbon-fibre monocoque resting on two trestles and being worked on by Alberto. He was preparing the cockpit for installation of the one piece moulded seat. Up close, you may as well be looking at the real deal, carbon-fibre everywhere and utter dedication to detail at each turn. Although, at Evotek, glass-fibre cockpits are produced as well. Every part is designed in-house, even the technical blueprints are something to behold. Engineering coupled with expertise is overly abundant here in Italy and Evotek Engineering are no exception! Their high level of professionalism is translated into all facets of these cockpits during their construction.
I was told that the yellow 027 simulator, which was set up in its own space, was due to be shipped to Miami the next day. Good timing then, as this simulator was to be mine, however temporarily, for the coming hour or two!
Evotek’s cockpits have uniquely designed and engineered motion systems encompassing pitch, roll and yaw movements. In addition, these simulators deviate from other motion systems by employing the ‘’supporting shell solution.’’ This solution eliminates the need for a heavier moving frame and creates an ultra light cockpit, which means less mass for the actuators to move and faster reaction times when in use. Nicola told me the 027 cockpit is an evolution of the previous 026 cockpit I tested earlier. It has been refined to be quicker and more immersive, with enhanced overall performance due to design tweaks too numerous to mention.
Even the sound for this custom version of Assetto Corsa has been taken to the next level. For accuracy, a real Ferrari F1 car’s sound was recorded using several microphones positioned around the car and engine bay. The result is astounding to say the least. For instance, each bank of cylinders has its own recording and once mixed, it is a 1:1 representation of the real Ferrari F1, as it would be heard on any circuit around the world.
The 027 Chassis
The 027 chassis is a step forward in all areas compared to the 026 chassis. The ‘’Club’’ edition even has the option of a self-tensioning OMP harness system, specially designed to replicate the G-forces of heavy braking. I am a big fan of red cars, but this yellow version looks very cool, indeed! The attention to detail and the sheer thoroughness of 027’s design is a testament to exactly how dedicated all of the people working at Evotek Engineering really are.
Driving Imola In The 027 Simulator
The moment had arrived to once again pull on my racing gloves and climb into this bright yellow beauty. As before, I stepped gingerly into the cockpit and lowered myself into the moulded seat. This time though, there was an immediate difference between the 026 and the 027’s seating position. I found that I was sitting quite a bit lower in the cockpit, which to me is how it should be. As you can see in the photo above, the view I had was straight along the nose and onto the circuit. A really seamless melding of physical and digital worlds, as the nose seems to melt into the screens in front of me. The FOV is nigh on perfection. I comment to Nicola that this feels like a totally different cockpit compared to the 026 I drove earlier in the day. Even the actual seat felt like a big improvement from the previous version. It was more of a laid out formula position, as opposed to the slightly upright position from earlier on.
A very cool design feature of the 027’s cockpit, are the cut aways around your feet. To people watching you drive, your feet are visible as you operate the pedals. This design feature also reduces the overall weight of the cockpit. With the push of a button, I adjust the pedals to slide up to where my feet are resting and once again I have good contact with the pedal faces.
The wheel this time is from the previous 026 chassis, but I don’t really mind, a few less buttons is fine by me. Nicola snaps it into place via its quick release system and we load up the same combo as before, the Imola circuit with no assists. This will be a straight comparison between the two systems then, as the software is identical to the previous session.
Starting off slowly once more, I only needed a few meters to tell me that this simulator was a big improvement over the 026. Everything felt tighter and the lightness of the cockpit did translate to a faster response time from the motion system. The immersion level went up quite a few notches due to the improved FOV, ergonomics, performance and components.
The only thing I changed after a few laps was the weight of the steering, I felt it needed to be slightly heavier. After that adjustment, I went for it, mate! My flying laps were quite a bit faster than the first session, and I ended up with a 1:26,4 which I was later told by Antonio, to be only slightly under two seconds slower than professional drivers whom have tried the simulator at their Imola premises. I felt really confident driving this simulator, I almost forgot it had motion. It felt very natural, and it became almost a subconsciously emotional experience. The physicalness of driving quickly in this simulator was just so rewarding, and I have yet to experience anything approaching this since my time in the 027 chassis! I had such a great time driving this simulator, it felt like I was only in it for mere moments, but in reality it was more like a good hour and a half!
Bonus Talk & Drive Evotek’s 026 and 027 chassis
All I can say at the end of the session is ‘’WOW’’! To be able to drive such professional grade simulators is a true honour and something I won’t soon forget. In chatting with Miria she mentioned that their head engineer Gianluigi was also responsible for inventing the very first flipper wheel in F1. Right then it hit me, no wonder these simulators are so good, they are engineered by ex-Ferrari engineers!
Miria and Gianluigi allowed me to briefly hold the wheel which was used by Nigel Mansell in testing at Fiorano. What a privilege to be able to hold such a piece of auto sport history! I had a fascinating conversation with Gianluigi about how he invented the F1 flipper system and what Evotek was planning for upcoming improvements and expansions of their simulator design. He also brought across to me that engineering alone does not make these simulators great, it is the emotion, care and attention to detail lavished on them that makes them so special.
We were very grateful to all at Evotek Engineering for the kindness and hospitality they extended to us during our visit to Maranello.
Postcard From Maranello
We took in the sights, sounds and culture of the area, even spotting a rare La Ferrari driving casually past us. I will say, should you make the pilgrimage to Maranello, there is a restaurant I can highly recommend visiting. It is the Ristorante da Pasticcino, run by chef Luigi Montanni. We had a great meal in his atmospheric restaurant! Luigi also happened to be the official chef to past F1 drivers including Ayrton Senna, Prost, Mansell, Scheckter, and many others.
Whilst strolling around Maranello, we came across ‘’Push Start’’, which had a shop full of great Ferrari memorabilia, as well as a carpark with several exotic Ferraris parked there. We could not go past them without having a look at one particular 458 special edition in Rosso red. As we stood there admiring the car, Filippo from Push Start approached us and struck up a casual conversation about Ferraris and simulators in general, during which he informed us that these cars were available to be driven by the general public (for a fee, of course). In the spirit of our visit to Maranello, we spontaneously decided to take him up on it and took a Ferrari California out for a spin around Maranello. I have always wanted to drive a Ferrari, so that’s another box ticked off of the old bucket list. The staff, both in the shop and manning the car side of the business were friendly and accommodating and not at all pushy. It was a perfect way to end our time here, in the home of Ferrari!
I do hope you all enjoyed my first post here at InsideSimRacing, please be sure to keep an eye out for more coming soon.
Cheers for now, Mark Puc aka AussieStig