HPDE junkies understand that when traveling to a new track, the sooner one can familiarize him or herself with the track and the racing line, the better. All of us remember that lost, somewhat queasy feeling as a virgin HPDE'r. Knowing that you're off line, but not remembering quite how you got there, and where to be next, and if the next corner is a right- or left-hander, and is it a late apex? And wait, did that corner worker just flash a meatball flag?...
Anyways, familiarizing oneself with the track in a general sense can absolutely be accomplished with modern driving games.
We've used Forza for the purposes of "learning" both Road America and Sebring pre-HPDE. There is no doubt that had we approached either of those tracks without the gaming experience, specifically, we would have been immensely less prepared.
Also, by "gaming" with the car in which we visited the tracks, an internal clock had begun to develop. That is, we learned the approximate amount of time between all of the turns, and where to be when. We were also able to identify brake zones, including likely brake points, and develop probable gear selection around the tracks.
For Sebring prep we used both Forza and first person perspective YouTube videos. We believe it was the game experience that had a far greater influence on familiarity.
Application #2: Instincts, reactions, and reaction time.
Okay, this application is a bit more controversial, but hang with us...
Unlike in other disciplines, there is very little that one can do to become a better track driver other than spending time on track. And for the vast majority of HPDE participants, track time is necessarily quite limited.
Part of the reason for the lack of advancement potential off-track is that track driving involves an absolutely unique environment; an environment that is nearly impossible to responsibly recreate elsewhere.
A linebacker can better himself on the field by grabbing an olympic bar, a set of plates, and marking off 40 yds in his backyard. But where can the track experience be replicated? How can a driver become better off-track?
Activities like mountain biking and reaction-specific training can help. You may have seen Formula 1 drivers dodging and catching thrown racquetballs, for example.
But for the most part, every time an HPDE participant ventures out on track it takes some time to get back up to speed; for the mind to sync with and process the unique environment. With every track day a re-acclimation must occur.
We believe that to a certain extent modern driving games can help keep the mind tuned for the track context. And because the driving dynamics of the cars in modern games are incredibly accurate, the inputs and reactions required to put a successful lap together in the game are not unlike what is required to do the same on track.
This is especially true if one "games" with a quality wheel and pedal set.
This simulator is certainly a cut above most setups for Forza and Gran Turismo, but what is demonstrated here is just how realistic things have become. Look at the quick steering inputs and corrections, for example.
Perhaps the worst thing that could happen is a novice HPDE'r approaching the track expecting to reproduce the game result. As discussed in our Beginner's Psychological Guide to HPDE/Track Days, too much confidence and lofty expectations early on are dangerous.
And while knowing what was coming next at Sebring was helpful, nothing in the living room can quite prepare you for the diabolical turn 17 bumps that have every intention of bouncing you into the far wall. Likewise, the downhill brake zone going into turn 5 at Road America, the intimidation factor of the "Kink," or (we've heard) the severity of the Corkscrew drop at Laguna Seca.
While there are inherent limitations, we'd suggest that gaming is both a legitimate way to help learn new tracks, and also keep the mind tuned for the unique track environment.
So go ahead and explain with confidence to your wife that you're not just playing video games, you're "training."