VR Motion is primarily a software company, which first markets their wares to military and law enforcement, fleet drivers, and teenage drivers in order to train in a safe and secure environment. As we’re not interested in taxis, turn signals, or truck transport, you might be able to imagine the reason we find them relevant: they also do motorsports training.
Based in Hillsboro, Oregon, VR Motion caters to aspiring racing drivers looking to get their hands on sophisticated training software to learn new courses or new machinery for a fraction of what the real thing costs, without the risk of mechanical failure or hospital visits. What’s more— they provide a completely immersive experience with the aid of Oculus Rift-style headsets.
Complete immersion in the environment has been shown to “create muscle memory and improve memory retention—up to 30% over conventional simulation training systems,” notes former Indycar driver and Co-founder/COO Dominic Dobson. This means a pupil will ingest 30% more information or learn the same amount of information 30% faster.
Additionally, it’s one of the more cost-effective forms of simulated training; the headsets are far cheaper than big, wraparound screens. The company uses off-the-shelf products to assemble their own motion base, which provides three axes of motion with three electric stepper motors. Currently, their software is compatible with most headsets and computers, but, ultimately, they’d like their software to be completely hardware agnostic.
Training for Pike’s Peak
In fact, Dobson himself used the VR Motion simulation software to prepare for his foray at Pike’s Peak back in 2015. Dominic, despite his CART and Group C experience, needed to reacquaint himself with a light and powerful prototype, and turned to VR Motion to gain some experience on a course which offers virtually no time for testing.
Since real-life practice is restricted to different thirds of the course in the preceding days, Dominic needed a way to string together those three sections and understand all the surface changes that occur over the 12.4-mile course.
After twenty-two simulated runs, VR Motion’s other Founder, Keith Maher, predicted Dominic would be able to make it to the top in just ten minutes and twenty-five seconds. Turns out, Dominic beat that predicted time by ten seconds, and snagged both the win in the Unlimited class and the Rookie of the Year award—which he attributes entirely to the preparation VR Motion offered. It was then that Dobson felt he needed to take a role in the company, and has since acted as a Co-founder/COO.
Though Dominic’s professional racing career is long over, he remains an active force in the racing world. Currently, he helps move young talent up the rungs of the motorsport ladder, and his protégé, if you like, is the young Andrew Evans. Last year, Evans competed in Formula Ford 2000, and had never been to Laguna Seca, where his championship final would take place.
He made the drive south from his home in Sammamish, Washington to Hillsboro where VR Motion loaded his car and the famous Monterey circuit. Over the course of four days, Evans familiarized himself with the track before flying south to Monterey. His preparation paid off; Evans qualified second on the race weekend. Limited not by his track knowledge but a sub-par engine, Evans still managed to dice and duel with the leader and finish second—which was enough for Evans to clinch the championship! VR Motion can clearly mimic racing machines, but it’s not limited to just those.
The next potential market is the virtual test drive—VR Motion replicated the handling characteristics, the functionality, and the interior dimensions of the Honda Civic Si so accurately that they were able to offer prospective customers a virtual test drive. In the future, they aim to do the same with the Chevy Bolt EV and other vehicles to get buyers and owners familiar with the peculiar driving experience of regenerative braking function before having to set tire onto a public road.
It’s not all economy car experiences, either. VR Motion recently created quite the stir at The Pebble Beach Showroom with their “Award Ramp Experience.” Customers at their crowded booth were given the opportunity to see what a judge sees as a multi-million dollar crosses the auction block, complete with simulated confetti and cheering.
To give a sense of what it’s like to ride high on the hog, VR Motion offered those attending the Concorso Italiano the experience of driving an eight-figure motoring icon through one of the country’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Taking the wheel of a “1962 Virtual GTO,” drivers could cruise down Carmel’s exclusive Seventeen-Mile Drive, which makes Bel Air look like a trailer park— la dolce vita!
Whether it be a glimpse at the good life, finding speed in a competitive environment, or learning to manage stressful situations, there are plenty of reasons to sample a simulator. To get out there and drive requires lots of bread, time, and exposure to risk. While risk is part of the appeal, plenty of new drivers would like to have the ability to run quickly, safely, and cheaply—all without having to don a race suit and a helmet, if possible.