Taking rallying to the masses

Dunedin rally driver Rhys Gardner demonstrates his racing game which he is launching at this...
Dunedin rally driver Rhys Gardner demonstrates his racing game which he is launching at this weekend’s International Rally of Whangarei. Photo: Geoff Ridder
National rally championship driver Rhys Gardner has developed a racing game that will allow participants to enjoy one of the Otago Rally’s most  renowned stages, with the reassurance of a reset button.

Originally meant to debut at the Dunedin-based event three weeks ago, the virtual experience will instead be launched in the International Rally of Whangarei’s service park at Toll Stadium this weekend.

As the former farmer turned semiprofessional driver and fulltime Gardner Rallysport company founder rallies his Mazda 2 AP4 car around the Northland roads, rally fans can get an inkling of what it is like to be him. The racing game also showcases the enviable quality of the Otago Rally roads, as Kuri Bush,  near Taieri Mouth, is a stage internationally renowned for deceptive blind crests that require incredible commitment to traverse at speed.

"Rallying is such an awesome sport, with so much excitement and challenge.

"This is a chance to give someone a taste of the experience we get but with the safety of a reset button," Gardner said.

His team members will man the simulator over the two-day event and collect donations to help launch the  project.

A competition will be held to find the driver who can set the fastest time over the 15km stage.

The racing game is set up to replicate Gardner’s own Mazda and uses  a gaming steering wheel, plus a foot-operated brake and accelerator. However, the exact way in which his Dunedin team — consisting of Henry Liu, Bruce Li and Gardner’s partner Claire Paterson — created the "really realistic version of the stage" remains commercially sensitive.

"The only way I can describe it is through magic, a bit of maths, some amazing engineering talent and incredible artistry skills," Gardner (36) said.

It has been a three-year project  to this point and the simulators have soaked up a "very significant investment in time and resources," Gardner said.

How does he feel about introducing his rally baby to the world?

The short answer is scared.

"It is much more scary than doing the rally. Putting something out there that we have put so much time and energy into is much scarier than the actual driving."

The plan  for the simulator is to create a new level of engagement with spectators and an audience who love the sport of rallying. Gardner hopes they can become involved at a higher level than just watching.

"We want to share it with our peers in the sport and say this is what we are doing. Do you want to be a part of it? It is exciting for the sport to be able to engage the audiences in different ways."

Otago fans will have the opportunity to experience the racing game at future motorsport and public events.

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