If I say the name Darren Turner to you, you think of Aston Martin’s GT1 and GTE class winner at Le Mans, for a collective three first-placed trophies among numerous other podium ribbons. He’s a bit of a legend of modern GT racing. If you were at or watching the 2021 Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard, you might also know him as the person charged with driving the Valkyrie hypercar up the Hill on its dynamic debut.
Testing the £70k AMR‑C01 sim rig | FOS Future Lab
What you may not know is that he’s also arguably one of the godfathers of the driving simulator. We met in Aston Martin’s hospitality suite in a quiet corner of Goodwood House to chat about that lesser-known side of his career and have a go on his new AMR-C01 sim rig.
“It’s the first time anyone’s called me that,” he laughs, as we wander up to the AMR-C01. “I was in the right place at the right time testing with McLaren F1 in ‘98. No one had done driver-in-loop sim rigs before. The things we were doing were the early infancy of that sort of technology. It was only in year four that the design and engineering team started to trust the numbers that were coming from it.”
To date, Darren has taken his sim expertise to Red Bull F1, Sauber, Toyota F1 and even Toyota’s NASCAR outfit. But It was 11 years ago though that a driver coach friend came to him asking about sims in a driver-training context, rather than for engineering. For hobbyists that wanted to get their lines down before actually setting off for a weekend’s racing. From there, Base Performance Simulators was born, building everything from full F1- and GT-bodied motion-equipped sim rigs with wrap-around wall screens, to more compact tubular setups with bucket seats and a monitor.
It was apropos the latter that Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s Chief Creative Officer, first came knocking. Something to the effect of ‘I’d love to get one of your sim rigs to have in the design studio’ spiralled into ‘why don’t we do an Aston Martin sim rig’. Darren started CURV Racing Simulators to collaborate with Aston on the project and the carbon-bodied, fully paid-up and badged AMR-C01 was born.
It’s quite the thing to behold, presenting not unlike how we imagine an Aston take on a race bike sidecar would look, albeit with a giant curved Samsung screen on it. The paint, the curvaceous carbon bodywork, the leather-padded carbon seat – it’s Aston Martin Racing meets Outrun.
“When they came back with the designs and I had a look at it in VR, it blew my mind,” Darren gushes. “For me, it’s about function, not necessarily the look. So this design is beyond anything I could have imagined. We asked Aston for a carbon shell, but we weren’t expecting anything like this. I’m so happy with how it’s turned out, as a product.”
Never mind the sexy bodywork. We were first impressed with how the C01 has defeated in totality the bane of every tech-enthusiast and gamer’s life: cable clutter. “The thing we wanted to get rid of was wiring mess and clutter. The PC is all running underneath where your feet are. The cooling fans are behind the front, sort of behind the grille but underneath.” The computer is under the pedals? Those things that most drivers will effectively be kicking aggressively whenever they use the sim? Fear not. This is where Darren’s heavy R&D racer experience comes in.
“The construction is two ribs that tie the pedal box and the seat. They’re the load-bearing elements. I knew we needed to test that it works. We put it in a hot room and ran it flat-out. We had keen gamers, running it for hours on end, smashing the pedals and testing everything. We also needed to spec the right PC for the available space and get the cooling right. It’s easily upgradable, too. As long as we know you’ve got a good IT guy and a mechanic, you can upgrade anywhere in the world. We did have a customer that’s a keen gamer, who wanted the very latest upgraded screen. So we made some mods to the bracket and he was fine with the delay.”
It’s easy to get distracted by the art and the impressive engineering, but what are the specs of the innards? As above, whatever you want them to be but as standard, it comes with an Intel i7 CPU and Nvidia GTX 3070 GPU. The seat is a custom carbon-fibre item by Aston Martin, set to the same knees-up position of the Valkyrie hypercar, which sort of sets the precedent for the rest of the high-end driving hardware. In short, the Simucube wheel motor, newly-developed Precision Sim Engineering wheel and custom pedals are just about the best in the business. In terms of the practicalities, it’s been designed for folks of all shapes and sizes.
“It’s compact, but it’s got to fit a six-foot-plus Marek as well as a ten-year-old.”
Marek-ready it might be but actually collapsing yourself down into the AMR-C01 without dinging the carbon lacquer or the paint is a delicate process. It’s not a sim rig you’ll want your mates drunkenly blustering into at a dinner party. Once in, you shuffle yourself into position and get adjusting that Valkyrie driving position to your preferences.
“The first thing is there’s a lever between your legs that does the seat,” Darren asserts. “Get your position related to the wheel right. This is Valkyrie, in terms of the seat position to the wheel. On the left-hand-side, there’s a switch panel. At the bottom of that are your pedal distance controls.”
Compact as the C01 is on the outside, it does feel spacious once you’re in, even with the immersive 1,195mm curved QHD Samsung monitor dominating your frontal field of view.
Pre-loaded on the computer is Assetto Corsa, though you can have iRacing or rFactor 2 if you wish. Not wanting to overreach, an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 around Silverstone felt appropriate. Before the game’s even booted up, though, it’s the driving position that’s amazing. You really are almost tipped back like you would be in a single-seater. Imagine that on Park Lane in a Valkyrie... Once you get going, from a £150 Logitech G920 to this, the feel of the steering leaps out. It’s an extremely weighty motor that gives the impression of dictating the direction of a real car. There’s a sense of distance to it as if there’s a real rack extending down controlling a set of steering arms, rather than a compact direct-drive motor.
All of the controls have a satisfying motorsport ‘click’ to them, from the gearshift paddles to the traction control settings. Most of the in-game parameters can be controlled from the wheel, though a lot of what isn’t needed isn’t there. “Most of the masses of buttons you get on these, you don’t actually use,” Darren explains. “We collaborated with Precision Sim Engineering on a wheel that suited the AMR look and that was also decluttered”. We’d guess the nine rotary dials and twelve push buttons should be enough for most.
Get up on the pace and soon there’s a sense you’re slightly overloaded with information. The wheel’s full-colour LCD display shows your times – current, best and last – with deltas for good measure. Being used to looking at the one screen for all my info, that took some acclimatisation, too. Truthfully, within a lap or two, I was totally immersed, building up pace in the Aston, getting a sense of where the limits were and how to lean on in the braking zones. Priced for people who often don’t have a lot of time, this surely is a way to burn away a few hours of it. And calories, too. Six laps in and my arms and shoulders could feel the weight dialled in through the Simucube motor. A proper workout not unlike a real racer, minus the G forces…
And now we want one, though the £57,000 starting price plus tax might be something of a hurdle to that. To anyone that’s due to get a Valkyrie in their garage soon, we highly recommend you sit one of these alongside it. Of course, Aston can match the specification or indeed any you present to them. They can get it anywhere you need them to, too. One customer has one in his skyscraper apartment, apparently.
“I really hope there are customers that put these next to their Valkyries in their garage,” Darren says. “But there are also customers who are like “I’m not into cars, I just want a sim for my games room”.
From Twitch streamers to car collectors, this could be the sim rig for you, from the man who helped develop the first F1 simulators. Hurry though. Just 150 will be made.
Welcome to FOS Future Lab where we report on the latest visions of future technology. We'll be boldly covering flying cars, hoverboards, jetpacks and spaceships with plenty of down to earth topics in between.
Photography by Phil Hay.
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