Recently, I had the opportunity to take my car ('06 Nissan 350Z) around the Circuit of the Americas track here in Austin. As "training" beforehand, I used Forza 6. I spec'd out the in-game 350Z as close to my real-life Z as possible. I did around 40-50 laps on Forza's virtual COTA and got somewhat familiar with taking the proper racing lines and figuring out how late I could brake on turns, what turns I could hold at certain speeds, et al. I felt decently prepared, or about as much as I could be off of a mere simulation. That is, assuming what Forza "taught" me was remotely accurate or something that could translate to real racing.
I've always loved my car, but I've never really pushed it to the absolute limits because there's generally traffic/police to worry about during daily driving and sub-par road surfaces even when I've done things like autocross. Getting it on a proper track was a game-changer. The grip allowed me to do things that I didn't know my car or myself as a driver were capable of. I'm nowhere near a professional driver or anything; I'm average at best in terms of people who actually do any sort of amateur racing. That said, I drove really well on that track. I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
First, I need to describe the structure of how they let us run COTA. This was not technically supposed to be a hot lap. They told us they would send us out one car at a time, that we weren't allowed to pass anyone, and that we were supposed to keep it under speed restrictions. Everyone chose to abide by the first two rules, but in some kind of sheer telepathy, we all collectively made the decision to completely disregard the speed restriction, and how we all accomplished this was by slowing up at the start and waiting until the car ahead got a good lead to put enough track in between each car to where we all could really open it up. I, too, did this. I just didn't give a big enough buffer.
The car ahead of me was a 3-series BMW (not an M3, mind you, which would have been a much better car to be following). They sent us out on a rolling start around Turn 6. I managed to catch the BMW just after Turn 10. I crawled around Turn 11 to put space between us, then hit 121 on the back straight and carved up Turns 12 through 15 in extremely satisfying fashion. As a result, I caught the BMW again around Turn 18. I slowed up on the main grandstand straight and let him get well past Turn 1 so I could finish flat-out, which I did. I came in through Turn 2 at full speed and took turns 3-5 without braking (a feat I only attempted because I'd previously pulled it off on Forza), which was terrifying/amazing at the very edge of control, especially because I quickly caught everyone who braked and had to damn near lock it up. I pushed the Z hard out on the track, and running through it first on Forza absolutely made a difference. At the very least, it taught me the layout, which translated into having the confidence to attack the track far more than I otherwise would have.
As far as approximating the track and the car's limits, I found it surprisingly close. I hit similar speeds to the Forza runs at certain points on the track and had several oddly cool/familiar moments when I "knew" when to brake/turn/accelerate and had that pay dividends in helping me nail some turns. Holy hell, this was fun. I had so much adrenaline going afterwards that I couldn't even get to sleep that night. I only wish I'd brought a GoPro along. I had intended to, but didn't manage to pick up a dash mount for it in time. I won't make that mistake again, and I am doing this again. In fact, I've got the itch now to road trip it out to California, take a spin around Sonoma, cruise down Highway 1, and finish up by running Laguna Seca. I crossed an item off of my bucket list, but now I'm hooked and maybe added a few more. If you've got even a passing interest in motorsport, do yourself a favor and take a spin on a proper track.
Playing racing games over the years, with a special nod to Forza 6 in particular, made this experience so much more fun and memorable. (If you're interested in seeing a flat-out comparison/competition between actual professionals in the game and in reality, here you go.) Virtual racing surely isn't the real thing, but it's not without merit. If you ask me, there's certainly some overlap, so the next time you're on Forza in some car you may never get to drive around a track you may never be on in real-life, maybe take a second to enjoy that you're doing the next best thing. After this, I have a new appreciation for racing games and video games on the whole as sometimes more than just a hobby.