This is the first time that an actual racing car features the exact same wheel that you can buy for your sim rig

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Sim racing games have become, for many of us, an integral part of our daily routines, at least ever since the emergence of partial or complete lockdowns had us stuck indoors with not much to do. Platforms like iRacing, rFactor 2, or Asseto Corsa Competizione have grown exponentially since March and now one of the automakers that’s been paying a lot of attention to the world of sim racing makes the next step and introduces a unique wheel.

That automaker is BMW and, through its partnership with Fanatec, an established maker of sim racing gear, created a wheel that you can buy for your rig and also find inside the 2021 BMW M4 GT3 race car.

Sim racing has been on the up in 2020

BMW's Fusion SL Furniture and GT3 Wheel Just Made Sim Racing Even More Realistic
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Here at TopSpeed.com, we’ve taken a keen interest in the sprawling world of eSports since it became apparent that hammering down actual race tracks wouldn’t necessarily be something we’d experience a lot of this year. Indeed, the niche dedicated to video games that strive to simulate the behavior of a car on a stretch of tarmac in as realistic a way as possible has been growing steadily for a while now but the business has experienced a boom due to the pandemic.

Tens of thousands of new players have logged in their first hours of gameplay in simulators such as iRacing, RaceRoom, rFactor 2, and Asseto Corsa Competizione and, equally, an increasing number of real-life racing drivers have picked up sim racing as well. While the pros from the real world might’ve previously seen simulators as merely a means to an end, using them to try out new parts or work on car setup, many have now come to the conclusion that pouring in countless hours in the simulator and actually racing is a very rewarding experience because it helps you become a better driver. In the case of those that lack real-life experience, the sims have helped them train the sort of instincts that matter when you’re racing.

BMW's Fusion SL Furniture and GT3 Wheel Just Made Sim Racing Even More Realistic
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We saw how modern simulators can accurately recreate all of the elements that make a 24-hour race challenging back in June when some of the world’s best sim racers teamed up with an impressive array of some of the world’s best real racers to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual. A once-in-a-lifetime event, the race also exposed some of the shortcomings of the virtual world (such as frequent server crashes in rFactor 2 and Asseto Corsa or the somewhat dubious tire model in iRacing) but the biggest takeaway from all of this was that racing from the comfort of your own home is a lot cheaper than if you were to do it for real. And safer, of course.

Now, if the story of James Baldwin, who’s gone on to race real GT3 cars after honing his skills in various simulators, isn’t telling enough when it comes to how much you can improve your driving by training in a simulator, BMW has dropped an extra reason for you to invest in a proper sim rig.

Fanatec’s raising the bar a lot with this BMW wheel

BMW's Fusion SL Furniture and GT3 Wheel Just Made Sim Racing Even More Realistic
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No, the Bavarian brand won’t strap you in its latest race car, the 2021 BMW M4 GT3, but it does offer the chance to buy and use the feature that its drivers will make use of the most: its steering wheel. Following in the footsteps of McLaren or Williams, BMW has invested a lot of time and money to increase its footprint in the world of eSports and its new track weapon, which will become available for customers from 2022, will reap the rewards of BMW’s involvement in sim racing.

On the one hand, there’s this wheel which is manufactured by Fanatec - an industry first as never before did a hardware developer come forth to make the steering wheel (or any other part, as far as we’re aware) that goes on an actual car.

Moreover, BMW will develop the M4 GT3 both in the real world and the virtual one as the car's been unveiled in iRacing to be trialed by everyone.

All of the laps that people will clock in the new car in the game will, in turn, help the engineers make it better. To make it all happen, BMW shared over 70 GB of data with iRacing’s devs to help them recreate BMW Motorsport’s new flagship model. The BMW M8 GTE is also available in iRacing.

BMW's Fusion SL Furniture and GT3 Wheel Just Made Sim Racing Even More Realistic
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"We have decided to continue to focus strongly on hardware developments in 2021," said Rudolf Dittrich, Head of BMW Motorsport SIM Racing at the end of the newly formed department’s first full year of activity. Over the course of a few short months that BMW has grabbed some serious silverware in the virtual world and has also established some popular racing series.

"[Through sim racing], we can promote technical innovations and develop new product categories and markets. With this alignment [between the real world and the virtual one], we are positioning ourselves in our competitor’s environment in a totally unique way," added Dittrich. The steering wheel’s dual purpose was proved by BMW factory driver Philipp Eng who showed up on stage at the 2020 BMW Motorsport SIM Racing event behind the wheel of the M4 GT3 prototype. He then got out with the wheel in hand, connected it to the nearby rig, and got on turning a few laps in the virtually rendered M4 GT3 in iRacing. "I was flabbergasted – because I was thrilled by the concept from the word go," said Eng.

BMW's Fusion SL Furniture and GT3 Wheel Just Made Sim Racing Even More Realistic
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The wheel is made out of carbon fiber and features all of the functionalities of a wheel that works on a real car - as it should.

The list includes illuminated buttons and magnetic, dual-action shift paddles although some buttons aren’t serving any function outside of the real car (such as the ’Drinks’ button that’s used by the drivers when they want to take a sip from the on-board water bottle while they drive). Fanatec will begin selling the wheel in 2021 but its price has yet to be revealed although we’re sure it will cost a lot since the top offerings from the company cost in excess of $2,000 without pedals. Take the Podium Racing Wheel F1 with direct-drive technology as an example.

The Fusion SL multi-purpose furniture by Sedus

BMW's Fusion SL Furniture and GT3 Wheel Just Made Sim Racing Even More Realistic
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Eng drove around in iRacing while seated in another example of BMW-backed lateral thinking, the Fusion SL multi-purpose furniture set. The set features an armchair and a desk which, in a few quick moves, can be turned into a sim racing rig. It’s two-into-one at no extra costs. Designed by BMW Designworks and furniture manufacturer Sedus, the Fusion SL is aimed at the sim racers that struggle with a lack of space, according to BMW Designworks chief Mike Scully.

"It is not necessarily intended to replace the high-end sim rigs used by professionals," underlined Scully who added that "our goal was rather to make sim racing and the hardware required attractive for new target groups – and, to be honest, their fellow occupants. It is not easy to strike the right balance between the necessary stability, portability, flat profile, torsional rigidity, and a visual impression that will bring the piece of furniture out of the cellar and into the living room, as many of these aspects contradict each other."

BMW's Fusion SL Furniture and GT3 Wheel Just Made Sim Racing Even More Realistic
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Sadly, for all that BMW’s doing in the virtual world, the company’s also been busy reducing its footprint in the real world. The Munich-based manufacturer [will quit Formula E at the end of the 2021 season-art190426] and has also decided to end its decades-old partnerships with both Schnitzer Motorsport and Team Racing Bart Mampaey (RBM).

Source: Motor1

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
About the author

Munich. BMW Motorsport SIM Racing presented three spectacular world premieres at its digital BMW SIM Live event, each of which take the transfer of technology between real and virtual racing to a totally new level. The BMW M4 GT3, which is set to become the new flagship in the BMW M Customer Racing range of race cars from 2022, made its debut on the iRacing sim racing platform as a prototype ahead of its first real race outing. The steering wheel in the BMW M4 GT3 has been developed in cooperation with Fanatec and is the first of its kind to work in both a race car and a race simulator. The third global innovation is the concept study of the “Fusion SL” sim lounge furniture. In just a few simple steps, it can be converted from a designer table into a fully-fledged race simulator. With these developments, BMW Motorsport is underlining its aspirations not only to use the event characteristics of sim racing, but also to actively promote the industry through such innovations as the hardware that forms part of its holistic involvement.

“With BMW Motorsport SIM Racing, we are following a 360-degree approach. This means that we have our eye on the big picture,” said Rudolf Dittrich, Head of BMW Motorsport SIM Racing. “We have achieved an awful lot in the first year of our involvement. At the same time, we have also identified great potential and, based on that, have decided to continue to focus strongly on hardware developments in 2021, with which we can promote technical innovations and develop new product categories and markets. With this alignment, we are positioning ourselves in our competitor’s environment in a totally unique way. We really enjoy developing creative solutions and seeing fast results with our process partners, with whom we are developing the world firsts of today and tomorrow.”

BMW M4 GT3 steering wheel, the first of its kind for race car and simulator.

BMW Motorsport has collaborated with sim racing hardware producer, Fanatec, to develop a steering wheel for the BMW M4 GT3 that can be used in both a race car and a race simulator – a technology transfer, the likes of which has never been seen before in motor racing. Absolutely no modifications are required for it to be used in the race car. The carbon steering wheel is a motorsport design, with illuminated buttons and magnetic, dual-action shift paddles also made of carbon. The fact that the hybrid steering wheel perfectly fulfils both roles was demonstrated emphatically by BMW works driver Philipp Eng (AUT) at BMW SIM Live. He entered the stage in the real BMW M4 GT3, emerged holding the steering wheel, inserted it into the simulator, and promptly completed a number of laps in the car’s virtual counterpart. Extensive tests allow the BMW Motorsport engineers to constantly monitor the durability of the steering wheel in real racing situations. It will be available from Fanatec in the first half of 2021.

“The first time I heard of the idea to design the BMW M4 GT3 steering wheel to be compatible with a simulator, I was flabbergasted – because I was thrilled by the concept from the word go,” said Eng. “You have to take your hat off to the pioneering role that BMW Motorsport and Fanatec have taken on here, and to the courage to implement a project of this kind. I know the people who were involved in the development at BMW Motorsport and at Fanatec, and never doubted that they would design a superb steering wheel. Compared to the steering wheel in the BMW M6 GT3, for example, the new wheel has extremely good ergonomics. It is very comfortable to hold. You can tell that real professionals have been at work in every area.”

The BMW M4 GT3 as a prototype on iRacing.

As with the BMW M8 GTE and BMW M4 GT4 before it, BMW Motorsport has worked very closely with popular sim racing platform iRacing over the past few months, in order to integrate the BMW M4 GT3 as faithfully as possible in the simulation. The difference this time is that the car is being used as a test car on iRacing even as it is being developed. As such, the sim racers can follow the development together with BMW Motorsport, and can help drive the development forward until the final version is available on iRacing and to real motor racing customers later in 2021. At the same time as the real car is being developed, BMW Motorsport engineers have provided their colleagues at iRacing with CAD data and photos as a reference, which they can then use as a basis when programming and designing the virtual BMW M4 GT3. In an additional data package, iRacing received all the information on the driving dynamics of the BMW M4 GT3. BMW Motorsport engineers use the same set of data to operate the BMW Motorsport simulator, for example. In total, over 70 GB of data has already been exchanged. The common goal: to recreate the actual driving dynamics as realistically as possible.

Philipp Eng was impressed by how successfully this had been achieved when he took the virtual BMW M4 GT3 for a spin for the first time on the simulator at BMW SIM Live. “I find it extremely cool that the BMW M4 GT3 has been introduced on iRacing parallel to its actual development. After all, I am not only a thoroughbred racing driver, but also a thoroughbred sim racer,” said Eng, who, as an alpha tester for iRacing, plays a role in ensuring that the handling of the BMW M4 GT3 is as close as possible to reality. “iRacing is doing a fabulous job when it comes to being realistic. Just a few years ago, I would never have believed that something like this was possible. iRacing has achieved an incredibly high standard in cooperation with BMW Motorsport. I am very excited to see how good the digital BMW M4 GT3 will be in the end.”

BMW Motorsport, BMW Designworks and Sedus combine functionality and home design in the “Fusion SL” concept furniture .

Sim racing is growing in popularity all over the world. As such, the number of users building comprehensively-equipped rigs at home is also growing. At BMW Motorsport, this raised the question of how to integrate these rigs in everyday life. Together with BMW Designworks and furniture manufacturer Sedus, they have come up with a solution. The concept study is called “Fusion SL” – a unique combination of sim racing rig and lounge furniture. The idea was to develop a piece of furniture that would save space and could be aesthetically integrated into a modern living environment. It can be converted into a rig in just a few simple steps, but which is otherwise folded down to serve as a desk, coffee table or seat, thus making “boost” and “ease” concepts that can be experienced not only in the car, but also in the living room.

To implement the project, the engineering quality of BMW Motorsport, design expertise of Michael Scully and his BMW Designworks team, and the production performance of Sedus – one of the leading full-service providers for office furnishings and workplace concepts – were brought together. “The ‘Fusion SL’ concept combines the best of two worlds,” said Scully. “It is not necessarily intended to replace the high-end sim rigs used by professionals. Our goal was rather to make sim racing and the hardware required attractive for new target groups – and, to be honest, their fellow occupants. It is not easy to strike the right balance between the necessary stability, portability, flat profile, torsional rigidity and a visual impression that will bring the piece of furniture out of the cellar and into the living room, as many of these aspects contradict each other. However, design is all about overcoming these challenges.” Ernst Holzapfel, Head of Marketing at Sedus Stoll AG, added: “The ‘Fusion SL’ concept is the perfect home office for sim racers. The Wooom chair is its perfect partner. One minute you can be relaxing comfortably in it, the next it offers you everything you would expect from a good racing seat, with its sporty seating position and good lateral support, thanks to the padding provided.”

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