• Castrol Reveals Titanium Strong Virtual Drift: Video

What you’re about to see is one hundred percent completely real. It’s not just footage of a guy with a silly virtual reality helmet on his head, intermittently edited with some way ridiculous CGI. The CGI in question is exactly what stunt driver Matt Powers really sees, in real time, while driving. So set aside your fully justified mistrust of the internet for a moment, and just take in the glorious awesomeness of "Titanium Strong: Virtual Drift."

Castrol’s been making a lot of headlines lately with its crazy internet ads featuring cars drifting in different places, from aircraft carriers to helicopter-borne chunks of road. All of them have featured a pretty healthy dose of CGI — so maybe it’s not so strange that Castrol would take the next logical step and get rid of reality altogether. At least for Powers himself.

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In this video, we find the stunt driver hammering a Mustang around a skidpad in some undisclosed location. Probably the most true-to-life of any shot from any Castrol commercial yet. But that doesn’t last long, because immediately after he dons the VR helmet, we’re dropped into a world that seems equal parts Lawnmower Man, Tron and Space Invaders.

Frankly, this degree of insane CGI probably wouldn’t be all that impressive if it were just a matter of fancy editing. But it isn’t; this is a real, free-roaming virtual world, and those splitting cliffs, falling asteroids and tunnels of light appear in Powers’ helmet in real time as he’s driving. In probably the ultimate expression of fantasy and reality blurring, this is a racing simulator where the racing isn’t simulated, but the world in which it happens is.

In probably the ultimate expression of fantasy and reality blurring, this is a racing simulator where the racing isn't simulated, but the world in which it happens is.

Castrol swears up and down that this "technology" is completely legit, and there are a lot of little details throughout that suggest they’re telling the truth. In the "real world shots," you can catch glimpses of the small stanchions scattered here and there, which are probably laser ranging devices used for positioning. The red gearshift knob is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a motion capture studio, as are the odd little reflective stripes and patches on Powers’ black racing suit. At the very least, there’s some motion capture happening here — and with with a fast enough computer and GPS, there’s no real reason to think those digital captures couldn’t turn Powers and the car into one giant video game controller.

For sure, there’s some fancy editing here. Even if this "game" were as real as it looked, it’s pretty unlikely Powers did this in one shot. And as much as I love the Need for Speed style "above and behind the car" perspective, that seems like a tough thing to pull off without the world’s best camera drone pilot flying behind the Mustang. Actually, that would make a pretty good video in itself.

So, there’s almost certainly a bit of fakery involved in this video; but in principle anyway, probably a lot less than you’d think. And that look on Powers’ face at the end of the run, when he takes the helmet off — priceless.

What I wouldn't give to see Kratos and the Blades of Athena take a swipe at Lewis Hamilton's smug head through the corkscrew at Laguna Seca.

Personally, I hope Castrol’s telling the truth about Virtual Drift being completely legit. If so, we might be witnessing the birth of an entirely new form of motorsport. Imagine playing Ivan "Iron Man Stewart’s Super Off-Road with a real Baja truck, Dirt 3 with a real Ford Fiesta, or Grand Theft Auto with a real...well...maybe there are some virtual lines better left uncrossed. Still, I’d pay good money to don a set of VR glasses in the stands, and watch Ken Block rack up a few stars in Vice City.

And if there’s any way in the world you could get me interested in Formula 1, it would be by setting the race in God of War. What I wouldn’t give to see Kratos and the Blades of Athena take a swipe at Lewis Hamilton’s smug head through the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. "You will never find peace for what you have become, Lewis — NEVER!"


Decry if you like Castrol’s recent practice of producing Michael Bay-spec commercials that do pretty much every but talk about Castrol oil. At this point, either you get the benefits of name-brand synthetic oil, or you don’t. And anyone watching this video probably does. Point here is: How many Mobil 1 commercials have you seen lately rack up 1.5 million views in a week on YouTube? And that’s not even counting the number of people who’ve watched it as an ad on other videos. Advertising is advertising, and this is definitely advertising done right.

Now, Castrol...let’s have a chat about Ken Block and Lewis Hamilton.

Richard Rowe
Richard Rowe
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