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Passion and dedication to a cause can elevate the most obsessive of pastimes into something far greater
By Craig Lager
The Tyrell P34 was a six-wheeled Formula 1 car that ran, competitively, in 1976 and ‘77. The six-wheel design was implemented on the idea that with more – but smaller – wheels, front downforce would be increased and a larger amount of surface area would be available to the tarmac and brakes.
The car did reasonably well, especially for one with such an outlandish design. In ‘76 it landed the team third place in the constructors championship, but they dropped to sixth in ‘77 – and at the end of the day, with only one Grand Prix win under its belt and a driver leaving the team calling it a “piece of junk”, it obviously wasn’t a recipe for perfection, so the design was scrapped.
So, why did Remco Hitman (real name, I checked) decide to spend “in excess of 400 hours over a three-year period” to build a full-scale replica P34 cockpit in his home at Groningen in the Netherlands, then wire it up to a PC to race virtual cars in?
“I was playing Grand Prix Legends using ‘flappy’ paddles and left foot braking and at one point an epic video was circulating the forums of some old bloke driving GPL with an H-shifter and right foot braking with heel and toe. That’s when I realised that what I had been doing up until then was totally lame. That was ‘simracing’!”
The question remains, though: why a P34? Racing chairs and setups are commonly available, but such a specific cockpit, especially this cockpit, seems such an odd, niche choice – it’s not even like he’s going to actually strap six wheels to it – the unique selling point of the iconic motor.
“Pondering possible designs with some of my simracing buddies, I quickly narrowed it down to a late ‘70s F1 tub. Simple, honestly constructed by true craftsmen, these are amongst the coolest of all racing cars. It was a close one between Hunt’s 1976 McLaren M23 and, indeed, the 1976 Tyrrell P34. It’s not exactly a photogenic car, but the design is so challenging and such a prime example of ‘outside the box’ thinking that it warms every engineer’s heart.”
It seems a huge leap of logic from wanting to play racing sims to picking out your favourite late 70’s F1 car to build, but in having similar conversations with a few people like Hitman, something very quickly becomes apparent, something genuinely surprising. They build these extravagant contraptions of dials and wheels and pedals that most would look at and call excessive, not because they want ‘something to do’ – and not even because they especially love the real-world variation of what they’re building. They do it because it seems the only logical thing to do.
Hitman explains: “In my quest for more realism, the construction of a genuine cockpit was inescapable. Not only because it’s cool, but for very practical reasons. If I wanted to drive like my heroes, I’d need much more realistic hardware: a better shifter, a stronger wheel and pedals with a load cell brake of at least 80kg. I was going to need a steel frame.”
And so he built it, much like Chris Ostring who embarked on a “hundreds of hours long” project to build a fully customisable aircraft cockpit. It sits in his bedroom in Phoenix, Arizona, tucked away in a corner – as tucked away as three monitors plus projector plus dials, levers, etc. cockpit can be – and can transform into pretty much any aeroplane he likes.
“Basically, you start adding things, or that’s at least the way it got for me,” says Ostring justifying why he’s built what he’s built. “I started adding things so I could use my mouse less and the more and more I could get away with using an actual tactile control for something, the better it seemed to be for me. Before I knew it, my desk was so cluttered up with all kinds of garbage that I was like ‘ya know, it’d be really cool to build an actual little cockpit’. So I set out and started to do some drawings and figure out how big I wanted to make it, and what I wanted to come up with.”
The founding principle driving Ostring’s cockpit design was to be able to simulate more than one aircraft. “I wanted to be able to simulate multiple different types, so, while my setup is not geared towards any one aeroplane that I want to fly, what it does allow me to do is just about anything pretty darn well.”
As Ostring talks about his build, he’s quick to throw around adjectives like ‘sloppy’ and ‘loose’ as he picks apart which components bolt together to make his cockpit. It’s not something he can try to deny – other people have created things that “look perfect” he says, but his configuration is very much function over form, so he doesn’t really mind the inaccuracies.
In fact, there’s an almost sedate pride in his voice as he acknowledges that while people have built tidier and more impressive looking cockpits, no one has really built anything as flexible as his own. That’s not to say that he’s cocky about it or anything like that – if anything, talking to Ostring just emphasises that he doesn’t see what he’s built as overly impressive or ground breaking – it’s just a solution to a problem…
This is just a small extract from the full feature in Issue Three. To read the entire article, click here to purchase the complete digital edition of Continue for just $2.99/£1.99/€2.25.