The much vaunted and ultra-challenging Bridgehampton Race Circuit ran its last laps back in 1998, but dozens of lucky drivers are still racing the track today—and it’s all made possible thanks to computers and a group of hardcore simulation racing enthusiasts.
Using old video footage, track maps, satellite pictures, surveyor reports and anything else that can inform the build—“whatever they can get their hands on”—these race fans spend hundreds of hours recreating classic tracks, including the Bridgehampton Race Circuit, for virtual races that are as close to the real thing as possible.
“We have an active historic sim racing group here that runs everything from 50s to 80s machines, often on period tracks,” explains Jim Elmore, an administrator of Champion Motorsports (cmsracing.com), an online simulated racing community, who has been involved in simulated racing since 2000. “The graphics have just gotten better year over year,” he says. “The simulations are now very close to photorealistic and they’re rendered on computers that are not that expensive or inaccessible to the general public.”
Elmore isn’t exaggerating. Various videos of simulated runs around the Bridgehampton Race Circuit (see bottom of page) line up beautifully with, for example, an actual video shot from the hood of Daniel F. Stanfill III’s Austen Healey race car at the track’s 1957 inaugural run. The foliage is the same, the turns and elevation changes are identical, the structures are all there, including the famous Chevron Bridge with the word “Bridgehampton” across it—even the tire marks and blemishes on the road are faithfully recreated.
“They really want to make it as close to reality as possible,” Elmore says of the designers, noting that weather, tire wear and many other real variables affect the way each track drives. A resident of Irving, Texas, he never drove the Bridgehampton Race Circuit when it was open, but Elmore has enjoyed the simulated version several times.
“I remember it pretty well,” he says, noting that he raced a Ford GT40 V8 vs. the lighter Porsche 906 in one race, and “perfectly suited” Formula 1 cars in another. “Bridgehampton was one that definitely favored the nimble,” he says, pointing out that the Porsche beat the heavier GT40. “I was really having to muscle the car around…a lot of people put wheels off the track. It’s just so easy to get it wrong,” Elmore adds. “The track has massive elevation changes and off-camber areas where the car does not want to stick.”
Despite the difficulty, Elmore called Bridgehampton Race Circuit “fun stuff,” which is why, with all that’s available, they continue to run the track in their historic racing series.
Elmore says historic racing sims are his favorite because the cars require less setup and tuning, but someone could just as easily drive Bridgehampton Race Circuit in today’s most advanced race cars that weren’t available when it was open.
Many true sim racing devotees have thousands of dollars invested into recreating a car’s “cockpit” complete with actual racing seat, shifters, pedals and multiple screens for a full windshield view. And soon, Elmore says, all serious simulation racers will be using Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, which will add even more immersion.
Sim racing has become so true to life that many drivers have brought their skills from the virtual world to actual, real-life racetracks—and they’ve done well, though the game can never account for the fear, danger and G-force of real driving.
In fact, most NASCAR drivers now practice using the iRacing sim before racing a real track, Elmore explains, noting that all the big racetracks have been digitally scanned centimeter by centimeter for this reason.
But it doesn’t have to be so serious. Simulated racing has something for everyone, and the costs to start driving are minimal. A basic wheel can be had for about $100 and a number of programs, such as GT Legends, are available for as little as $5. “Just get started, that’s really all you need,” Elmore says. “Find what you’re interested in and dip your toe in it.”
You’ll be driving the Bridgehampton Race Circuit in no time.
Get into the spirit of Bridgehampton’s illustrious racing history at the Bridgehampton Road Rally and Tour d’Hamptons at the Bridgehampton Museum on October 1. Visit BridgehamptonRally.com for registration and info.