Sim racing, a niche yet rapidly expanding domain of e-sports, has been making noticeable strides in the Philippines. This racing simulation’s popularity is driving a new wave of motorsport enthusiasts who are exploring the transition from virtual to real-world racing.
In the Philippines, this burgeoning scene is being championed by some passionate individuals and groups. Sim Racing PH, also known as Simulation Racing Pilipinas, is a tight community of sim racers who have been championing the scene for more than a decade.
As the Covid-19 pandemic hit and more people picked up the hobby in the midst of lockdown, a few community members pushed the momentum further. Among them Keanu Dominado and Mark Andrew Lomboy, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at The Manila International Auto Show.
I sat down with them during the recently concluded Trans Sport Show to talk about their involvement in the scene. The pair are staunch advocates of sim racing and are often invited to events to set up their four-person motion rigs and promote the idea to the general public.
During these times, guests are free to register and use the motion rigs to drive around a circuit or take on a rally stage. The organizers also set up amateur races for guests who qualify so that they can have a taste of what it’s like to compete.
According to Dominado and Lomboy (who is more commonly known as Doc Moi, owing to the fact that he is a surgeon), sim racing has seen a significant surge in interest during the pandemic, with a sustained interest post-pandemic.
The community of sim racers in the Philippines comprises around 10,500 members in just the SRPH (Simulation Racing PH) Facebook page alone, with a small percentage actively participating in races. The majority are casual participants or observers, but the potential for growth is undeniable. The rise in popularity of sim racing can be attributed to its accessibility and the ability to provide a realistic racing experience from the comfort of one’s home. As any serious sim racer will tell you, what starts out as fun and games quickly turns into serious skill-building, whether it be in rallying or circuit racing games.
Sim racing is not just a pastime; it’s a training ground for real-world racing. There are arcade games like Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune and the Need For Speed series, which cater to people who just see them as casual games.
But there are much more serious PC software today that cater to budding and serious race enthusiasts alike. Software such as Assetto Corsa and Assetto Corsa Competizione, Gran Turismo on the Playstation, RFactor 2, Dirt Rally 2.0 and the niche rallying favorite, the heavily modded version of the 2004 classic Richard Burns Rally (which is arguably the best rally sim available, physics wise).
What sets these games apart is the ability of the software to send digital force feedback through to physical components. This feature allows sim racers to feel what is going on in the game, and depending on the setup of your simulation rig (simrig), you can adjust these forces to either be light enough to be enjoyable or to be as realistic as possible.
Aside from a computer or console, a basic simrig will consist of a motorized, belt-driven force feedback wheel with paddle shifters and pedals. As you go up the ladder, you’ll have options for direct-drive motor wheel bases with removable wheels, H-shifters, sequential shifters, race handbrakes and dedicated sim racing chassis complete with racing seats and monitor mounts.
Further up and you’ll be progressing to motion simulators which can range from three to six degrees of freedom in terms of movement, coupled with your choice of wheel base, shifters, handbrake, pedal setup and race seat.
Dominado and Lomboy are not just observers of this trend though, as they are active participants and promoters. Lomboy, a practicing general surgeon, used to be just a lurker on the SRPH FB page, but has now become a key figure in the promotion of sim racing in the Philippines. His journey into sim racing began in 2009 with a PlayStation 3 and the game Gran Turismo. Despite his professional obligations, he found sim racing beneficial for hand control and became deeply engaged with the hobby.
During the first few months of Covid-19 pandemic, he found himself with significant isolation periods. Dissatisfied with his old rig, he decided to design a new one. His father’s metal fabrication yard served as the birthplace of his business, STREGAWO, which is a combination of the words STREam, GAme, and WOrk. Instead of laying off the workers at the fabrication yard due to the pandemic, he retasked them to help build his custom rigs.
STREGAWO’s rigs have evolved over time, with the current model being the fifth iteration from the original concept. Initially, they were considering adding a motion component to their rigs to enhance user immersion. This led to a fruitful partnership with Hong Kong-based Mark Anthony Paradina.
Paradina and Lomboy have joined up as Sim2Premier, putting together sim racing implements like SIMAGIC products and STREGAWO’s custom rigs to cater to the local market. This partnership bore fruit and resulted in the introduction of motion actuators to the STREGAWO rigs, thus elevating the overall user experience.
Dominado, on the other hand, has had first-hand experience in real life racing, having had seat time at the rallycross races. His journey in the sim racing circles mostly happened during the pandemic, and streaming his races eventually led to him and Lomboy crossing paths. He runs his own streaming channel under the name Dominado E-Motorsports that caters mostly to rally racing.
He appears to have found his calling in this environment and has made it his mission to help advance the state of sim racing in the Philippines to be at par with the rest of the world. He has been instrumental in the establishment of a more organized coaching system and is developing collaborations with major organizations such as the Automobile Association of the Philippines for FIA certified e-motorsports events. Along with this is a plan to fully build a sim racing academy to train future e-sports athletes.
Dominado and Lomboy believe that sim racing could offer an advantage, as it allows racers to familiarize themselves with the track before experiencing it in real life. They have given examples of individuals who started in sim racing and then successfully transitioned to real-world cars, like Luis Moreno and Russell Reyes. Moreno and Reyes are both established sim racers who have won multiple virtual events and have found opportunities to race real cars such as the Radical SR1 and the Toyota Vios Cup car. This suggests that sim racing can indeed be a valuable tool for honing real-world racing skills.
A couple of years ago, there was a story of a foreigner based in Manila who used to practice on a high-end simrig to repeatedly train himself on the Sepang Circuit. His real-world times at Sepang were not far off from his virtual ones, further validating the idea that although you can’t feel the G-forces, your mind remembers everything it’s learning virtually.
Dominado also talked about another pair of enthusiasts who saw the potential of sim-racing as a practical training ground for real-world rally racing. Interested in a local rally series, the pair used Dirt Rally 2.0 and turned off the in-game navigation.
They opted to do their own recce to establish their own driver-navigator relationship. They started using sim racing to practice real-world racing techniques, turning off the Head-Up Display, making personal pace notes, and consistently beating their previous times. The communication during these training sessions went beyond simple exchanges. The use of Discord’s screen sharing and spectator modes within the game allowed the pair to explore simultaneous learning and instruction.
Sim racing in the Philippines is still a niche activity, but with the efforts of individuals like Dominado and Lomboy, it is poised to grow. They are not just promoting sim racing; they are shaping the future of motorsports in the Philippines. Through their efforts, they are advancing the skills of the Filipino motorsport enthusiast, paving the way for a new generation of racers.
Things are looking up for the pair, who have found that invitations for them to set up their motion-rigs are coming at a faster pace than they can handle. They touch upon the challenges associated with what they call “shotgun rentals,” rental requests often asked for with minimal notice. In terms of their operations, they mention a usual team size of about six people for managing regular events. However, for larger or multi-day events, they express the need to have at least 10 people to effectively manage the proceedings.
While the pair acknowledge their passion for the work they do, they understand the need to ensure its financial feasibility. They reveal that they’ve had some success selling peripherals, such as steering wheels, shifters and certain rigs. Yet, they acknowledge the crucial need for sponsorships and broader exposure to help lower the costs associated with hosting events, thereby making their venture more sustainable.
However, more support from established organizations has been coming in and has been vital in the scene’s progress. AAP, for example, has actively backed local initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Digital Rally. Further, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile or FIA has shown interest in sim racing, giving the sport global validation.
Sim racing in the Philippines is on the rise, driven by passionate individuals like Keanu Dominado and Lomboy, as well as the general sim racing community. As they continue to promote sim racing and develop innovative solutions to enhance the sim racing experience, the future of sim racing in the Philippines looks promising. With the potential to serve as a training ground for real-world racing, sim racing could play a crucial role in shaping the future of motorsports in the Philippines.