I never thought I'd get to do this.
Here I am, driving the amazing Saleen S7-R, diving down into Eau Rouge at the Spa Francorchamps grand prix circuit. I lift off the throttle ever so slightly to get a hint of oversteer, balancing all four wheels on the edge of adhesion, rocketing back up on to one of the longest straights on the Formula One grand prix calendar.
I know what you're thinking. This couldn't possibly be reality; but this isn't a dream either. It's the latest craze to hit the domestic racing scene: the Wheel-to-Wheel Motorsports Cafe.
Strategically located on Ortigas Avenue near the Greenhills Shopping Arcade (formerly a well known hang-out for street racers), the Wheel-to-Wheel Motorsports Cafe is the brainchild of Quincy Buenaflor, an avid racing enthusiast.
"The idea started really when I was hanging out at Jan dela Merced's (brother of race-car driver, Gaby Dela Merced) house." Quincy says. "He had a rig of his own and let me try it. The first thing that came into mind was that it would be a lot fun if you we're battling out with friends, and not just online but right there beside you with all the shouting."
"We actually were headed to Singapore that day to watch the first F1 night race and I was doing the numbers in the plane. When I got back that's when I started doing a lot more research after which all the legwork for starting up the shop."
And so Wheel to Wheel was born.
The cafe features gaming computers specced with AMD Athlon X2 processors, 3 gigabytes of ram each and HD4850 Radeons from ATI to seamlessly run the highly demanding games and the physics engines that they run. "I shopped around for different systems," Quincy continues, "and I actually wanted to use Gran Turismo as the game since it was the most popular, but as Race07 was rated as the most realistic racing game in the market then, and the PC system being more flexible for cyber-cafes, it seemed that for my concept Race07 and PC was the way to go."
The cafe also has a comfortable atmosphere. "I wanted the place to be cozy," says Quincy. "I wanted people to come to my shop not just for the games but to actually hangout before and long after the gaming is done. Also my interior designer gave the great suggestion that the place had to be 'girlfriend friendly' hence the very comfortable lounge benches and chairs. A mini-bar was setup so that players can enjoy a few beers after the game or their friends can have a few drinks while watching their friends battle it out in Race07."
"The place is more than just gaming, I want it to be a home for racers and car freaks. Take it as the bistro for car addicts as there's virtual racing, big parking to show off their nice cars with a balcony, a video room/lounge so that they can enjoy watching races, car videos and, of course ,the drinks to match."
The custom racing game rigs feature full spectrum adjustability for various drivers, constructed by a race-technician involved with the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia. "I wanted the seating position to be perfect and that can only be done by someone who's experienced with real racing, and this guy was overkill," Quincy elaborates. The steering wheel can be adjusted, the crystal clear 22 inch LCD can be adjusted up or down. The pedals can move forward for younger players or further out for taller drivers. For controls, Quincy turned to the guys at Logitech for their G25 force-feedback steering wheel and pedal combo. The G25 features a hand-stitched leather rim with paddle shifters, as well as a 6-speed manual shifter with a matching 3-pedal (clutch, brake, throttle) system to boot. And of course, to complete the racing feel, Sparco bucket seats were sourced.
Running Race07, there's a multitude of cars to choose from. The game is licensed by the FIA World Touring Car Championships and has mapped out the official race tracks of the series, complete with the liveried WTCC cars to match. From Brands Hatch in England to the challenging Macau street circuit, gamers can go flat out in any of the 10 rigs via a fast local area network. New third part tracks can also be uploaded to the game like the Nuerburgring Nordschleife and even the Top Gear test track (white helmet and suit not included). The PCs also run the higher octane GTR Evo expansion pack. Based on the original Race07 engine, GTR Evo has the faster FIA GT cars like the Audi R8 GT Concept, Aston Martin DBR9 and other GT cars.
"Basically the shop is pretty much set. I do want to add more games though since I'm getting a lot of clamor from the rally enthusiasts here so I'm considering installing a rally game (i.e. Richard Burns Rally, Dirt, etc.). I also want to install a Formula 1 game although there's none right now for the PC."
300 pesos gets you an hour of high octane action, though on weekdays before 5:00 PM the rates are 150 pesos per hour. But Quincy has some bigger plans in store. "We're trying to setup race classes which will be conducted by Don Pastor, one of the best drivers we have here in the Philippines. The goal here is to develop motorsport in the Philippines. We really see this as a first step for a lot of drivers to the sport as it's cost effective, and you really do get to learn real driving... even through a game."
The only things missing are the G-forces and the smells of the clutch, brakes, exhaust and burning rubber, but it's as real as it gets... with a reset button.