Game on - Can Sega keep up with a real race

The 1990s arcade classic 'Sega Rally' is back. Simon Usborne takes it for a test drive, but can the computer game compare with the white-knuckle thrills of a genuine World Rally car?

I'm sitting behind the controls of a turbocharged Subaru Impreza rally car. To my left is the World Rally Championship driver Guy Wilks. "Keep your line," he barks over the din of the 300bhp engine as I enter a slide, steering the bonnet of the pristine machine perilously close to the base of a jagged cliff.

"Easy on the throttle," he says as I approach the next bend a tad too fast. I try to listen to his advice, but my focus on the road is blocking out his words as I grapple with the steering wheel.

After completing six laps of the dirt track like the Looney Tunes Road-Runner wearing a blindfold, I come in with a pathetic time and swap the controls of the wayward Subaru for a glass of chilled Cerveza. For Wilks and I are not tearing round the Spanish stage of a real rally – if we were, we would have met a grisly end several miles earlier – we are sitting in a hotel bar in front of a television.

We're playing the eagerly awaited video game Sega Rally. Developed by Sega's new UK-based Racing Studios, where a crack team of bleary-eyed physicists, designers and gaming nerds have spent years replicating every grain of gravel and moment of torque that features in the real thing, Sega hopes that its new title, released last month, will repeat the success of its cult original 1995 arcade game.

"I used to be addicted to that," says Wilks, 26, of the arcade classic. "If I couldn't complete it in two goes, I'd walk away – two pounds was a lot of money to a 15-year-old back then."

Wilks says those hours spent in a Darlington arcade partly inspired him, aged 19, to quit a burgeoning career as a county cricketer andtake up rally driving for real. But surely this kind of driving experience via pixels and tinny speakers – however advanced the "next-gen" Sega Rally game is – bears no resemblance to the dust and petrol fumes of the real road?

"The handling in the game is actually very good," Wilks says. "If you keep on a clean line, the second time you go round the car goes faster and has more grip – and that's definitely the case with the real deal."

But one thing no game will ever replicate is the element of danger. " Apart from throwing your controls at your pal if he beats you, it's hard to hurt yourself on a computer game," Wilks says. "You can take a corner flat out and see how you go, but in real life you can't take that risk."

To find out just how the element of danger separates real rallying from virtual, I have joined Wilks at the Ascari Race Resort, a private track built by Klaas Zwart, a millionaire Dutch oil tycoon and petrolhead. The facility is hailed by many drivers as the best in the world.

Crossing the 26-corner black ribbon that winds around a parched valley just outside the Andalucian town of Ronda, we arrive at the rather less pristine rally circuit. My ride for the morning is a very fast car with a big engine and a cool spoiler – specifically, a four-wheel-drive, turbocharged, 2.0-litre, 285bhp, Mitsubishi Evo 6.

Helmeted and strapped into the Recaro racing seat, the first thing I notice in the stripped-down interior is the lingering smell of petrol. Then, having never handled anything more powerful than a 1.6-litre Mk II Ford Orion, I instinctively drop the clutch with a jerk and floor the throttle. The car lurches and stalls, as Wilks looks on from the luxury trackside gazebo.

A few laps in, my feet have developed a lighter touch and I'm starting to improve as Ralph, my instructor from the UK-based firm Extreme Rally, calmly talks me around each bend via in-helmet microphones.

I soon learn that the sensation of sliding, rather than steering, a car round a corner at breakneck speed is a thrill like no other. Just yards short of a 90-degree left turn, at what feels like – and probably is – 40mph, a gentle stab on the brake pedal and a sharp left flick of the wheel sends the Mitsubishi into a slide. By coaxing the engine with the throttle and gently applying opposite-lock steering, it's surprisingly easy – not to mention exhilarating – to guide the car back on to the straight ready to tackle the next bend.

Back at base, my T-shirt dripping with sweat, I hobble towards Wilks and show him a "rally blister" on my left thumb. "You pen-pusher!" he says. It's time for Wilks and his calloused hands to show me how the pros do it. "Are you sure this is the same course," I shout down the microphone from the passenger seat as we hurtle towards the first bend.

And then I stop talking. It is the same course – the same bends, the same surface – but rather than gripping the wheel with white knuckles, constantly swinging it left and right as perspiration drips down his chin, Wilks makes driving round the track seem like a Saturday morning sortie to Sainsbury's. In his hands, an almost imperceptible flick of the wheel combined with a delicate dance across the accelerator and brake pedals is enough to glide the snarling Mitsubishi around the course with impressive grace. Not a single drop of sweat springs from his brow.

"I love sharing the experience of rally driving with people who maybe haven't ever got into a rally car before," says Wilks back at the gazebo. "And if a game can give people a little taste of what it's like, that's great. Once people's eyes are opened to the sport, they're hooked before they know it." He's right – I'm already planning my next fix.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower