Meet the Porsche Supercup star using sim racing to improve his driving skills
Laurin Heinrich loves competing on track… and a virtual simulator
Laurin Heinrich in racing suit in front of Porsche racecar
The worlds of track racing and sim racing are increasingly merging. Just ask Laurin Heinrich. A rising star of Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup, he’s also an accomplished sim racer. In fact, virtual driving is essential to improving track skills, he says
Laurin Heinrich is a young racing talent who you should certainly be keeping your eyes on. Last season, the 20-year-old German secured the rookie title in the Porsche Supercup and, along the way, beat more experienced drivers by winning the round at Zandvoort in September. It’s no surprise that he also beat 12 other aspiring driving talents to become the Porsche Junior for the 2022 season, meaning that Laurin will compete a full season in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup on the same race weekends as Formula 1. But Laurin doesn’t just have passion for driving a Porsche on a racetrack – he’s also an enthusiastic and highly-skilled sim racer. We spoke to him about his twin passions and find out why sim racing has huge benefits for how he competes on real race circuits.How did you get into car racing?“My fascination for racing came from my father. Go-karting was a hobby of his and he always took me along with him. So I grew up with motorsport and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. When I was about eight years old, I also started driving on a simulator, which at that time was just a video game on the PC. My entire family is very supportive of me in my races now.”
Rear of a Porsche GT3 Cup car cornering on track
At just 20, Laurin Heinrich secured the rookie title in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup in 2021 and even won the round at Zandvoort
When sim racing becomes more serious, that means having to upgrade your gear, doesn’t it?“I built mine up, bit by bit. I got new additions for Christmas or on my birthday. First a steering wheel, then pedals. Initially, it was more gaming than anything. Hardware and software was developing steadily. And, for example, when I realised that a monitor with a low response time made me faster to a certain extent, I had to find that, too. It eventually got to a point where I had a true simulator in my room. In 2016 I joined the racing platform iRacing, where you race against real people and can move up and down in the ranking system. Real competition.” In what ways does sim racing improve your racing skills?“I find training on the simulator very rewarding. It’s amazing how good simulations have got. You can really adjust all the details on the car virtually, just as you do in reality. You can see every single bump on the track and the braking points are the same. And experience the feeling of competition. Some ‘old-timers’ don’t think much of it and smirk at drivers who do sim racing too, but I can see the advantages it offers me. If the others aren’t jumping on the bandwagon (yet), then I’m a few steps ahead of them. In 2021, the GT World Challenge even awarded championship points from virtual races for the real championship. That brought together real motorsport and sim racing.”
Man grips steering wheel and looks at screen on simulator
The racing sim allows Laurin Heinrich to sharpen his knowledge of different tracks as well as try out repetitive manoeuvres safely
What racing manoeuvres can you train for using a simulator?“I can try out a lot on the simulator. I can test driving a corner 5km/h faster and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter – I can just try again. And I also train more for race starts. You can repeat them over and over again and get a feel for where to best position yourself or racing against an opponent. I can test where I can brake next to my competitor or which corners I have to overtake on the outside. Although just because something works on the simulator doesn’t mean it will automatically work in a real race. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s very good training.”What do real tracks look like in the simulation?“The routes are scanned with a laser and a lot of photos are taken from different perspectives. For example, trees are in exactly the same place in the simulation. These kinds of details are very important for orienting yourself. I use visual cues to brake correctly or for acceleration points. Sim racing providers do this very well, with a lot of attention to detail. Jets fly over the start-finish straight at every Le Mans 24-hour race… and this also happens in the iRacing simulation. Or at the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring where the excited fans, who even watch at night, are also simulated. The level of quality you see now in the simulations is breathtaking.”
Front-on view of Porsche GT3 Cup racing car on track
Laurin describes himself as a ‘hybrid driver’, combining virtual and real world racing to great effect
Do you network with other sim racers?“It’s difficult to survive as a lone competitor on the scene today. There are large communities on sim racing platforms, and you can form real teams. You exchange ideas and get to know new people on the platform, although you’ve never met them in real life. It’s totally exciting. Your team can then compete against other teams, really giving the spirit of competition a boost. And you can only come out on top if everyone pulls together.”How much of an adjustment is it to go from simulator to real racing car for you?“At first it feels a bit odd. Different. But after a few laps I’m back in. I took a break from the simulator in the summer and only drove new tracks from time to time so I could get to know them. I felt a bit lost at first when I got back into the simulator in the autumn. The G-forces, the sounds and the smells are missing. But after a few days you get in the zone again and you are completely there.”What are your career goals?“In real motorsport, my current goal was to win the Porsche Junior selection process. When I got the call with the good news that I held my own against 11 other nominees, that was a big dream came true for me. In the medium term, I would like to win the Porsche Super Cup and the Porsche Carrera Cup. In the long term, of course, I would like to win important long-distance races like the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the 24h Nürburgring. Maybe one day I’ll be able to pursue motorsport in the USA. That’s still a big dream for me. In sim racing, I take it race by race. Since I will be the Porsche Junior in 2022, it will be more difficult to stay involved in sim racing on a professional level, of course. But I hope to do races with my team this winter where I can develop, and where we can be successful and have fun. All in all, though, real motorsport comes first for me.”
Driver in racesuit holds trophy and bottle of champagne
As the Porsche Junior for the Porsche Mobile 1 Supercup in 2022, Laurin has a clear goal – to win the overall championship
Can you give us some tips on how to get into motorsport and sim racing?“For those interested sim racing, buy equipment that’s not too expensive and first see whether it suits you – whether you think it’s fun. You can then gradually upgrade. Then go look for a community where you can exchange ideas with like-minded people. And keep trying. Just do a few laps on a regular basis and the rest will take care of itself. As for real motorsport, the first thing you should do is visit a local or regional go-karting club and do a few laps in the rental kart there. To be successful in motorsport, you always need a healthy dose of luck. I’m very grateful that I can pursue my passion.”
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