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story.lead_photo.caption Formula One driver Max Verstappen (right) is one of several drivers who are using race simulators to stay sharp while their sports are shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
(AP Andy Brownbill)

DUSSELDORF, Germany -- Le Mans winner Neel Jani won't feel his tires grip the road in a competitive environment for quite some time with the Formula E season suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That doesn't mean he can't find a race worth his time. To do that, he's been taking his auto racing skills online -- and finding himself at times overmatched.

"Against the gamers, it's a different world," he said. "They're incredibly quicker than all of us, all of the real racing drivers."

Pros from Formula One, NASCAR and other leading series are using race simulators to stay sharp and entertain fans with their seasons postponed by the outbreak.

Since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was called off more than a week ago, Red Bull's Max Verstappen has been racing online, as has McLaren's Lando Norris. F1, NASCAR and INDYCAR have had drivers sign up to take part in virtual races in place of real ones, and sports networks with time slots to fill are saying they'll air them.

"It's good just to keep you in the groove from a mental, psychological aspect," Jani, who raced against Verstappen on Sunday, told The Associated Press.

Jani was using a borrowed simulator at a friend's house and has ordered his own simulator, but doesn't know when it will arrive amid restrictions in Switzerland due to the virus.

Neel Jani

Jani says it's good for training "pure racecraft," particularly overtaking, although there's nothing like wrestling a real race car around a track.

"Being quick in a real car and being quick in a sim, there are still different aspects coming into play. In the real cars, first of all, you need the physical condition to be able to do it, so you need to have physically to train and all these things," he said.

"With all the speed and all the G-forces, you have to still be able to have the guts to do it, to take this corner flat because you know if you don't make it, you're going to hit and it's going to hurt. While in the sim, you say: 'This lap I try, and if it doesn't work, next lap I try differently.' "

Sim racing allows fans to watch drivers who wouldn't normally race each other. So far, Verstappen has taken on gamers, but also Indy 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Simon Pagenaud.

Drivers aren't the only athletes using technology to stop their skills from decaying while in self-isolation.

The 2018 Tour de France-winning rider Geraint Thomas is one of a number of cyclists moving online to give indoor workouts more purpose. He's been using the Zwift platform to turn a ride on an exercise bike into a group race through computer-generated scenery in the fictional nation of Watopia.

Some PGA Tour players already have simulators in their homes and can use them as part of normal practice to check the launch angle, ball speed and other measurements relevant to the swing. Full Swing Golf is one of the largest companies and supplies Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Gary Woodland. Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler even spent time this week by using a simulator to compare left-handed swings.

Sports on 03/23/2020

Print Headline: Some athletes stay sharp with games

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