Jeremy Hart fires up his PlayStation 3 to take on the real David Coulthard. You may think the experiences of racing on a real track and its virtual counterpart - racing in your bedroom, in front of the PlayStation 3 - are miles apart. And perhaps you might also think gamers are pale-skinned and weedy, unlike racing drivers, who are tanned and dashing. But as the simulated world and the real one grow ever closer, it's surprising to see just how close the competition is becoming. In fact, the role of computer-generated racing is becoming ever-more important to the careers of professional drivers. Many of them practise on the virtual track. Some even begin their careers there, such as the Nissan 24-hour driver Lucas Ordonez, who finished on the podium at Le Mans this year after winning his place on the team in a Gran Turismo contest. But could a gamer actually beat a real driver if they went head to head? And how would the physical demands differ? Those were the questions I wanted to answer when I took on David Coulthard in a race around Dunsfold, the test track used by the BBC show Top Gear. It was racing with a twist: Coulthard was driving a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG on the real track. I was driving a virtual version of the same car, on the same track, on Gran Turismo 5, along with 15 master gamers. The winner would be the person who completed the fastest lap in a 15-minute window. We were all wired up with Suunto heart-rate monitors to compare the physical exertion of the two forms of driving. Before the race, Coulthard was getting his excuses in early. "If there is more than half a second between us, then something has gone wrong," he said. Really? Yes, he said. In terms of like-for-like imitation, the virtual racing world is now expected to model the real one closely. But what about the physical side of the race? Here, surprisingly, Coulthard thought the race would also be close. "Even driving the fastest road car expends nothing like the physical energy of a race car," he said. "Driving a race car puts five Gs of pressure through your internal organs." That's why modern formula one drivers have not only extremely high cardiovascular fitness, they also do a lot of strength training. Here, it wouldn't be needed. "This will be all nervous energy," Coulthard said. Before the race began, we strapped on our heart-rate monitors. They would measure our average heart rate during the race, our maximum heart rate and the kilojoules we expended while racing. Coulthard said to expect the highest heart-rate reading before the race began. "My heart rate would hit 160 beats per minute just sitting on the grid before a F1 race," he said. As it transpired, my heart rate peaked at a different point. GT5 is a very realistic racing game in the sense that it is unforgiving, difficult and extremely frustrating. As Coulthard lapped Dunsfold, putting in times of about 1 minute, 12 seconds, I oversteered, understeered and crunched gears all the way around the virtual track, bellowing curses with increasing volume. My heart rate, usually about 65bpm, ran at an average of 92bpm during the race. It peaked at 113bpm at a point during my sixth lap, when I missed the same braking point for the sixth successive time and threw a noisy tantrum, hitting the PlayStation steering wheel with my fists. It was not so much nervous energy as toddler rage. Coulthard, meanwhile, ran an average heart rate of 97bpm, peaking at 127bpm. Driving the real SLS was undoubtedly harder than the virtual version but I am fairly sure it was not as frustrating. Our comparative kilojoule count was interesting, too. Coulthard expended 770 kilojoules in his 15 minutes of racing. I managed 420 kilojoules. But it is instructive that you can burn 1675 kilojoules an hour just playing computer games. Do it for 70 minutes and you would have burnt off the equivalent of a Big Mac. As it turned out, there was rather more than half a second in the race. My best lap of Dunsfold was 1.34. Coulthard was a good 22 seconds faster than me (and a few 10ths of a second better than even the best gamer). Something had gone wrong. And it was something rather simple. I am rubbish at computer games.