What begins in the mindless urban sprawl of Alberta’s capital city soon gives way to an all-out dash across the prairies reminiscent of the North Dakota levels in Need for Speed: The Run, where gentlemen sporting barbed wire tattoos and a not-so-hidden fixation for nose candy hold the throttle on their identical Ford Raptors wide open, blatantly disregarding speed limits in pursuit of an early Calgary arrival. Heading west from the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics, we traverse the provincial flag from the bottom upwards – wheat fields to the Rocky Mountains in the span of about an hour – before cruising through several national parks, eventually settling in the sauna that is the Okanagan region of British Columbia. It’s a fantastic drive for newly-weds and retired folk, offering an extremely diverse glimpse of what makes Canada such a spectacular vacation spot but when there’s a race car with your name on it at kilometer marker 914, it’s rather difficult to sit through.
Google indicated the 900 kilometer journey from Edmonton to Kelowna would last around nine hours and some change, but in reality I clocked in at just over twelve. I spent the night at a friend’s place to try and cut an hour off the drive to Dustin’s house, but this was invalidated first by a speeding ticket, then by two construction delays on the Trans-Canada Highway long enough for people to get out and mingle, and lastly by a trip to Enderby’s ICBC branch to pay said speeding ticket – which caught the receptionists off guard. I was hoping the ramblings of Sportsnet 960 and a partial discography of Sum 41 would make this marathon significantly easier to put up with, but eventually all sound from the radio blends together and you desperately wish life had a fast forward button for these very moments.
PRC shit-slinging scrolls across the top of my phone – which is mounted to my windshield as a GPS during road-trips – but even the most rabid fanboy wars in our comments section have a limited effectiveness in their ability to pass the time. This is the not so glamorous part of starting a shitty WordPress blog, and winding up as an amateur race car driver two years later – sometimes you’re driving across the province on a random Tuesday for a pre-season test session on Thursday, and you can’t bring a friend to keep you company because your friends are at work like normal people.
Regardless of how our readers feel about our newfound partnership with Slightly Mad Studios after years of hyper-critical pieces on the original Project CARS, this isn’t really something X amount of angry comments below can undo. Late May in Canada means the snow has melted in most of the heavily populated areas – thus allowing racing season to commence – which means PRC is now in the process of transitioning from some obscure sim racing blog into an amateur stock car team. It’s certainly a mindfuck to go from arguing about iRacing participation levels on WordPress, to walking outside and seeing a 450 horsepower race car up on jack stands – general sim racing chatter and reading retarded comments out loud helping to pass the time during transmission fluid replenishment and other routine maintenance tasks – but that’s where we are.
So how can I describe the past few months from a personal standpoint?
Upon revealing we’d be campaigning a late model this year, we actually pulled into a Boston Pizza location for that particular evening and watched the phone light up over our meal, but this was really only the pregame show for what was to come. My phone was virtually unusable for roughly 48 hours following our announcement of the race car sponsorship, obliterated with notifications from family, friends, and even foes wanting to smooth things over – while I had to save the influx of emails and other miscellaneous attempts at contact for day number two. Word travels fast through Facebook, so one innocent “like” turns into a spontaneous reunion with people you haven’t heard from in a few years, and many understandably have a lot of questions if you just sort of switch everything on your social media one day.
It’s one thing to grow up with race cars and always have that as part of who you are, but when you’re a rental car jockey one month, and after quitting your job suddenly there’s sponsorship from an international video game company all over your Facebook page, your average classmate, former co-worker, or family member not totally in the loop becomes extremely curious – and they have every right to be; it’s certainly not normal at this age, and in this province.
I have been lucky that so far, this has been relatively easy to deal with. But of course, none of this hysteria actually matters if you can’t deliver on the physical track. Penticton Speedway gave us a test date prior to our season opener on June 3rd, and this is what we’ve been up to.
Knowing how many developers have pushed the sim racing to reality angle as a clever marketing gimmick, I’ve gotta say there were certainly some butterflies about the whole ordeal, but it had nothing to do with the physical act of driving a race car.
Aware of how many times similar endeavors hadn’t gone well, I wanted to ensure things would be different. It helps our genre and community gain a little bit of respect in the eyes of outsiders. Flight simulators are seen as essential, mandatory training tools by private and commercial pilots alike, yet many in the real world auto racing community still see race car simulations as mere video games that can’t and won’t teach you a damn thing.
And obviously, past marketing stunts have sort of reinforced that belief. The Formula E Visa Vegas eRace awarded champion Bono Huis a private shakedown session, but we’ve never actually seen how this turned out – only photographs that could be described as “spy shots.” Greger Huttu – the “world’s fastest alien” and easily the best competitive sim racer of all time if we’re looking at cumulative stats over an entire career – threw up after a few laps in a Star Mazda at Road Atlanta. Ray Alfalla and Pablo Lopez were both unspectacular on the timing sheets in their respective trials, while some personalities tried to outright scam their way into a proper ride that – surprise – failed to materialize.
I just really wanted to be the change I was advocating for. If one of us goes out with the support of a developer’s marketing department, and doesn’t shit the bed in a real car, it offsets many instances of gear snobbery and message board autism, because you can point to someone and say “this guy is proof that it’s worth getting involved in this sub-genre of video games and putting up with all of the bad shit.” Again, I wasn’t nervous about the actual process of driving a race car that sends 450 horsepower to the back tires – a recent ESPN interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the low age requirements for certain late model classes indicate anybody can drive these things – I wanted to make a statement on behalf of the sim community.
We were thrown a pretty drastic curveball immediately after unloading. Penticton Speedway had graciously allowed us to have the facility to ourselves Thursday night, but as luck would have it, the previous weekend hosted Hit-to-Pass competitions; DiRT Showdown and Test Drive: Eve of Destruction aren’t fictional arcade racers – this sort of thing exists in real life, and you could technically call Eve of Destruction a hardcore hit-to-pass simulator.
What this means is that the entire racing surface was coated in glass shards, wood splinters, dust, and other miscellaneous metal bits. My first time in a late model would not be on a pristine track with fresh rubber, but in the most extreme adverse scenario imaginable that didn’t include a torrential downpour – though there were clouds a couple miles away. The positive in all of this, before some of you rage at the track for not cleaning the surface, is that I would receive a major lesson in car control. We didn’t bring new tires to the test session either; the trailer was loaded with compounds that had sat outside for a couple of Canadian winters, so this would be like playing Grand Prix Legends and manually editing the track INI file to give only 40% grip. It also meant that if the debris punctured one, two, or all tires, it was no loss whatsoever – the tires were going to be thrown in a dumpster anyway.
Dustin took the car out for a couple of segments to dial in the setup and ensure everything was running smoothly, as the ride had undergone several major setup changes in the off-season thanks to some very supportive connections in the iRacing community (whose names you can probably figure out based on our past articles) and a lot of SAE reading. His first moderately quick lap, the car jumped sideways shot an enormous cloud of brown dust and glass segments into the sky upon braking for turn one, so it was clear we wouldn’t have a stopwatch out and be comparing times for the rest of the evening – it was all about keeping the car under you and getting comfortable with being sideways while refining the driving line.
I will say this; it’s definitely surreal seeing a guy you met on iRacing a bunch of years ago turning laps in a real car with your number and name above the door. I’m glad I took the time to appreciate the insanity of the moment while also noting where his braking points were, because this shit just doesn’t happen, like, ever. The shot below is us on the front row of some Coca-Cola 600 race back in 2013, an event I eventually won using his setup. Four years later, I’m still using his setup, we’re just not in front of a computer screen anymore.
Sliding into a late model is significantly easier than climbing into a hornet. With the car sitting so low to the ground, and quick release steering wheel freeing up another portion of the cockpit, there’s a surprising amount of room for you to just sort of step through the window. You sit extremely far back – with your head beside the B-pillar – and as low as possible, so the change in visibility from a normal street car everyone’s familiar with driving, to our Chevrolet SS, is pretty drastic. It’s almost concerning when you’re sitting parked in the pits because you honestly can’t see over the hood and basically need people to guide you, but out on the race track it makes much more sense, as the banking pitches the car in a way that frees up your sight lines. It also doesn’t look like much inside, but I’ve always been blown away by just how comfortable these cars are. Proper racing seats installed at an angle are like the best patio lawn chair you’ve ever sat in, the sides conforming to your body just enough to act as an arm rest for holding the steering wheel during long green flag runs, and like Lewis Hamilton once mentioned in an interview, falling asleep sounds like a viable option.
Once the engine turns over – and I have to remind myself to simultaneously feed a bit of throttle during the start-up phase because we’re still on the old-school carburetor configuration – it’s uncomfortably loud. I have been around nitro-powered drag racing for most of my life to where stock car racing seems exponentially quieter by comparison, but inside the car it’s an entirely different story. We don’t have a muffler rule up here and the exhaust travels directly under my seat, so once I figured out what I could get away with on a dusty track, I clicked off about ten half-assed laps before bringing it in.
Any more than 35% throttle and I could feel pressure build in my ear drums, with wheel spin from the sketchy track conditions starting at 45% pedal input. I received some pretty good feedback from the team after my first laps, lots were surprised that I was on-pace with Dustin and had a solid, smooth line given that I’m some random guy from the internet who ran a season in shitboxes – again, we’re on old tires and throwing up clouds of dust and glass shards on corner entry, so there’s only so fast you can go – but I actually told them to disregard anything I’d done during that session; I was sandbagging pretty hard because the car was too loud and it hurt my ears to be aggressive on the throttle.
What I’m saying is I’m a little bitch, but y’all knew that already.
I think we found some ear buds in my bag from the radio system I use in Edmonton, and as a result I was able to attack the track exponentially harder – to the point where I was bottoming out in turns 1 & 2 from throwing the car in there. We didn’t have the cameras on for most of the evening as I didn’t want the pressure of all my mistakes being potentially recorded and uploaded to YouTube, but sadly this ended up being a bad call as instead of backing the car into the wall like a pleb and embarrassing myself, I ran pretty well and hung the rear end out on a few occasions. I have no idea how to drift, but there was one lap in particular I chased the rear end up the race track and according to Dustin it looked pretty sweet from the pits. It’s also not something rookies should know how to do, so it calmed a lot of the nerves of throwing someone completely green into a car this quick & powerful.
The only footage we have of the evening is from the final stint, which was cut short due to a part failure. I actually think I ran a bit slower in this session, but it gives you an idea of the sound, speed, and wheel inputs needed in such treacherous conditions.
But being a sim racing blog, a lot of you obviously want to know how video games compare to the real thing, and this is where I think tons are going to be upset with my findings. Even with the track surface being a mess, this is the easiest race car I have ever driven, across both simulators and reality. Within three or four laps, I immediately understood how teenagers are climbing into these down in the states and causing tons of scandals by lying about their age to officials, and why Dale Jr. in an ESPN interview said driving a race car is so easy “anybody can do it.” In testing I couldn’t go any faster because of the insane wheel spin from the lack of track grip & shitty tires, but I certainly wasn’t overwhelmed by the experience.
The absolute one hundred percent truth is that it handled like a fusion of Grid Autosport’s V8 Supercars, and the 1995 SCCA Mustang in Project CARS. It felt like you had insane turn-in grip and an overall heightened sense of nimbleness, and the throttle pedal directly correlated with how sideways you wanted to be on corner exit. Balancing the throttle to maintain a bit of a slip angle, the right rear felt ultra-mushy as it does in Project CARS, while over-doing it still felt like you had complete control of the vehicle, which is what you’ll experience during heavy oversteer situations in Grid Autosport. It was comical how easy it was to rip around in such disastrous conditions, and I remember thinking to myself real life would most definitely be called simcade by Reddit’s sim racing community.
Also, the visibility is about the same. I sit a little lower, but it’s basically this:
The challenge comes not from driving, but knowing that if you fuck up and hit the wall, you’re probably going to the hospital on top of the man hours & cash needed to fix the car. As I mentioned above, it’s also quite loud, the smell of burnt race fuel is overwhelming, and you can physically feel shit pinging off the underside of the car – which sometimes is the entire goddamn race track if you bottom out. The sheer sensory overload is what fucks with people – especially in a car this loud & powerful – but provided it’s not something that personally will bother you (a good test is to see if you get bored on rollercoasters or public karting), it’s certainly doable if you put your mind to it.
The biggest takeaway I got from testing is that my taste in simulators and other miscellaneous racing games is now broken beyond repair, but let me explain why.
I’ve spent the entire off-season driving as many different simulators and car combinations as I could in the hopes that some of it would translate into reality, sticking to cars with a power-to-weight ratio in roughly the same ballpark as ours.
I love how Tire Model V10 on Assetto Corsa feels – especially considering I was one of the several sim racers advocating for that “classic Assetto Corsa tire behavior” to return – and was stoked to see them include a personal favorite car of mine, the Maserati MC12 GT1 in their most recent DLC package. Before taking off for Kelowna, I ran a couple of shakedown laps at the Nurburgring GP circuit, and was blown away by how much fun the car was to drive. I thought it was awesome, and couldn’t wait to get home to give it a more thorough look.
Yet after driving the late model (450 HP at 2500 pounds, we didn’t have any ballast in), the MC12 GT1 in Assetto Corsa (600ish HP at 2750 pounds) now feels unnaturally heavy, as if the track was coated in sludge, and the car itself suffered from enormous understeer – a common complaint about Assetto Corsa, but I didn’t really understand where these complaints were coming from until now. In my personal opinion, the GTR 2 – and subsequent Race 07 conversion variant – both of which feel like the cars are on rails and dart around with a nimbleness that seems almost too fast to keep up with, are instead basically what our car felt like. So I’ll be on GTR Evolution a lot more in the future.
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, a simulator I’ve held in extremely high regard since starting this website, now feels entirely incorrect save for one element – the braking. The way the rear end flares out in this game under heavy braking, that’s what our car does, and it’s a large part of why I was able to start throwing the car into corners very aggressively only minutes after being strapped in – it honestly felt like I was at home playing NASCAR, but that’s unfortunately where the similarities ended. It’s enormously difficult to generate wheel spin at short tracks in NASCAR 2003, and when you do, the tires heat up so quickly they become sludge – an old Papyrus defect still present in iRacing – and the car spins out at 30 km/h in first gear if you do so much as breathe on the throttle. Real life isn’t like this; I’m no drifter, but I figured out how hang the ass end way out around an entire corner, and getting that level of sideways on the computer is impossible in NASCAR 2003; you’ll instantly spin and wreck the car because the tires nuke themselves.
As a tool to learn the racing line though, it’s perfect. This guy under the name of Wild Kustoms & Cars made a stellar recreation of Dells Raceway Park in Wisconsin – which is roughly the same layout as Penticton – and I must have turned at least two thousand laps there over the past six months. The first laps at speed, it was like visiting an old friend. So there’s that.
But it was actually Project CARS – in particular the 1995 SCCA Mustang – that gave me the best second impression, and it’s hilarious given how everyone – including myself – had previous;y written off this game as a rushed simcade title intended to generate the most sales possible.
Let’s start with the basics. The cockpit view is identical to what I see, though I sit much lower, so it’s a good prep tool to learn how to deal with the lack of visibility as the overall windshield dimensions are roughly the same. The engine sound, a point of contention in the sim community for being too over-the-top and aggressive compared to the real thing, well, unfortunately for some I’m here to say that the real thing is like that, to the point where I pulled in and dug some ear buds out of my suitcase because it was so distracting.
A lot of people, including myself, complained that the cars in the original Project CARS felt too nimble and had too little weight to them. Well, again, this is how our car drives. It darts everywhere and feels like it’s on rails on corner entry, and that was in adverse track conditions with a trail of wood splinters and debris shooting up behind it. Tire behavior, something that was a major point of contention considering how in some cars – including the SCCA Mustang – you could have these crazy slip angles going and it felt like the outside rear tire was made of silly putty, flexing at an enormous rate… Yeah, that’s pretty much what the car was doing under me. I think careful attention to detail should be made to ensure the team doesn’t over-do the initial turn in grip for Project CARS 2, but after blasting around in a late model, I’m here to say that the “on-rails” feeling people had complained about is actually pretty close to reality.
But the throttle management aspect has to go to Grid Autosport, and yes I’m actually being serious here. Dustin and I bought this game out of boredom over the winter, as the online multiplayer allows you to fill private online sessions with AI bots and still earn XP/buy cars/acquire sponsors, but this game ended up being much more than a time waster – it taught me throttle control. You’ll see in this video that the cars float around in a pretty unrealistic way, and things look all sorts of bad on corner entry, but the way the car snaps under power when exiting a corner and does this really pronounced wiggle (which the guy actually shows off)… Our car does that too. Thanks Codemasters, you’re the real MVP.
Our schedule for the season is under the Team PRC tab; it’s certainly subject to change (welcome to racing), but I can confirm we’ll be in Penticton on June 3rd if any of you guys are in the Okanagan region and want to come hang out for an evening. This whole ordeal is insane, and I’d certainly like to thank both the Lengert family and Ian Bell of Slightly Mad Studios for allowing it all to happen. We’ve got a small Facebook page going if you’d like to keep up on our week-to-week activities, but I’ll do my best to keep y’all updated on our season through here as well.