No more than five hours ago, we here at PRC.net ran a Reader Submission regarding allegations of manufacturers dictating how their cars performed within Assetto Corsa. While both the anonymous user submitting the information is a trustworthy forum member (I can obviously see who’s sent what in), and it’s not the first time I’ve heard of this exact issue occurring behind the scenes at Kunos Simulazioni, this was the first time our site confronted the issue head on in public.
For those who haven’t taken the time to read through the previous submission, the summary is actually quite simple. Ferrari, and to a lesser extent McLaren, both asked Kunos to make alterations to the performance of their cars in-game to appear more desirable. The Mclaren 12c was notorious for being a less-than-stellar package, and Ferrari’s track record of protecting their brand within a virtual environment can be seen throughout the past decade: Forza Motorsport titles struggled to include visceral damage, and Test Drive Unlimited 2 restricted players from even installing simple performance upgrades.
The submission claimed McLaren asked Kunos to rectify the real life handling woes of the 12C within Assetto Corsa, and Ferrari demanded their new hypercar, the La Ferrari, to be faster than McLaren’s P1 on certain tracks as per the detailed licensing agreement signed with Kunos. The submission went on to say that these scenarios in which Kunos was forced to go against what their simulation stands for caused many headaches for the Italian developer team.
I understand the amount of bragging rights involved in a real-life showdown; for the hour-long Chris Harris on Cars special, both McLaren and Ferrari sent out a fleet of engineers and mechanics to ensure both the P1 and LaFerrari were performing at an optimal standard. But does this historic automobile manufacturer rivalry extend to the world of sim racing, and does it really include such silly licensing agreements forcing developers to restrict the performance of a competitor’s car within the virtual world?
It sure looks like it.
To summarize the hour long video above, automotive guru Chris Harris took the McLaren’s P1, Ferrari’s La Ferrari, and Porsche’s 918 to the Portugese circuit of Portimao.
I’ll spoil it for you: The P1 is quickest overall by 0.68 seconds. To ensure total dominance of the episode, McLaren asked Chris Harris to run a few laps with the P1 in complete race configuration – soft compound tires, maximum downforce, and a much lower ride height among other, smaller tweaks made by on-site McLaren mechanics. The P1 in race trim with Chris Harris behind the wheel obliterated the other two cars by 2.47 seconds.
Also, if you haven’t heard of it, Portimao is a fucking awesome track with tons of crazy elevation changes and Circuit of the Americas-like corner complexes.
With Harris establishing the P1 as the quickest of the bunch, period, and the private rumblings among beta testers saying changes had been made behind the scenes of Assetto Corsa to ensure the La Ferrari was superior, there was only one way to find out.
Drive the shit out of both cars.
The rules were pretty simple to establish. Two tracks would be used, the International Layout of Silverstone to establish which car had the better overall handling, and the Grand Prix Layout of Monza to establish which car could hit the big top end speed numbers without throwing it all away in the braking zones. Track temperature would be set to a balmy 31 degrees celsius – a hot summer day – and track grip would be set to Green, a realistic setting for a private practice session during an amateur race weekend.
Anything to make the car go as fast as possible was fair game, although I kept both cars on Trofeo Slicks, and loaded them with 30 liters of Fuel. No TC or ABS settings were off limits, and if the DRS on the McLaren warranted a major advantage, that one’s on Ferrari for not implementing a DRS system as well.
The McLaren P1 was almost a bit more than I could handle, though comparing it to cars I’ve driven in other sims is relatively easy. It’s a late 1990’s FIA GT1 entry – the cars that look like prototypes but totally aren’t prototypes I swear – with low downforce, and excessive body roll. It’s like the Infernus from Grand Theft Auto IV and the 1998 Toyota GT-One had a drunken one night stand in the sand traps of Vallelunga, but the resulting offspring forced the two lovers to stick together for the kids. It’s a weird sort of hybrid between the bad qualities of two very good cars, but it works.
Too much power delivered to the rear wheels at any given time forced me to activate traction control just a single notch above “off”, and within a few laps I was flying around the short layout of Silverstone. I still prefer my bland, boring GT cars compared this space-aged toy reserved for millionaires, but I can’t say the hotlap session wasn’t fun. It definitely had the twitchy factor of a Lotus 49, but without the whole it’s a bathtub with wheels thing that the old school open wheel cars have going on.
The best time I could post around Silverstone was a 1:05.81 in the P1.
For a car that’s allegedly in the same class as the McLaren P1, what initially struck me as odd about the La Ferrari was the lack of traction control as a necessity. A similar power plant, a similar overall weight, and even the same tires, but the LF was totally planted to the race track and wasn’t trying to kill me. In fact, pushing hard into the flat, technical corners of Silverstone, the car had a really nasty tendency to understeer. It was as if I’d gotten the setup in a GT3 car brutally wrong and desperately needed to remove the front anti-roll bar entirely.
The only difference between a shitty GT3 setup and the La Ferrari, was that I could cook the front tires of the hypercar without being punished one bit. I mean, despite the P1’s active aero and all kinds of funky electronic shit McLaren had done with their entrance into the hypercar war, the Ferrari LF was so incomprehensibly better in almost every way. Less twitchy on corner exit, non-detrimental understeer, and a beast of a powerplant.
Oh yeah, while the P1 struggled to hit 270 kmh on the longest stretch of the alternate Silverstone configuration, the LF approached 290 kmh with ease.
The end result of a lap ridden with understeer in the La Ferrari was a stout 1:05.85, less than a tenth off the McLaren P1, and in no way indicative of the real life lap gap at Portimao of 0.7 seconds. As someone who knows their shit when it comes to racing sims, the only reason I was faster in the P1 was because I as a driver prefer a loose race car. Had this been a competitive online league and I was tasked with managing a two-driver race team, I’d already be designing our livery for the La Ferrari. No way in hell would it be wise to run the P1 competitively. It’s just not comfortable like the LF.
The next stop? Monza. This is where shit got interesting, and we found something we shouldn’t have.
There isn’t exactly a need for all but the most rudimentary of handling characteristics at Monza. The modern layout of the classic Italian race track is simply three massive stretches, chopped up with first gear chicanes forcing you to come to an almost complete stop, and finally there are three specific throttle management corners relying more on your steady right foot than a proper alignment and suspension setup.
The La Ferrari was clocked at 328km/h in front of the main grandstands, which wasn’t a surprise to me as the car feels as if it cranks out more horsepower between the two within Assetto Corsa. However, even with the DRS activated in the McLaren P1, eclipsing 300km/h at all was a challenge. With Monza being a track primarily focused around big triple-digit speeds, the La Ferrari predictably destroyed my satisfactory P1 lap, going over a second quicker.
But I wanted to make things close, so after a session in both cars at Monza, I took the Mclaren P1 back to the track. Maybe I’d missed something that could close the gap with the P1, and as someone who’s enjoyed fighting with a couple of the heavy hitters on the RaceRoom Racing Experience leaderboards, a gap of 1.2 seconds is relatively small in my books. I’d figure something out within five or six laps.
And as the track was loading, I thought I had the answer already: Aside from activating the DRS system in the Mclaren on the exit of Parabolica, the final corner leading to the start/finish line, there were two other giant stretches of open tarmac that I’d totally neglected to hit the Triangle button on my toy steering wheel. A couple extra DRS hits, a balls-out corner or two, and I’d be a respectable three tenths down on the La Ferrari – enough to write a controversial PRC article about.
I ended up finding something much more hilarious.
The blue bar on the LCD display represents my rear wing’s angle of attack. A full blue bar means DRS hasn’t been activated, and the wing is currently in the “generate downforce for the rear end” position. Approaching 240 km/h in fifth gear with tons of open road ahead of me, the logical plan of action for anyone would be to mash Triangle and lower the rear wing to pick up the speed I was desperately needing.
I couldn’t. The game wouldn’t let me activate DRS at 240km/h in fifth gear.
Yet when I took my silver P1 to the short layout of Silverstone, Assetto Corsa let me lower the rear wing almost to a minimum, whenever the hell I wanted. And I truly mean whenever the hell I wanted: under braking, slowing to a pathetic 82km/h in second gear for a hairpin corner, a quick hit of the Triangle button and the rear wing was at my command.
If I wanted to, I could actually sit on the grid and mash the DRS button thousands of times. Wing goes up. Wing goes down. Wing goes up. Wing goes down.
There are no other cars on the track. I’m not in any formal competition with a predefined set of DRS rules (DRS zones for a street car – HAH! Good one!). I’m running private laps in a car I’ll never be able to afford. Why, at Silverstone, can I activate DRS for a speed boost whenever I want (including in sections where it would be detrimental), but on Ferrari’s home turf in Monza Italy, the exact mechanical element found in the McLaren P1 that could potentially help it to out-perform the La Ferrari, suspiciously doesn’t work when I need it to?
I honestly can’t believe it. I mean, I’m sitting there on Monza, literally hammering the DRS button as if I’m back in the second grade playing Mario Party, and nothing happens. Rip over to Silverstone, suddenly I’m downshifting from fourth… to third… to second… oh cool I have full control of the DRS right now.
And of course, this is on top of the fact that the P1 smoked the La Ferrari by 0.7 seconds out on the real track, but in Assetto Corsa there’s basically no reason why you’d ever want to drive the P1 in a competitive environment aside from being a McLaren fanboy.
Man, this is some… Like I actually can’t even. It’s not cool guys. Not cool.