Released in late September of 1998 by the team now currently known as iRacing.com, rumor has it that Sir Jackie Stewart himself claimed that the 1967 Formula One entries featured in Grand Prix Legends were somehow more difficult to drive on a computer screen than their real life counterparts. Amassing a reputation for its unforgiving difficulty and bizarre yet oh-so-satisfying handling characteristics, the landmark Papyrus title firmly cemented itself as the most difficult auto racing simulator ever conceived in the three dimensional era of video games. Not only did the 1960’s-era bias ply tires lack the abundance of grip seen with all modern racing slicks, certain aspects of the default car setups bundled with the vanilla product turned the already unstable cars into fiery rolling coffins. As the entry for the game on Wikipedia states:
The default setups in Grand Prix Legends combined uncharacteristically low ride heights with short bump stops, which resulted in cars whose suspension frequently “bottomed out” and oscillated abruptly between the expected spring rates and much higher bump stop spring rates. This caused the cars to behave erratically over curbs, bumps and any significant application of acceleration or braking, with only the highly skilled able to fully exploit these “low rider” or “go-kart” setups.
The problem was further complicated by the lack of audible feedback when the cars hit the bump stops, leaving many drivers scratching their heads at the erratic handling of the early setups.
Papyrus were aware that there would be difficulties for the novice even before the simulator was released. On the very first page of the manual, it cautions, “You will spin and crash, because everyone who tries the simulation spins and crashes the first time out. And the second time out. And the third.
Since GPL burst onto the scene and left us all shouting obscenities at our monitors, racing simulators have evolved into modern technological marvels. Home computers are now more than capable of running advanced physics engines which simulate elaborate concepts such as dynamic track surfaces and complex tire models, with titles like X-Plane or NASCAR Racing 2003 Season going the extra mile and treating airflow as a proper fluid. While we still may lack the seat-of-the-pants feel from having our asses strapped to a bucket seat by a maze of Simpson racing belts, it’s now also easier than ever to sit in front of a screen and turn competitive laps. Seventeen years after the release of Grand Prix Legends, a plethora of developers have revisited some of the cars featured in the now-historic Papyrus sim in an effort to see how far we’ve come. At the time, we truly believed GPL was realistic, and the drivers of yesteryear were divine entities for simply surviving, but as the old saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.
No longer a death sentence, the Lotus 49 in Assetto Corsa provides a tangible trip back to the 1967 Formula One season, while the Brabham BT20 in rFactor 2 is an equally enticing offering for those unwilling to brave iRacing’s steep pricing model. In both cases, the immense learning curve once intimidating new drivers back when Grand Prix Legends was a hot item has now been completely eradicated, and while not everyone will be able to bust out laps that would make Jim Clark proud, the car isn’t trying to kill them.
Yet even though Grand Prix Legends has been more or less retired from the rotation of many virtual drivers, and our understanding of how both historic and modern race cars perform under competitive circumstances has changed, sim racers are still looking for the next GPL.
Released only a few short days ago, Automobilista is the first attempt by Brazilian developer Reiza Studios at messing around with the isiMotor engine itself. Designed as a pseudo-sequel to the cult hit Stock Car Extreme, Automobilista includes several under-the-hood physics engine changes, as well as a host of new content intended to draw in sim racers who aren’t entirely familiar with the major South American auto racing series. I’ve been digging through the title over the past few days, and despite a few nagging FPS issues that are clearly the result of the game’s Early Access state, this is a pretty worthy addition to any sim racer’s collection. It may look like rFactor with a few community shader model upgrades, but the game sure doesn’t drive like it. We’ll obviously have a full review in the coming weeks up here on PRC.net, but here’s a quick spoiler if you can’t wait: To my surprise, it’s much more than just a re-packaged version of rFactor.
Among the list of content is a vehicle most traditional sim racers won’t be familiar with. Former NASCAR driver and American Off-Road Legend Robby Gordon has spent the past few years of his professional career reviving the Mickey Thompson Off-Road series of the 1980’s and 1990’s, with the financial backing of SPEED Energy Drinks. Dubbed Stadium Super Trucks, Gordon and his team of Mechanics have built a fleet of relatively small rear-wheel drive trucks that send 800 horsepower to the rear wheels. These trucks are a far cry from the stereotypical touring cars and open wheel offerings seen in pretty much every mainstream racing sim over the past decade, but the real life series has some serious credentials. Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, as well as Ivan Stewart of Super Off-Road fame, both used this series as their stomping grounds.
If you thought Grand Prix Legends was hard, you ain’t seen shit. The Stadium Super Trucks as seen in Automobilista are the most difficult cars to drive in any racing simulator, ever. These brand-less pickup trucks combine the power of a NASCAR Sprint Cup car with the body roll of a Sport Utility Vehicle from Grand Theft Auto IV, and the off-road tires will simply never stick properly to the asphalt racing surface. And just when you think you’ve found out how to tame these beasts, there are giant steel ramps all over the track.
The man responsible for bringing these trucks to life himself, Niels Heusinkveld, struggled to complete consistently quick laps during his demonstration of the vehicle a few weeks ago. This is not due to physics errors or the perceived shortcomings of the isiMotor engine – very few people will ever be able to tame this truck. And this has become more and more apparent as I’ve ventured into a few online servers – there has never been something quite like this in a racing simulator before. Sure, Group B rally cars from the mid 1980’s generate a ridiculous amount of power for such narrow roads, and the turbocharged Formula One machines Ayrton Senna drove during the height of his career are typically reserved for the more advanced sim racers among us, but the insanity of those cars could be dialed out to an extent in the garage menu. Not here.
So to ensure that readers of PRC.net don’t shit their pants at the sight of these trucks, rush out to buy Automobilista, and put the game down after ten minutes because “I literally can’t stop wrecking to save my life”, we’re going to run through an extremely short tutorial in how to drive these things without killing yourself. Not only is the Stadium Super Truck the most difficult vehicle ever released for a consumer auto racing simulator, it’s also the most rewarding to drive.
So if you’ve run a few laps in a test session by yourself, you’ll notice these things don’t turn very well under any circumstances. If you don’t understeer off the track on entry, you’ll either spin out on exit, or apply the throttle at such a horrible time that the truck literally rolls over on you. Your first 30 minutes in this truck, you’ll honestly complete maybe one or two laps at a speed that’s anywhere from five to eight seconds off pace. It will hurt your brain at how much you have to think about what you’re doing each lap, but surprisingly enough, this truck can be driven successfully by slowing the fuck down and being gentle.
Brake 100 feet early for every corner. I’m serious. Is there a giant 150 feet board at a certain track that you routinely use during your touring car endeavors? Yeah, that won’t cut it. Sorry. You’re in a truck on extremely shitty tires for the type of surface you’re running on. Get on the brake pedal hard enough so the nose points firmly towards the ground, but then immediately start to lift. As you near the entry of the corner, steadily reduce your braking input to absolutely nothing, while gently steering the
car truck to the apex. If you can’t settle the car truck onto the bottom of the corner, your entry speed is too high.
When you’ve got to absolute zero input on your brake pedal, resist the temptation to get on the gas. Coast through the corner. Look around at the scenery. Contemplate life. Ask yourself if you still know the words to some of those FreeCreditReport.com commercials. And when the anticipation becomes unbearable, begin center the steering wheel while applying like, 20% throttle. If you fucked this process up, you’ll have hit the wall by now.
When the truck is pointed straight, slam the pedal down and hold on. Online races will be won and lost by who has the biggest set of balls to apply full power at the earliest possible moment.
There are anywhere between three and five giant metal ramps all over the track, and they will fuck your shit up if you’re not careful. Thanfkully, the process of getting massive airtime is significantly easier than cornering. These trucks have an insane amount of torque, and you can use this to your advantage with some quick pedal work. In his video talking about the truck, Niels himself explained that something you can do to ensure a smooth flight is to blip the brake and then jam on the gas right as you approach the ramp. The torque from pointing the nose forward and then sending all the weight to the rear of the vehicle under acceleration lowers the rear end by a significant margin, and allows the truck to leave the ramp with a natural arc projection.
Under race conditions, nobody wants to intentionally jab the brakes.
So the alternative method is a bit sketchier, but this results in retaining your speed rather than losing it. Lift off the throttle half a truck length before the jump, and then mat the throttle as the front tires hit the ramp. The first few times you do this, the truck will nose the fuck over and you’ll shit your pants. It’s cool, we’re only halfway there. To ensure a safe landing, you need to tap into a technique Supercross riders and Monster Truck drivers use on a regular basis – the gyroscopic effect.
Applying the brakes while in the air pitches the nose towards the ground. Applying the throttle while in the air pitches the nose towards the sky. Why? Physics.If the truck is rotating too quickly and your screen is full of tarmac, blip the throttle a few times and it should at least partially rectify the situation. If not, hold your breath and prepare to steer out of it.
Now if you’re somehow given the opportunity to drive one of these trucks in real life and don’t want to piss off your crew members with lengthy repair projects, ideally you want to blip the throttle a few times in the air to keep the rear wheels spinning at a rate relative to the speed the truck is traveling, but staying on the throttle right as the vehicle lands can fuck up the differential in all sorts of interesting ways. If you’ve ever been to a major stadium Monster Jam event and wonder why so many drivers blip the throttle like crazy during massive jumps, it’s not to make pointless loud noises for the children in the audience – it’s to save equipment.
These trucks are a handful and completely unlike anything ever featured in a major sim racing release since we’ve moved into the 3D generation. While these tips won’t make you magically click off laps competitive enough to compete for the win among real people, being able to make it around the track a few times under near-complete control is a lot more fun than spinning out every other corner and wondering what you did wrong. There is basically nothing you can do in the garage area for these trucks that isn’t personal preference – the best way to get quicker is to simply think about what you’re doing and invest the long grueling laps into refining the basics. It’s fucking brilliant when it all comes together, I promise.