I’ve always been strongly drawn to Japanese Culture in general; I guess that makes me a bit of a closet weeb. Maybe it was due to growing up in the 1990’s alongside my younger brother, the after school anime like Pokemon and Dragonball Z that introduced me to this strange, colorful world on the other side of the pacific – full of life, art, and inspiration unlike anything North America has to offer. Oh, and cars. Lots of cool, unique cars. Growing up in a racing family, of course cars would be the center of my attention growing up, and although I was primarily a NASCAR-oriented child, also honing my skills at Greg Moore Raceway while rising up through the ranks of various racing series, the first time I ever laid eyes on a Mazda RX7 FD, I fell in love. Japan knew a thing or two about how to make downright sexy cars, that also performed quite well when pushed to the limit.
A little game named Forza Motorsport came along at some point during the 2000’s, and inside the massive roster of cars, were these peculiar Super GT entries. High speed, high downforce, and staying true to the original body lines of each car, most of my days on Forza prior to my inevitable jump into the world of online racing had been spent flinging the numerous GT500 offerings around the locales of Suzuka and Tsukuba in Career mode. However, my adventure into the hardcore side of Japanese car culture never really started until I acquired an Xbox Live membership, and found myself stumbling into one of Forza’s several classic online drift lobbies. I was hooked almost instantly, doing everything I could to perfect this strange yet beautiful art of driving sideways, and by sheer luck I was able to watch the drifting community within Forza Motorsport 2 blossom into something beautiful. I looked forward to racing home after school each day to join custom lobbies dedicated to 8-man tandem sessions – though the community was inevitably shattered when Forza Motorsport 3 arrived and reduced the functionality we were once allowed in the previous game.
Then the rFactor phase began. After following both D1 and Formula Drift events for a period of time, I started looking for a proper drifting simulator once I had gotten back into hardcore PC sim racing through iRacing. I stumbled upon rFactor’s Project D mod and the several offshoots available, yet while the community was quite nice and accommodating, the competition never reached what Forza Motorsport 2 had during its heyday. You essentially would join public lobbies, look around for the one other kid on the property who knew his shit, ran a few laps with him, and parted ways. rFactor 2 was intended to be this mammoth modding paradise and I personally hoped it would attract the drifting crowd, but the way Image Space Incorporated handled the game’s release led to an environment where there wasn’t much of anything available – even now as we sit here halfway through 2016.
Assetto Corsa, however, blew everything out of the water, and welcomed this form of motorsport with open arms. An improved modding platform, built-in drifting mode, and the ability for drift mod teams to easily shoehorn all of their data into Assetto Corsa made for a literal explosion in the volume of drift cars available within the simulator. The only problem was that we were dealing with a particular sim racing platform that wasn’t entirely finished. Drift rooms could be a hassle thanks to netcode, poor track conversions and half-finished cars populated many rooms, and sound fixes required nearly every build got pretty annoying, so as a result, I temporarily shelved the title.
But then the Japanese Pack came out, and it’s like “hey… what’s this?” No longer would I be required to mess around with shoddy mods and sound fixes for said mods; Kunos themselves put something out that a whole bunch of drifters would be flocking to, and it was time to get with the program. Obviously, being a contributor for PRC.net, I’ve heard a lot about how flawed Assetto Corsa can be when it comes to purpose-built race cars, but when it comes to throwing around street cars with friends, there isn’t really a better sim on the market, and it’s nice to get a break from the hyper-competitiveness found in your average iRacing server. So when I purchased the Japanese Pack from Steam, I hoped Kunos had gotten at least the basics right.
And I wasn’t disappointed.
The first car that stood out to me as being quite good was the Toyota Corolla AE86, a car I’ve driven multiple times in real life, and test driven many mod iterations across other simulator platforms. Assetto Corsa has gotten this one absolutely perfect . The Mazda RX7 FD, my dream car and something I’ve been driven around in by a friend of mine both stock, as well as with a 550 horsepower motor under the hood, is also one of the better cars available in Assetto Corsa. And of course, who doesn’t enjoy a Supra or Skyline R34? What really impressed me the most with all these turbocharged cars, is how above and beyond Kunos have gone to model the turbo systems. Most games seem to just use a torque map that matches a turbo dyno run, while Assetto requires you to actually spool the turbo and keep boost loaded to ensure the maximum amount of torque at all times, just as you would in real life. This is especially noticeable in the Time Attack Supra.
The Mazda MX-5 Cup, a car recently released on iRacing and built directly alongside a race team in development for 2016, is a car I really wanted to try first just to compare between the two simulators. Knowing a couple of MX-5 Cup racers through iRacing teams I’m told that although the new MX-5 was much better than the old one, it still had flaws, and as usual with iRacing, you never get much “feel” – driving is a very vague experience. Assetto Corsa, however, is known for a superior Force Feedback effects system, and despite the balance being quite similar, in Assetto Corsa you can physically feel the MX-5 Cup move around in your hands. As this is a 50/50 weight distribution car, you can pretty much do whatever you want to the setup, and drive it however you’d like, but no matter what situation I put the Assetto Corsa version into, the car behaved as it should, and felt pretty close to what guys have described the real thing felt like.
The Mazda RX7 was next. Now I’ve heard the horror stories when this pack first came out about how Assetto Corsa added rear steer to this car, and it was completely backwards since this car had none. I assume those individuals were referring to an active system such as HICAS, and I myself was also ready to throw this car out the window until I “read a book” as Stefano would say, and learned that rear steer is extremely minimal – what you’d expect out of a wishbone car with stock bushings. All Kunos appear to have modeled was a passive system with flex that gave minimal rear steer, much less than any HICAS system, for example, and even less than the 3-link in my Late Model.
So now that I was willing to actually try the car, while still skeptical I was surprised when it put a smile on my face almost instantly. Assetto’s phenomenal Force Feedback made the car feel planted as it should. The car listened to inputs extremely well, and you can physically feel the car plant through the center of the corner. Being in a couple of these cars, I knew the exact feel I was going for, and was able to achieve it almost instantly. If you’re too aggressive, it steps out like it should, but otherwise it’s pretty planted and feels set inside the track – never giving you that ice skating feel like many cars in other sims.
I saved the Corolla AE86 for last, and knowing this car inside and out in real life, I knew exactly how I wanted it to feel in Assetto Corsa to live up to my own standards. Although I felt this car didn’t have enough kick when it reached the 4500 RPM mark because of the TVIS system – which was very noticeable in real life thanks to the seat of the pants feeling – in the simulator it wasn’t all that present in Assetto save for the audio effect. Handling wise, this car is exactly the same as its real-world counterpart. Aggressive, heavy braking on entry makes the rear end get light and slightly step out, but with a little power input and a tiny bit of counter steer, it gathers itself before any big problems arise.
If you throw the car into the corner and stomp on the throttle, you can get some really nice power-overs with almost the exact same technique used out on a real track – at least in my experience. I’ve also owned a 1985 Toyota MR2 when I was younger, and it’s almost an identical car with a lot more lift oversteer, and much more grip under throttle thanks to the engine being planted firmly behind me. The Corolla in Assetto felt similar to my MR2, just without the heavy ass dragging around. So yes, I’m quite satisfied with the AE86 – the virtual rendition lives up to the real world legacy.
All of these cars of course are on Version 7 of Assetto Corsa’s ever-evolving tire model. Although I can’t speak for any of the purpose built race cars in the game – I use Assetto Corsa for hooning rather than racing – the street tires in this game are very good. I can understand Kunos dedicating many hours of research and fine tuning to street tires, as almost any trackday participant will be able to tell if they’re complete shit or not thanks to the abundance of street cars and semi-rich dudes present in the official forums.
So let’s go over what Kunos have gotten right with the street tires. First, they actually take time to generate heat, and if you come straight out of the pits like a bat out of hell, you’ll slide around a whole bunch and it won’t be a productive set of laps. The car is a bit dull on cold tires, only coming alive when you’ve generated enough heat – and this is really apparent in the Time Attack Supra. Once you’re at the proper operating temperature, the tire feels amazing. It reacts quick to your inputs but still has enough flex to give you the sense that you’re on a real tire – a huge piece of rubber that bends, twists, and flexes under varying levels of load. It gives way and screeches when you ask a bit too much, but you still have grip – it doesn’t just instantly disappear as it would in other simulators when you push too hard.
On corner exit, you have to really work your way onto the throttle and play with the edge of the tire to find the most speed, and it feels incredibly satisfying to get it right in the high horsepower offerings of the Japanese pack. You can drive each car in a way where you point to the apex, get on the brakes a tad, let the car roll through the center of the corner, feed throttle on exit, all while driving by the feel of the edge of the tire. This is something we’re severely lacking in other games. It also gives up when it should, in the forgiving matter a street tire should – it’s not an on/off switch. It doesn’t just snap and whip you around; you feel it give, especially in places where heavy braking takes place. You can manage it when approaching a total loss of control, but if you’re too aggressive, it still bites and sends you into a slide.
After a full day of messing around with the Japanese Pack, there are three specific things I absolutely love about the product Kunos has created for my fellow Weebs and I. Tire Model Seven, at least as far as the street tires go, is superior to anything else on the market. The Force Feedback, again, with these cars, is top notch. And the way the turbochargers are modeled – it’s fucking fantastic. The turbocharger is now a dynamic component that you have to nurse and exploit to your advantage. Kunos has really gone out and put a bulls-eye on the drift community, saying “we’re going to build something that you’ll love”, and they’ve achieved what they’ve set out to do. This pack is a real treat for fans of Japanese automobiles, and as a bonus for those who have made it this far into the article, I’ll throw in my personal Toyota Supra Drift Setup so everyone’s got a nice starting point for online drift sessions.