It was a little over a month ago we started hearing from a frequent user of our TeamSpeak server that a new rFactor mod was on the way, and it would blow everything else out of the water. The be all, end all creation for rFactor, if you will – one which attempted to stretch both the functionality and authenticity of the software’s underlying physics engine to the absolute limit. Obviously, we were a little skeptical at first for somebody shilling for their own product; I mean, how genuinely good can an rFactor mod be at the end of the day, right?
Yet after getting our hands on it ourselves and giving a full shakedown of the mod over multiple tracks and evenings of testing, the hype has been one hundred percent justified, and then some. If GP79 was the first rFactor mod to act as a showcase of what the platform could be used to create, CART 88 by the Historic Sim Racing Organization is a stunning final chapter in what Image Space Incorporated once envisioned for their sandbox simulator.
Lets face it, rFactor is a simulator that has been beaten to death; from the glory of the Porsche Carrera Cup 2007 and CARTFactor releases, to Project D2.0 or the VHR Stock Car mod, everything that could be done, has been done in some shape or form, several times over. From the Historic Sim Racing Organization – or HSO for short – comes the 1988 CART championship, a season that was dominated by Penske in reality, and had many manufacturers of drastically differing qualities all of which are represented in this very in-depth mod. Every engine and chassis has very distinct characteristics that each driver in the HSO league will have to learn and deal with throughout the season, and looking at preseason testing, when the rides are dished out and the fast guys are forced into backmarker cars, it should equal some very competitive racing throughout the season.
Preseason testing has currently hit three distinct locations – Sebring, Michigan and Milwaukee – all of which have served to showcase the extremes of what each car in the mod can be capable of. Overall, the cars themselves are very, very, twitchy, producing anywhere from 600hp to 700hp depending on the powerplant, with the ground effects tunnels that were so familiar in the 80’s helping to produce an extremely fun driving experience. The cars (especially the March) constantly try to kill you when you are pushing, but they are actually manageable over the limit, although the window for mistakes is very small; you have to trust that the faster you go, the downforce is going to do its work and hold the car to the ground; much easier said then done in the backmarker cars, which try to snap loose and kill you if you’re unable to keep the car balanced and working in unison with the aerodynamics.
The in-house Penske car, on the other hand, is almost easy in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still as much of a beast as the others, but the stability is on a totally different level, almost easy to push in comparison, and the Chevy powerplant gives such smooth power output it almost feels slow until you realize you’re going 175 mph down the backstretch at Sebring.
The level of detail put into the mod between each car and engine combination is simply amazing, the differences are clearly recognizable after just a few corners, and overall the mod just feels very complete. Aero effects are very significant in these cars, and within a second of another car you will feel the aero change drastically underneath you, sometimes even producing a tangible change in force feedback at high speeds.
The tire has a very recognizable edge that you need to flirt with to reach optimal lap times, and at that edge every input feels like its been exponentially magnified; the car dances and slides around slightly, you try to squeeze the pedal in minute increments to not shoot all 700hp to the rear wheels and it just feels downright amazing. The car will snap over the edge, but yet the grip seems to stay just enough for you to have a chance of gathering the car back up, and this is even more noticeable on ovals where you have a giant pad of asphalt to work with in an attempt to retain control of the car.
The rewards are high but so are the risks, and the laptimes in testing so far show just how big the difference is between pushing and risking a virtual fatality, or riding around comfortably.
The trademark staleness of the original rFactor seems to have been swept away with CART 88; the cars feel alive, the tire feels super responsive yet flexes as rubber should, and the aero effects are very pronounced and will be fun to play around with in a giant at Michigan or the high speed corners of Road America. This is the most time I’ve spent on any sim car for a long time and actually enjoyed every minute of both the driving experience and the depth of the mod, with the very distinct characteristics of each car bringing it out even more. The March 88 has been my preferred car of choice, as though its probably the slowest widely-used chassis of the 1988 season, its definitely the least stable and fairly difficult to drive consistently, but when you get it right it gives a a sense of accomplishment that displays what sim racing is really about at its absolute best – mastering a car you’d have a snowball’s chance in hell at driving in real life.
CART 88 is a spectacular accomplishment in just how well rFactor can perform when a single mod team working purely for the love of sim racing stop at nothing in the pursuit of absolute realism, and as we move into the future generation of simulators, is a solid final goodbye to a landmark piece of software. Though the mod has not been released in a final, public fashion as of yet, those desperate to turn laps in these glorious machines can pick up a pre-release build of the package over at HSO’s official website, though you’ll be forced to create an account under your real name before the download links become available. It is well worth the few hoops you’re required to jump through to obtain this mod, just be very aware that these aren’t exactly easy cars for budding sim racers to adapt to.