No longer constrained to the semi-private confines of the Historic Sim Racing Organization for testing purposes, the highly anticipated CART 88 mod for ISI’s original rFactor has now been unleashed to the public, and you can grab a copy by clicking HERE. A season dominated by Penske’s Danny Sullivan, in which virtually every team on the grid played musical chairs with engine suppliers and chassis, the classic American open wheel racing mod is the pinnacle of what the gracefully aging simulator can do when pushed to the absolute limit by a talented group of modders. HSO have meticulously constructed every single car to take the green flag over the course of the fifteen round championship, including one-off Indy 500 entries, part time drivers, and even brief chassis swaps that only lasted for a partial segment of the season, while also faithfully replicating mechanical improvements teams had made from event to event – such as Teo Fabi’s notoriously unreliable Porsche gradually improving throughout the season.
Part highly detailed rFactor mod, and part virtual museum, CART 88 is as comprehensive of a living, breathing encyclopedia as it is exhilarating to drive; an open wheel counterpart of the mammoth HistorX Touring Car package that has established itself as one of the all time legendary releases for the popular sim racing modding platform. Recently, we caught up with resident HSO physics guru Richard Wilks to learn about how the in-house HSO modders felt when refining the physics, which will be used for a year-long championship that mirrors the real world 1988 CART schedule, with the exception of the East Rutherford Grand Prix.
Hey guys, while you all wait for the CART 88 mod to finish downloading, I’d like to talk about something that came up in a conversation with one of the Historic Sim Racing admins during the testing process for this mod. He was telling me that after he drove the cars, another high profile mod we were running at the time didn’t seem as fun to drive anymore – he argued that it was way too time consuming to create a setup that made the car feel planted and ready to attack the track.
Now we all know the sim racing landscape is awash with mods or even vanilla content that feels artificially difficult or “funny” to drive – sometimes it’s twitch, or demands a great deal of focus, to the point where it’s hard to understand how someone strapped into the thing for real survived more than a handful of laps, when you can’t even make it around the track from the comfort of your sim rig.
I want to stress at this point that I am not talking about raw numbers being right or wrong here, but of the overall feel and connection that you experience when driving a virtual car on the limit. It’s a mix between the last little slice of tire adjustments that admittedly already borders on guesswork (because as I’ve stated before, it’s wrong for any one developer or modder to claim they’ve nailed tires), together with the force feedback, visual cues from the behavior of the car itself, and how this all relates to the way the car was implemented into the software.
You see, the last little bit of testing is the point where not everybody can sit back and analyze if this particular part of the simulation is at a good level or not. My rule of thumb is that a car must feel “natural” for you to drive. If you are a high skilled sim racer, you already know how to drive. Therefore, when you sit and drive it, all the inputs you receive must convey exactly what the car is doing. You shouldn’t have to be “translating” the inputs to what the car is supposed to be doing. To more clearly elaborate upon what I mean with this, imagine you are driving old IndyCar Racing II with a keyboard or a joystick. You are basically translating on the fly what the car is doing in relation to your inputs on the controls. That’s why even if you know how to drive a car, even at speed, you will basically start almost from zero if you choose to play a racing game like this, when it comes to muscle memory, or applying the theory to practice.
So the goal I had in mind with CART 88 was to create cars that are not only realistic in terms of numbers and performance, but also in terms of feel. You are supposed to sit in the car, and be quick right off the bat if you already know what you are doing. A real example is how hard it is to light the tires when exiting the pits in most open wheel mods, when it’s very easy to do in real life. This sounds like a simplistic example, but I knew I was getting things right once I was able to do this out of the pits seamlessly.
Once again, I am not talking about fudging numbers, I am talking about getting the final 1% right, the percent that separates a really enjoyable mod to drive, from just a “good” mod that sits in your already cluttered rFactor install. The the harder the car is to drive, usually as you go back in time, the more important this becomes. During the CART 88 testing process, I went through twenty different tire compounds I had built, all after I had completed the rest of the car, until I achieved the natural feeling I was searching for, making such minuscule changes that despite all of them being realistic from a pure number vs. real life point of view, made a huge difference in terms of car behavior on the limit. And you need this degree of work and dedication if you want to get something right; it’s like everything else in life, you can’t shortcut your way to knowledge.
Cars talk a lot to you in real life, and this is something sims struggle to do, not because they can’t, but because this gets neglected. Now, I know everybody has different equipment and all that, but if you get this right, the car will feel natural no matter what gear you are using, and the amount of input translation goes down to a minimum, making the sim racer feel one with the car on the edge of adhesion.
We at the Historic Sim Racing Organization hope you enjoy CART 88.
Weighing in at just over 160 megabytes – a very reasonable size for such a large collection of cars – HSO’s CART 88 release may possibly be the final hurrah for a simulator that will go down in history as one of the most influential pieces of software ever released in the genre.