Grand Prix Legends
When I visited my friend
in 1999 he introduced me to ``GPL'' (Grand Prix Legends) an
astoundingly detailed racing simulator of the 1967 season
Formula 1 race cars. I have finally bought the
wheel and pedals
and the 3dfx Voodoo3 graphics card needed to run this simulator
in its full glory and am presently pulling myself slowly out
of the ranks of the drunken monkeys to that of drivers who might
actually survive a full five minutes in a real F1 car. ;-)
In 1967 or 1968 I was at the Nürburgring,
witnessing a ``minor'' race. Being an impressionable child the
memory has always lingered and when I had the chance to ``drive''
the virtual Ring myself, more than thirty years later,
I was instantly hooked.
Moreover, the 1967 racing season introduced much more powerful
engines without significantly upgrading the cars themselves
to add the safety features that are found on Formula 1 race
cars soon thereafter. Today's Formula 1 race cars are such highly
engineered vehicles that they have little in common with the
simple but elegant rockets-on-wheels that demanded the utmost
in concentration and skill from the driver to keep on the road.
The 1967 F1 racing season was the deadliest on record.
Some feel that Formula 1 racing has gone downhill since those
days and is only a pale shadow of its former glory. It certainly
seems to me that the races of those days held more excitement
than today's. In any case for me it's because of the memories
and the fact that with this outstanding simulation it really
feels like racing with the big names during the golden age of
Formula 1 racing.
Every car and its engine has different characteristics, from
weight to fuel use, to the power it delivers, to the sound the
engine makes, to the car's handling on the road at different
speeds and under different steering demands. Every tire's pressure
and temperature is accurately modeled to where its ability to
grip the road changes with its temperature and the cornering
demands put upon it. Gear ratios are adjustable, and the entire
car setup can be saved and restored for different tracks and
racing demands. Damage to the wheels, steering, and
engine will accumulate and come
to haunt you if you don't blow it right off the first time.
|Flying high at the ``Flugplatz''
of the Nürburgring: At approximately 150 mph (250
km/h) cars will become airborne as the road suddenly
drops from a steep rise to a horizontal.
What's more, different engines produce different amounts
of torque at various RPM; this can be used to maintain or alter
a car's attitude when it is in flight (such as at the Flugplatz
at the Nürburgring). Yes, the physics model of GPL is what
makes this more of a racing simulator than a racing game.
The cars of Grand Prix Legends are not easy to control, at
least not at the break-neck speeds that are required to make
a respectable time at any race track, not to mention winning
a race. This can be a frustrating experience if you expect to
have fun just flying around a track for five minutes and bouncing
off the walls a bit and beating a few simple, computer-controlled
race cars whose sole purpose might be to populate an otherwise
Learning to drive a 1967 Formula 1 race car requires a significant
amount of dedication. The simulated cars react like the real
thing: one wrong move during a high-speed cornering maneuvre,
where your tires are just barely holding onto the road surface,
and you could be toast. But if you have been driving the car
for a while and know what to do you can just as well help the
car regain a hold on the road. Getting there takes time and
My friend Hoover has recently (May 1999) assembled
a community site for hundreds of avid sim racers to compare
their racing statistics. The site calculates a handicap for
you, based on the sums of all your track times compared to a
reference time. There is no better incentive than to compare
your times to that of other friends or to find that your last
race at some track is really getting close to beating that of
another great race car driver. It's an addiction, a fever...
My own GPL Rank handicap has experienced the following improvements
since I began racing GPL on July 1:
If I can make such progress you can, too!
N.B. On the 15th of Sepember I improved my time at the Nürburgring
by almost 30 seconds in one go, simply by not trying to push
as hard as I had been, and instead driving more conservatively
and with a much greater focus on consistency. Instead of squeezing
the very last bit out of every corner and suffering numerous
spins or less than optimal exits from corners, I backed off
the throttle a little early and instead worked more aggressively
with accelleration and decelleration. What's more, I know that
I can easily improve on my new time ( 9m 33.92s )
by another 20 seconds. How? By not running into the bushes and
spinning out like an idiot at Antoniusbuche. Yeah, fancy that.
On a straightaway. Sheesh!
The ``A.I.'' racers all have different personalities. They're
all quite good and provide a serious challenge, so racing against
a number of ``A.I.'' drivers instead of friends or members of
a racing league online still provides a lot of challenge. Just
try to win pole position against nineteen of these ``bots''!
For reasons described
above the Nürburgring remains my
favorite. It's really a love-hate relationship because this
more than 14-mile track holds many more challenges than all
the other ten GPL tracks combined, and I'm just the kind of
idiot to insist on driving this most difficult of all tracks
again and again.
|Revving the engine to the
red line once too many: good thing I don't
really have to pay for a new engine...
When I raced it for the very first time I managed only a
pathetic 14 minutes. I managed to bring that down to less than
12 minutes when I got GPL installed on my own system. Just last
night (14-Jul-2000) I managed 10m 4.9s but what's more important
than this time is my realization that all my screw-ups were
completely avoidable (easily 30 seconds lost from those alone
as I watch the replay!) and that there are still a number of
places where I should be able to improve my time just by driving
with greater foresight and consistency.
Seeing others turn in times well under 9 minutes also makes
me realize that the Ring is where I can improve my handicap
the most while getting in a lot of practice that will help me
on the other tracks. After improving my time there by 40 seconds
in two days I managed almost immediately an improvement of 2
seconds at Monza, for example.
My second favorite track is definitely Spa-Francorchamps.
It's one hell of a fast track with some absolutely frightening
spots, but I love the wide-open feel that contrasts so markedly
from most of the Nürburgring, as well as the proximity
of the houses (step out of your front door and get run over
by a speeding Lotus...) And if you're just into killing yourself
with a wide-open throttle then this track is for you. ;-) The
last time I raced there I also blew up my engine in a major
way (see picture on the right): one brief fireball and I was
just left coasting in silence.
- My friend Hoover is a member of this league. One day I might
be good enough to join them, too.
GPL only runs under Microsoft Windows, so I have to take
down my Linux network server when I want to race. That really
sucks but at least I was able to find Windows discs for free
(they're floating around almost as ubiquitous as those pesky
AOL discs, aren't they?); below is what I use to race. Keep
in mind that this is what I decided upon. I'm extremely
pleased with the choices I made but feel free to research your
own solutions and arrive at your own conclusions:
- Grand Prix Legends
- By far the least expensive component :-) I ended up paying
about US $20 for it at
Dragon.CA. The disc
contains version 1.0 of the software and you really, really,
the patch to 184.108.40.206 from Papyrus' site. It fixes all
sorts of problems, including weird display glitches. It
may also help to upgrade your graphics card's FlashROM to
the latest version.
- Thomas TSW2
- This is a plain-old two-pedal (brake & throttle) version
with wheel and gearshift lever. That's really all you need
to get started. It's expandable, though, to provide dual-axis
distinction, a clutch, multiple additional buttons that
can be mounted on the steering wheel, etc. All that will
cost you, though. My wheel cost me $220. I added a set of
(3) potentiometers for $35. I found that the game port cable
was a little short for my particular setup (my computer
is below the desk, about three feet to my left) so I invested
in an extension cable, too. Thomas will sell you one if
you don't care to order one elsewhere. The cable comes out
of the right side of the controller and is approximately
4 feet (1.2m) long. If that has any trouble at all reaching
your computer's game port you want an extension.
You should know that if the Thomas wheels are a tad on the
expensive side for you, there is another choice named ``Thrustmaster''.
I don't have a URL for that one, but you might save $100
with that alternative, and it's certainly good enough to
give you better times than I have so far achieved with a
more expensive wheel. :-)
GPL will also work with joystick and/or keyboard. I've never
tried to drive a car with a joystick, but there are drivers
far better than I who drive with a joystick and would beat
me on my best of days.
I'm also told that GPL has one of the better (best?) force-feedback
implementations. Some claim that the lack of the other components
of the driving experience (of which force-feedback is only
a part) is more distracting than helpful. Your mileage may
- 3dfx Voodoo3 3000 AGP graphics card
- This card (as well as its predecessors) are supported directly
by Grand Prix Legends. I chose this card over the 2000-model
because it has somewhat higher rendering rates and I didn't
mind spending a few extra dollars. My computer is a Pentium
II @ 400Mhz so I wanted to make sure that I would be able
to run this game at 1024 x 768 and still get 36 frames per
second (fps). Happily I seem to be able to get that for
the most part even when running at 1280 x 1024. Only at
1600 x 1200 does frame rate drop to around 20 or 24 fps.
Pretty impressive, though. I paid $140 for this card.
Faster!'' by Carl Lopez -- Mastering the Art
of Race Driving
- This book is aimed at ``real world'' racers, but as I mentioned
above GPL's physics model is so detailed that everything
from the real world (i.e. this book) applies to help you
become a better racer in GPL, too. The first chapter alone
was an eye-opener for me and it just delves into greater
and greater detail. Heck, if you bought the wheel &
pedals and shelled out money for a 3dfx card you'd be stupid
to balk at the $30 that this book costs. Just buy it. If
you want to become a better (sim)racer you won't regret
the purchase. Guaranteed!
- GPL Rank
- An online database of well over a thousand drivers, providing
the means to compare driving statistics in a variety of
ways. One of the most inspiring GPL resource available!
Woman's Grand Prix Legends
- A superb resource provided by Alison Hine, one of the GPL
beta testers. You will find there everything from links
to new engine sounds, to new tracks, cars, alternate setups,
.ini file tweaks, and advise for improving your driving
skills (including passing and letting another car pass.)
Great stuff. Invaluable!
- An excellent, highly detailed description and analysis of
how to race various tracks. It even includes tracks that
don't come with GPL, such as the Österreichring and