The World Wide Walrus

Back to the index

Grand Prix Legends

Quick Index
Why race such old cars?
The Physics of GPL
Learning Curve
GPL Rank
A.I. Racers
Favorite Tracks
Online Racing Leagues
Getting Set Up
When I visited my friend Hoover 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. ;-)

Why race such old cars?

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.

The Physics of Grand Prix Legends

Flying high at the Flugplatz!
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.
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.

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.

Learning Curve

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 empty track.

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 practice.

GPL Rank

My friend Hoover has recently (May 1999) assembled GPL Rank, 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:

      01-Jul-2000       651
      02-Jul-2000       547
      03-Jul-2000       481
      04-Jul-2000       434.56
      07-Jul-2000       386.36
      10-Jul-2000       295.12
      12-Jul-2000       262.96
      14-Jul-2000       244.13
      18-Jul-2000       235.08
      19-Jul-2000       219.79
      20-Jul-2000       198.42
      29-Jul-2000       183.80
      10-Aug-2000       179.10
      15-Sep-2000       143.80
      22-Sep-2000       137.41
      24-Sep-2000       109.91

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!

A.I. Racers

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''!

My Favorite Tracks

My engine explodes at Spa
Revving the engine to the red line once too many: good thing I don't really have to pay for a new engine...
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.

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.

Online Racing Leagues

The Screamers
My friend Hoover is a member of this league. One day I might be good enough to join them, too.

Getting Set Up

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, really should download the patch to 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 Stock
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 vary.

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.

``Going 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!


Anyone missing a wheel?
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!

Eagle 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!

GPL Track Guides
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 Snetterton.
  Made With WebLordCopyright © 1997,1998,1999,2000,2001,2002,2003 Ringlord Technologies
The alteration of any part of this content by manual or automated means (adding, removing, or in any other way altering links, text, or images) constitutes misrepresentation of our content in violation of United States copyright law. For more details, please see our content ownership details page for elaboration.