Eight Great Racing Games That Will Make You Feel Old

Forza who? Grand Theft what? Bow down to the pioneers that made driving simulators such effective time-suckers.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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POLE POSITION (1982) — The bread-and-butter racing game, and one that now demands, but rarely gets, respect. Graphics were primitive and opponents spaced awkwardly throughout the track, but the game did teach you the importance of holding a race line and the dark art of dodging puddles at Fuji. An oscillating engine hum and low burble of the rumble strips was the only soundtrack needed. No distractions, no gangsters sticking you up in the pits. Pole Position was pure, 8-bit bliss.

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IVAN “IRONMAN” STEWART’S SUPER OFF ROAD (1989) — Few games could stand up the stadium-style truck racing in Ivan Stewart’s Super Off Road. The upright arcade version featured three-abreast steering wheels and pedals that placed competitors side-by-side. Even for the era, the game was surprisingly accurate with its depiction of off-roading articulation. Throwing and elbow or two at your opponent mid-corner was fair play. After all, rubbin’ is racin’.

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F355 CHALLENGE (1999) — Although Sega’s one-make Ferrari racing game was available on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, the real thrills were found in the arcade. Not only did gamers find headrest-mounted speakers and three adjacent screens for optimal driver vision, they also were treated to F1-style paddle shifters or a gated manual transmission with a clutch, the better to tease goosebump-inducing mechanical howls from an F355. The steering wheel even communicated feedback while cornering. Some arcades still carry the game—a testament to the quality of the gameplay as well as the hardware.

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COLIN MCRAE RALLY (1998) — Named for the Scottish rally kingpin, this one gave players a taste of the most iconic World Rally Championship cars of the 1998 season, including McRae’s own Subaru Impreza WRC (and a few scrappy Ford Escorts). The graphics were sophisticated for the era, although the eight stages were not accurate to their real-life equivalents. An in-game navigator provided authentic rally guidance for the course ahead: “5 right into 4 hairpin left, square right.” Even by today’s standards, Colin McRae Rally remains one of the more entertaining—and technical—racing games developed.

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AUTO MODELLISTA (2002) — Here was a different sort of racing simulator, combining comic-book visual elements with cult tuner cars. The Capcom-produced game was proudly Japanese, boasting several mountainous sections, called touge, Tokyo road courses and the famed Suzuka Circuit. Players also got a plethora of tuning and styling upgrades. Despite the game’s embrace of the unconventional, it was also faulted for its cars’ handling characteristics. For gamers who appreciated the reprieve from the seriousness of other driving simulators, however, Auto Modellista hit a sweet spot.

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CRUIS’N WORLD (1996) — Anyone who loves Cruis’n World for its realism should get their brains scanned. The game represented a day off from the forward development of racing graphics. Yet by literally making a day’s play out of driving, the heir to Cruis’n USA ruled by not taking itself seriously. It was a riot. Jumps sprouted from the ground at random, car crashes sent competitors skyward and all cars had four-speed transmissions, regardless of their real-life specifications. Few things mimicked the panic of a dwindling clock and a safety point that’s too far ahead. But there was no mistaking the euphoria of making it through and continuing gameplay. “Checkpoint!”

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NEED FOR SPEED: HIGH STAKES (1999) — With its heady waft of wealth and indifference to the law, High Stakes was the driving simulator that pitted sports cars against both the police and other racers simultaneously. The car list was visual ecstasy for fans of supercars from the Nineties. Especially skilled drivers were even able to unlock virtual editions of the McLaren F1 GTR and Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR. High Stakes provided the adrenaline rush with a hi-NRG soundtrack and groundbreaking damage modeling. If players sought good karma, it even allowed them to play as police and pursue the no-goodniks. Righteous.

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DRIVER (1999) — Who could forget John Tanner, the undercover cop committed to busting organized crime in his sweet muscle cars? Driver had the grit of early Seventies New York crime cinema and the flair of a James Bond flick. Although the graphics and handling characteristics felt a bit laggy, the game was satisfying for players who wanted to add a crime-solving element to their virtual driving experience. Powerslides were paramount, and the console controller had a trick throttle option that guaranteed burnouts under hard acceleration.

Eight ways video games make driving more fun

A symbiosis has formed among road, track and game console—and it’s making us all happier behind the wheel.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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1. Touristenfahrten at the Nürburgring Nordschleife— Why content yourself with ripping through the Nordschleife on Gran Turismo when you can do it for real? Touristenfahrten is the very real opportunity for the public to try their hand at the circuit known as the Green Hell. While the Nürburgring has always been a mythical destination for race fans, its popularity boomed after the track’s debut in driving simulators (not that heightened interest has staved off bankruptcy. Sigh.). Touristenfahrten days are some of the track’s most popular attractions. Devotees can even rent specific track-prepped machines for their 20.8-kilometer adventure.

098575100_12251931212. Extreme Track Cars — Ask an eight-year-old gamer to style a track toy, and you’d get a hyper-minimalist, sinister machine with digital everything. Remove any semblance of creature comforts, push wheels hard to the corners and you’ve created this generation’s Caterham or Lotus 7. Cars like the KTM X-Bow even incorporate gaming-style lap timers. The only thing separating these cars from virtual reality is an Oculus Rift.

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3. The Lap of Manhattan— In 2013, a driver initially known only as “Afroduck” shared a visual cocktail of blurry boulevards, reckless endangerment and a BMW Z4 on YouTube. In just over 24 minutes, Adam Tang whirred around Manhattan’s perimeter at an average speed of 66 mph, shattering a very much unofficial, and equally illegal, record time of 26:03. The video circled through the automotive community and Tang gained a reputation as a real-life Midnight Club racer. Although he was convicted of reckless driving, fined and sentenced to a year in jail, the Canada native fled northward, where he remains.

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4. The Survival of Boutique Automakers— Sustaining a tiny, performance-oriented brand was once a near impossibility. Who would take a risk on an unproven artisan when names like Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren existed? The video game generation, however, proved a tremendous asset for niche manufacturers. British carmaker TVR saw success when they made the original Gran Turismo roster—if not enough to avoid falling into receivership. But today, names like Pagani, Koenigsegg, Wiesmann, GTA (pictured) and others survive and thrive, due in part to gamers and developers keeping these niche pleasure craft on wealthy enthusiasts’ short lists.

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5. Driving as Escapism— Anyone who has fiddled with the Forza Horizon series understands that the exotic vistas, weirdly appealing music festivals and rare cars scratch a voyeuristic itch. Throw in barn finds, social online gameplay and a sandbox environment, and Turn 10 Studios has a heady brew in hand. It’s no coincidence that ads for cars like the Scion FR-S and Mazda MX-5 Miata have pitched driving as a meaningful endeavor. These machines, known somewhat paradoxically as driver’s cars, appeal directly to gamers who seek low-priced, non-virtual chariots.

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6. Aftermarket Insanity— When the Need for Speed franchise took on street racing culture in the wake of the original Fast and the Furious film, the popularity of modding exploded. Bright neon underglow, vertical doors and spinning wheels were basic facets of Need for Speed: Underground. After the game’s debut and sequel, car culture went even more rabid for bodykits and spoilers. Functionality be damned, you could buy kits and aero parts for anything from the Mitsubishi Eclipse to the Dodge Caravan. Depending on whom you ask, this is the automotive yearbook page you skip. It’s just too embarrassing.

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7. A Preponderance of Paddles— In the mid-Nineties, around the same time Ferrari was introducing them on the F355 sports car, the original Gran Turismo on Sony PlayStation was absolutely nailing paddle shifters. Before they were available on most mainstream cars, advanced gamers could enjoy the perfect blend of manual and sequential gearboxes from the comfort of their couch. As paddle shifters trickled down from sports cars to hot hatches, some games introduced handheld clutches to greatly enhance the gaming experience.

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8. Ed Bolian’s Cross-Country Record— It’s a question ripped from the thoughts of any open-road gamer: How fast could I drive across the U.S.? In October 2013, the team of Ed Bolian, Dave Black and Dan Huang set this record on public roads, crossing the United States in 28 hours, 50 minutes and 26 seconds. Although the average speed of the trek was 98 mph, the trio’s Mercedes-Benz CL55 AMG topped 130 mph for over 90 minutes total, and 158 mph on several occasions. It’s a record that probably won’t—and shouldn’t—be broken any time soon.

Have we reached peak Shelby?

The legendary company’s new tuned Mustang EcoBoost costs $50,000 and adds 25 horsepower. Has Shelby American finally jumped the shark?

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive.


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Modifying cars isn’t a hobby, it’s an exercise in fiscal irresponsibility. It’s easy for the speed-obsessed to open up their wallets before taking a step back and asking, “Should I?” No one understood the dichotomy, and the resulting business case, better than Carroll Shelby, the venerated Texas chicken farmer turned racing entrepreneur.

Mr. Shelby, who died in 2012, is the celebrated architect behind the original Mustang GT350, Daytona Coupe and AC Cobra. He spent a half-century ensuring that his company, Shelby American, was synonymous with big horsepower and brash add-on styling. Speed was paramount. The cars dripped character.

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Now, Shelby American has introduced its Shelby GT EcoBoost, based on the new four-cylinder Mustang, testing just how heart-driven brand loyalists are. For the pleasure, buyers must fork over $23,995 (not including the original $26,295 cost of the standard Ford Mustang EcoBoost). So how much Shelby does one get for Audi S4 money?

Not much. Carbon-fiber paneling, 20-inch wheels and a whole lot of badging. Also, a short-shift kit, a few suspension bits and an exhaust, all lifted directly from the Ford Performance catalog. Meaning you could buy all those parts at the dealership. For less than $4,000. Total horsepower gain is a paltry 25 hp, bringing the standard Mustang’s 2.3-liter four-cylinder up to 335 ponies.

There are optional extras, too, and they don’t exactly bolster the value case: Upgraded Wilwood brakes, some additional carbon fiber and, uh, even more Shelby badging. Rounding out this reality check is a roll cage, racing seats and five-point racing harnesses.

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Even for the most ardent fans, the $50,290 Shelby GT EcoBoost is a confused personality. It’s dressed to excite, but has four cylinders fewer than most Shelbyians probably want from their Mustang. It’s better on gas, but the health of Siberian permafrost has never been top of mind for Shelby customers. Perhaps most damning, though, is that it looks quick, but isn’t all that much quicker than its root material.

So, has Shelby jumped the shark? Customers will ultimately make that determination. But being 100 hp down on—almost $17,000 pricier than—the archetypical Mustang GT V-8 (saying nothing of Ford’s own $50,000 GT350, approved by The Drive’s own A.J. Baime at Laguna Seca) this Shelby leaves us cold. And who wants a Shelby without the Carroll’s trademarked combination of speed and personality? Now that’s irrational.

The culture that bred a Hellcat

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.



Raw, powerful and even a bit vulgar, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is anything but a vapid flexing of Chrysler muscle.

Derived from a cult of speed, the 707-horsepower hellion is a proper homage to one of the most peculiar eras of US car culture.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, drag racing was front and centre, and names like Mustang, Camaro and Charger created a motoring nomenclature all their own. The Dodge Challenger began to exhibit typical drag-racing attributes not long after its introduction: high-horsepower engines, staggered-width tires and a lust for the quarter mile. As boutique manufacturers began to spring up to supplement the carmakers’ go-fast efforts, the culture boomed.

Matthew Macomber’s video, filmed in New England in 2010, is a slowed-down homage to life at the drag strip, an existence measured in fewer than 11 ticks of a stopwatch. Muscle cars and dragsters convene at the start. The flick of a green light whips the machines into a froth of noise and fire. Some launch cleanly while others lunge forward in dazzling wheel-stands, their tires alight.

Muscle-car culture was sharpened at the drag strip, but born at stoplights. Once bit by the drag-racing bug, owners of street cars could fall hostage to their machines, obsessing over the minutiae that would make their cars a little bit faster. Cornering? A foreign concept. Macomber’s video is a close study of the only thing that mattered: straight-line speed.

The lineage to the 2015 Hellcat is clear. With a supercharged 707hp V8 engine, dubious handling and a profligate appetite for tires and petrol, the Hellcat is a fascinating piece of hardware. The culture that birthed this modern muscle car seems well served.

Infographic: The true price of Dodge’s SRT Hellcat

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.

With its supercharged 707-horsepower V8 engine, tire-smoking torque and retrofuturist styling, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is an unambiguous, unabashed throwback. But it distinguishes itself from its nostalgia-tinged peers – saying nothing of high-horsepower European sports cars – on its value case.

Granted, consumers do not cross-shop bawdy Detroit muscle against bespoke European land-missiles, yet  some true-to-life comparisons underline just how stellar a value Chrysler’s fire-breathing feline is –  and the financial chasms that must be bridged to otherwise touch its tremendous output.

Rendez-vous: The illegal Tour de France

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on BBC Autos.



Calm under pressure, audacious skill and a bit of lunacy: all traits of a prepared racer. Coupled with purpose-built equipment shaped by the wind, and you have a recipe for a properly exciting race through Paris.

The month-long Tour de France stormed through the streets of Paris on 27 July, with scores of cyclists swarming towards the finish through a crush of hardcore fans. It’s an evocative scene, one repeated throughout the ages every year. But in 1976, there was an exceptional, extra-legal sprint that was filmed, discussed and ultimately passed around in video-cassette form like contraband.

Nearly four decades ago, French director Claude Lelouch releasedC’était un rendez-vous, a short film depicting a Ferrari 275 GTB illegally blasting through the dormant avenues of a Paris dawn, coming to rest at the Montmarte overlook adjacent to Sacré Coeur. The speed and reckless maneuvers in the picture caused a tiny stir in the City of Light and among car enthusiasts worldwide, as copies of the short film slowly made their way across oceans.

Translating to It Was a Date, the production is regarded as one of the earliest – and still one of the best – street-racing films. Though many a driver has felt the impulse to speed away from a red light or dash through a commute as if it were the last lap at Le Mans, it would be folly to follow through. Lelouch couldn’t help himself. The director weaves through a makeshift 6.5-mile circuit in less than eight minutes while maintaining remarkable pace. But all is not what it seems.

A keen viewer will note that the speed and movement on screen does not always correspond with the sound of a Ferrari at full chatter. In fact, Lelouch used his massive Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 sedan for filming. To make the movie more exhilarating, the director later dubbed over the soundtrack with that of his Italian sports car. Forget suction-mounting a GoPro camera; Lelouch affixed a full-size film rig to the front of his German land-barge.

And while there was no yellow jersey or flowered garlands awaiting Lelouch at the finish of his “tour”, there was something more permanent: immortality.

The photo with a $35,000 secret

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.


A photo with a backstory. (Courtesy RM Auctions)

Every significant collection needs a crown jewel, that marquee item that slackens jaws and raises eyebrows. And at the coming Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance, held amid championship golf greens in northern California, there will be no shortage of multimillion-dollar Ferraris crowding the auction block. But there are significantly less expensive ways to secure a one-of-a-kind piece of Ferrari mystique, worthy of sitting atop any collection – and it may even come with a valuable secret.

The photograph above, taken in 1964 at the 12 Hours of Reims endurance race in France, depicts the Parkes/Scarfiotti Ferrari 250 GTO passing the pits while in the foreground, Jacques Swaters, Belgian manager of the Ophem/”Beurlys” outfit, signals the team’s Ferrari 250 LM. The moment, captured in a seemingly nonchalant blink of a camera’s shutter, provides a brief but comprehensive glimpse at what made this era of motorsport so special – to competitors and collectors alike.

But look closer.

A discreet stash of signatures on the print, barely legible at a glance, brings this image into the upper stratosphere of automotive collectibles.

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

The photo is signed by many of the famous individuals within the frame – a murderer’s row of Formula 1 world champions and Le Mans winners. Signatures from, among others, Phil Hill, Derek Bell, Luigi Chinetti and Maurice Trintignant all adorn the image. Couple this with an exemplary shot of two famous Ferraris – one of which, the 250 GTO, being considered the most coveted car in the collecting hobby – and you’ve got a centrepiece that is certain to draw double-takes.

(Courtesy RM Auctions)

Although the print’s signatures are subtle, its size is hardly so – it measures over 11 feet long and 7 feet high. Were it not for the barely-there autographs, the image likely would not have sold in 2008 for 23,000 euros (roughly $35,772 at time of sale).

Though few would call the image affordable, it is quite a bargain compared to the Pebble Beach-bound relations of the aforementioned 250 GTO and LM: a 250 GT California expected to bring $12m to $15m, and a 275 GTB/C Speciale that could very well top $40m, making it the most expensive car ever sold at public auction.

All of which serves to make an archival automotive photograph even more attractive. Bonus: you wouldn’t have to worry about crashing it.