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March 27, 2006

IRL: Toyota Indy 300, Homestead–Miami Speedway

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IRL: Toyota Indy 300
3 out of 5 stars

"There are only three true sports - mountain climbing, bullfighting and motor racing - all the rest being games." -- Ernest Hemingway.

Unfortunately yesterday's first race of the 2006 Indy Racing League (IRL) season was overshadowed by the death of Paul Dana in Sunday morning practice. Ed Carpenter spun and hit the wall into turn 2, slip down the banking, and several seconds later got hit in the left rear of the car by Dana at ~200mph, killing him.

A rather somber race got under way that evening minus Carpenter, Dana and his two teammates Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice. After the dark events of the morning, it turned out to be quite a race by the end. Although we only had a field of about 16 drivers, and were almost in single figures by the end, the final 40 laps were indeed exciting.

The drama started around 40 laps from the end when Tony Kanaan inexplicably lost control on the entrance to the pitlane. Under braking the car got sideways, collected an inflatable cone, and made light, but terminal contact with the pit wall, bringing out the 3rd caution of the day.

On the restart Herta lost control on cold tires hitting the wall causing the 4th caution of the day – he was unhurt. When the race finally got under way again on lap 178/200, Dan Wheldon began to reel in the Penske car of Helio Castroneves.

Wheldon hung on the outside of Castroneves for about 6 laps around lap 185–190, wheel to wheel stuff for about 3 minutes! Unfortunately Wheldon lost the overlap with about 10 laps to go and dropped into Castroneves' tow.

Just when it looked like 2nd place was the best Wheldon could do, he managed to get back alongside Castroneves down the back straight on the last lap. They took the final corner again alongside each other, with Wheldon about 18 inches behind Helio. Coming out of the final bend, Wheldon kept as low as he could (without making contact) so Helio couldn't run wide out the corner and build up speed across the line. It worked. Wheldon pulled back the 18 inches and another ~24 more to win the race by 0.0147 seconds, quite a final lap.

Believe it or not, not the closest finish I've seen, there were a few closer last season, one involving 3 cars abreast all within about 2 feet of each other, but the fact the Brit came out on top last night makes it all the more exciting. With the single engine manufacturer for all teams this year, we'll surely see closer races than last night's "ninth closest finish in IRL history" this season.

Good start to Wheldon's title defence in his new team, hopefully next weekend's race will be just as exciting – without the tragedy.

Race Statistics
Time of race: 01:46:14.5286.
Margin of victory: 0.0147 of a second.
Cautions: 4 for 32 laps.
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers.
Lap leaders: Hornish Jr. 1–57, Castroneves 58–66, Sharp 67–68, Matsuura 69–71, Hornish Jr. 72–159, Castroneves 160–182, Wheldon 183–189, Castroneves 190–199, Wheldon 200.


December 17, 2005

GT Legends – A Review

5 out of 5 stars

Anyone familiar with the dark horse hit that was GTR FIA Racing will already know SimBin (game engine) and 10tacle (developers) have built themselves a very good reputation very quickly. Although the game was a solid title supported by 5 patches, it still didn't quite provide the smooth online play some might have expected.

In steps GT Legends , built on a slightly modified engine/physics engine to GTR FIA but this time built around sports cars from the 1960s and 70s. With some well known cars as the Porsche 911 , Chevrolet Corvette and as shown in the game cover, the Ford GT40, it certainly doesn't lack authenticity. With "more then 90 original FiA GTC-TC team vehicles" [sic] which equates to about 25 unique vehicles, there is a decent choice of cars all the way through the game.

Some people might be disappointed when you start the game that you can leap right into a GT40 and burn up any of the games "25 variations of real tracks" straight away. Instead GT Legends has opted for a psuedo-"Gran Turismo career" where you start in the lower league cups, working your way up earning the money to buy/win the beasts. Although there are only 5 Cups A-E, and 4–5 sub-championships within each they get progressively longer, but no less interesting. After each cup you unlock new tracks and sometimes a new era of cars to race meaning the desire to finish "just one more" championship is often too strong.

On the graphics front GTL is very strong much like it's older brother GTR and with everything turned up to max it does look very convincing. The lighting effects are very well done although perhaps shadows could punish lower-end systems. One noticeable, but presumably easy to patch bug so far is that cars don't cast shadows when you look at them in mirrors giving the appearance they are flying just above the track.

If the graphics weren't pretty enough, the sound is quite possibly so good you'll be in awe every time you sit on the starting grid. As you'd expect from any racing game that takes itself seriously all the cars were recorded from their real-life counterparts throughout the entire range of the engine. Different engine noises depending if you're sitting inside, behind or infront of the car and enough sound voices to let you hear most, if not all of the cars around you give a very realistic sense of actually going 3 abreast into the first corner.

Given the change of cars from GTR to GTL it's difficult to tell if the physics have been improved between games. However it is possible to say that all the cars handle exactly as you'd expect them too, from the super-slidey AC Cobra to the comparably slow musclely Ford Mustang. Collisions with such immovable objects as, erm, walls, are accurate, although when slowed down in replays, cars can seemingly pass through the wall/track for a period of time, but it does happen so quickly you won't notice in real time.

The AI was another part of the original GTR that really did excel, and was possibly the best AI in a racing game I'd ever seen. Their "non-pack" style of racing cough Gran Turismo cough was a welcome surprise, and the vigour with which they both defended their positions with acceptable amount of blocking and also the small feints up the inside when trying to pass made for a very interesting opponent. Given the two games are based on pretty much similar game engines its no surprise that the AI is convincing again. From my time playing I've certainly noticed they defend their positions even more vigorously, especially on higher levels of difficulty making it very tough to pass. Although the AI is pretty quick on an open track, it will often get quite confused if one of it's counterparts (or me) have spun in the middle of the track, and they will slow down to an over-sensible speed so as not to collide, allowing you to catch up easier than you might otherwise have done.

Online play is not something I've delved into yet, preferring so far to complete the game and make sure I'm capable of keeping up on those "no driving assists" servers without spinning out at the first sight of a corner. Patch 1.1 added support for an (almost) unprecedented 36 player multiplayer when using a dedicated server so I can only assume 10tacle are pretty confident their net code is a little more solid this time around.

Overall GT Legends is a more than capable replacement for GTR and I fully expect it to be adopted by most online racing leagues as a result of it's already healthy coat of polish. Highly recommended to anyone that enjoys simulation racing games, but a steering wheel with force feedback is nigh on essential to get the most out of GTL. Five stars.

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