Columnist for RaceDepartment
“The past is never dead. It's not even past.” (William Faulkner)
Looking at the recent trend in simracing, it seems like the GT3/GTE class is the most popular among both the developers and the simracers themselves. Basically every sim out in the market at the time of writing of this article, is either focused on these cars or making them its focus by releasing more category vehicles and massively updating the one already present in the roster.
Surely, this is great news for all the GT lovers out there, but it casts a long shadow over the future for classic and vintage cars enthusiasts, which doubt that any more content will come their way, at least officially. Not always of course, with occasional vehicles being made available every now and then, but in most cases these are all one-offs, one or two cars for you to enjoy more while hot lapping rather than racing. What is in fact the point of racing 20 or 60 clones? How should I feel immersed, while mimicking a full F1 or GT line-up of the time made but of just a single vehicle endlessly repeated, in merely a couple historical venues?
Gone are the days when a studio like Papyrus went ahead and released not only seven cars from the 1967 F1 season, but the full track list too (except for Bugatti that was conveniently replaced by Rouen). A timid attempt was made years later by Simbin, with GT Legends, that brought an impressive number of classic vehicles, however coupled with modern tracks. ISI was maybe on the right track, with the Spark, Eve and Howston cars, and the Monaco, Monza and Spa tracks in their 60es look and layouts. It went on to release the Brabham BT20 and secure more licenses too, but then it all went suddenly quiet and the progress on that front stopped.
Now, I am obviously aware that there is no scheme or secret behind the lack of a more massive presence of vintage cars and tracks in sims, or even of a full-dedicated sim to any vintage series. They simply do not sell well enough. They are good for some brief appearances in a DLC or a Free Update, but that is it.
Reasons can be many. First, people, me included, like to get in the same cars they are watching on TV or on stream and drive them after the real race. Maybe it is a desire to emulate their drivers and to feel a bit closer to the motorsport world we love so much. Maybe, it is a challenge we pose to ourselves, to see if we have what it gets to be on the same levels of professional racing drivers.
Another reason that was told me is that classic racecars are “hard to drive”. To be honest, I was frankly surprised by this statement. I never looked at it this way, and the more I think about it, the more it seems to me difficult to believe. Jump in any car from the early 30es to the late 70es, and all you have to do is push it to the absolute limit while managing understeer on corner entry and oversteer on corner exit, while not over-revving the engine. That’s it. Modern F1 cars, GTs or LMPs on the other hand, require you to manage a rainbow of different tyres and compounds, sometimes even their wear levels since you have to use a limited set per race, to start with. Then there are the ABS settings, the Traction Control settings, the Hybrid settings, which open a plethora more options for energy harvesting, recovery, deploy and battery usage. If you are just content with driving these cars around, sure you can ignore them, but if you want to be competitive, these are all things that you need to be playing with while racing! Last but not least, modern racecars are heavily influenced by aero, which means that they are trickier to setup and require a less intuitive driving technique, since braking and downshifting basically at corner entry, sometimes all the way through mid-corner, is the only way to properly drive a contemporary F1. Try that in a classic racecar! Which, all considering, is much more similar in its reactions to your daily ride, and so to the way you are used to drive already. Therefore, when people say that GTs for example are easy, I do not get it. Either you are not driving the car the way it is supposed to be driven, or you truly have a passion for knots, knobs and switches, in which case it is absolutely fine.
Moreover, modern tracks, with all their chicanes and hairpins, are surely harder to learn compared to old tracks layouts, which were much plainer and focused on high speeds. In this case, a common complaint is that they are boring. This one I can get, but still, it depends on what you are driving on them. Usually, people making this kind of claim have been racing a Pagani Huayra on the 1967 version of Silverstone. You do not really need me to explain what is wrong there. Those tracks are meant for a specific kind of racecars, and only by making the right combo you can get the right level of enjoyment. Classic tracks are boring with modern racecars, just as classic racecars are hard to have fun with on modern tracks full of chicanes, for which they were not meant to be.
Now, going back to the main discussion, I understand that a sim focusing entirely on a vintage racing series will probably never happen anymore. Making a sim based on a motor racing championship of the past is no easy task, I get it. Acquiring licenses for brands that do not exist anymore, manufacturers that have been sold or shut, and drivers that may unfortunately not be around anymore… Not to count properly modelling cars and tracks. It is too easy, and very much wrong, to model a car after its restored counterpart. You have to look at photos, footage and documents from the time to get it proper right.
What I want to say however is that, maybe, besides rightful reasons, there are also some misconceptions and prejudices that keep simracers away from classic content and from enjoying it the way it is supposed to be. Which is then stopping any developer from being more confident in approaching this subject for their sims.
I’d like to end also by saying that the past, meant as heritage, needs to be preserved. In a world digitally evolving, where technologies matter more and more every day, simulations, in my opinion, will need to take an important role at some point. To be a mean to keep and save history. In our specific case, that of the motorsport and of all the humanity, with its emotions, sacrifices and hopes, that has been behind it. Because that is what the motorsport is made of, many human stories adding up in a quest of technological perfection, which should not and cannot be forgotten.
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