PC gaming's five most influential racing sims

Lists are always fun—hell, Letterman’s practically made a living from them—so this month, I’ve decided to arbitrarily list the five most influential racing sims of all time. There’s some subjectivity involved here (this is an opinion column, after all), but few hardcore digital racers will argue anything other than that all of these releases had a unique impact on the genre…past, present, and future.

Indianapolis 500: The Simulation (1989)
Prior to 1989 nothing on the PC racing scene could remotely replicate the complex physics at work in a real race car. That was until an upstart company called Papyrus stunned joystick owners with a revolutionary new game showcasing the granddaddy of all motor races.

Indianapolis 500: The Simulation didn’t just break new ground with its challenging and reactive physics; it invented the racing sim as we know it today. It also launched the career of David Kaemmer, a visionary designer who would go on to become the single most influential programmer in the race simming game.

F1GP / World Circuit (1992)
Another heavy hitter on the early PC racing scene was British designer Geoff Crammond, whose Formula One Grand Prix game (World Circuit in North America) launched one of the most successful racing franchises in PC gaming history. In the four-year period between Crammond’s first masterpiece and its Grand Prix 2 sequel, I wore out two joysticks while simultaneously teaching myself to subsist on only four hours of sleep a night.

Crammond left the PC race sim scene following 2002’s Grand Prix 4, but his impact on the worldwide PC racing scene is incontestable and indelible.

Grand Prix Legends (1998)
David Kaemmer’s Massachusetts-based Papyrus Design Group spring-boarded its way to the big time with successful gaming franchises like IndyCar Racing and NASCAR Racing, but it wasn’t until the release of an obscure historical F1 sim called Grand Prix Legends in 1998 that Papy re-established itself as the Capo di tutti Capi of race sim developers. Enormously difficult yet immensely satisfying when tamed, no other racing sim before or since has so conclusively changed the culture of sim racing.

Grand Prix Legends didn't just raise the bar, it smashed it to bits

Although the game code would see significant enhancements in later products like NASCAR Racing 4 and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, none would ever compare to the trailblazing original for outright shock and awe.

rFactor / GTR (2005)
I include these two sims as one entry because, although two separate companies sell and market them, they shared common DNA at birth. Michigan-based Image Space Inc. began the journey with its critically acclaimed F1 series for EA Sports before striking out on the indie route in 2005 with rFactor. The game was an instant hit with fans and eventually went on to power Swedish developer SimBin’s ambitious GTR FIA-GT franchise later that year.

SimBin (with help from UK-based Blimey Games) has since carved out its own identity with follow-up successes like GTR2 and GT Legends, but the rFactor/GTR kinship is still responsible for the most active and prolific modding phenomenon the race sim genre has ever experienced. (2008)
It should come as no surprise that the last word on the future of racing simulations comes from our old friend Dave Kaemmer. is the new platinum standard for online racing

His recently completed online sim racing community has been building momentum since early summer and may soon eclipse all other commercial racing products as the go-to platform for serious PC race car driving. (Where else can you compete alongside real-world champions like Dale Earnhardt Jr. or A.J. Almendinger?) With its laser-scanned tracks and vehicles, unmatched physics pedigree, and closely regulated sporting code, is literally and figuratively in a league of its own.

November 4, 2008

1 comment

  • TyLanol - November 5, 2008 7:29 p.m.

    Well said, well spoken, I couldn’t agree more with your list. Seeing Indianapolis 500 The Simulation on your list brought back some fond memories of the game. I originally played the game on my Amiga 500, it was awesome, I couldn’t wait to become the next A.J. Foyt…lol I got the game on a weekend and played it so much I had to call in sick on Monday because my hand hurt so bad from driving with a joystick. I then invested in a steering wheel contraption which basically was a mouse strapped to a small block with Velcro and a pipe running through the block with a steering wheel attached to the end. It really worked well for steering but having mouse or keyboard buttons for gas and brake still was a problem. So I got two old sewing machine pedals and mounted a micro switch in each one for the gas and brake, then I hooked then up to the left and right mouse buttons, I was now able to play the game like a real racing driver….lol

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