Some people could watch NASCAR and its purgatorial oval endlessly, but the rest of us demand a little more variety. It may not be quite up to the visual or simulation standards of its console brethren, but Race Driver 2006 is certainly a damn fine portable surrogate.
Fifteen different racing disciplines can be tackled in three main formats. The first is a career mode, through which you're introduced to the world of racing, and your mentor's thick Scottish brogue. Whether you're drifting a rally car or keeping a squirrelly open-wheeled indy from spinning out, there's more than enough diversity to keep any racing fan interested, even if your competition tends to be a bit more psycho than you'd expect. Secondary are the free racing and time trials that let you compete in championships on-the-fly, but they only become accessible once you've reached them in the main career mode.
As involving as career mode is, the rawest fun comes from the unique Trans World Cup, which also happens to be the mode best suited to racing on-the-go. Here you'll blow through a taster's choice of events across fifty-odd tracks. Some are straight races, but the most fun are variations like "Bring it Home," which starts you out at the halfway point in a damaged rig, or "Show Off" contests that encourage power slides and air time.
The physics system completes the illusion, asisted by convincingly gritty audio, but it does exhibit some subtle lag. This makes cars feel more slippery than they might otherwise, and it’s a little disconcerting to get rear-ended and see damage take effect a split second later. There's also the usual racing simulation bugaboo: drag a wheel or two in the grass, and you'll feel virtually no ill effects.
Once you're tuned to these quirks, and using the PSP's analog nub in a more sensitive manner - don't expect to get away with flicking it from one extreme to the other - these things fade from prominence. A "flip screen" option should keep southpaws happy, and three different profiles can save to a single memory stick. Up to twelve players can compete via (mostly) smooth wireless with only three copies of the game, thanks to disc sharing that lets up to four people use a single UMD.
Apart from quibbling about the physics, the only thing worth bitching about is Codemasters' heinous "bonus codes" program, whereby you get a few cheats free and have to buy the rest. Lame, considering every other publisher gives you free access to any cheats built into the game. It’s a shameless money-grab technique.
Sure, there's room for improvement in the next edition, especially where some of the ground weather effects are concerned, and it'll have to go up against Gran Turismo in 2007, but Race Driver 2006 is simply the best racing sim you can get on the PSP today.