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Saturday, August 13, 2005

Nick Heidfeld GT4 Challenge

The UK based Evo magazine ran a series of articles about the Nurburgring recently. No, no, not that silly Tilke designed dog that holds the European Grand Prix every year. No, I'm talking about the original and peerless Nordschleife. Yeah, that track you get to play with on Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo 4. One of the articles in Evo featured BMW Williams driver, Nick Heidfeld who gave a taxi ride at the fabled circit to writer John Barker in the latest V10 engined BMW M5.

As he trundled along the Nordschleife, Quick Nick more than once compared driving it in real life with Kazunori's masterpiece on the Sony Playstation. It seems our Nick, like a lot of these young drivers, loves to have a go on video games. And if the Evo article is anything to go by, the Nordschleife modelled in GT4 is quite accurate. Evo even suggests getting familiar with the track on GT4 first before tackling the real thing.

Anyway, in the article Nick Heidfeld states the quickest time he's lapped the Nordschleife on Playstation. And hence this challenge.

Playing in arcade mode, take the Opel Astra DTM racer, using soft (presumably R5) tyres, with the car set up for maximum horsepower (552 bhp as allowed in arcade mode) and minimum weight (900kg), Nick Heidfeld sets a time of 6m 04s.

The challenge is, using the same car i.e. the Opel Astra DTM racer, on the same circuit, the Nordschleife, beat his time. Its got to be done in arcade mode and for god's sake, no cheat modes and the like. By the way, Quick Nick uses the gamepad, not a steering wheel. I've never played GT4 using a force feedback wheel before. Though I'd imagine it to be harder than using a gamepad.

Now when I first set about trying to beat Nick's time, I thought to myself it wasn't going to be a big deal. After all, I once watched Nigel Mansell have a go at a grand prix arcade game (the name escapes me now) and he was just completely hopeless on it. He kept hitting the walls and going off. Driving on the video game was different he said because in real life you get to see far off into the distance and thus was able to better anticipate and plan ahead. So was Nick going to be any different? I thought not at first.

When I play GT4 on arcade mode, I usually just accept whatever the console gives me. I never ever change the set up of the car. The car's original 1000kg weight, 460 bhp power and R2 race tyres are used. So, it was on my first attempt. I took the Opel DTM, did a lap and 6 minutes and 44 seconds later came to a conclusion that I needed more work on this. Now, the Astra itself is a fine car to drive. Rock stable and very quick through the twisty bits, blunted only by the tiniest whiff of understeer but nothing to be concerned about.

I read the Evo article again and adjusted the set up of the car. I dropped the weight down to 900kg and increased the power to 552 bhp and stuck with R2 rubber. The lap times improved but not by much. Out went R2 tyres for R3. The lap times tumble again. 6m 24s. This is proving a little tough. So, I figured when Nick said he chose soft tyres he meant the R5 super softs. Alrighty then. R5 it is.

I really love the Nordschleife. I've never driven the real thing ever but I've promised myself that I'd do it once at least in my lifetime. The combination of medium and high speed sweeps is completely intoxicating. Even on the Playstation. I've yet to meet anyone who prefers that awful Tilke like Twin Ring Montegi to the Nurburgring. There's just no contest. Other console and pc games claim to be more realistic than GT4 but hey, none of them include the Nordschleife circuit. Plus GT4 was developed by a petrolhead in association with a group of petrolheads including those good folks at Evo magazine UK. In addition, if its good enough for Nick Heidfeld, its good enough for us mere mortals.

Back on the Playstation, my first run on R5 tyres saw me do 6m 15s. Goddamn. When I first started GT4 I played the Nordschleife more than any other circuit. In fact, I didn't play any other circuit except the Nurburgring. Of course when you first start there's not much choice of cars so my favourite thing was to go in arcade mode and lap it in the '05 BMW M5. 7m 27s is my record in the V10 monster. (Oh and to my rivals... you losers have yet to beat that!) Standard power and weight on S2 tyres. I actually prefer to lap in normal cars because it feels more realistic. After all, I wouldn't know how a real Audi R8 feels like but the M5 would be more familiar.

So, after my first run I was a little disturbed knowing that I'm 11 seconds off Quick Nick's time. Still, I figure I must be lifting off where I shouldn't and plain just not quick enough in the twisty bits. I make a renewed effort. After a few times, I'm down to 6m 9s. That's more like it but I'm still 5 seconds off his time. Over 73 corners this means that on average I need to be 0.068 seconds quicker on each one. That's quite achievable.

If I didn't have that 6m 4s record to chase I probably would've stopped right there. But ain't no way I'm stopping at that. As it is, I'm learning that I'm too slow in the first third of the lap, from turn 1 all the way Schwedenkruez. After a few runs I'm gaining 2 seconds just over that section alone. Flugplatz can be taken in top gear after the slightest of dabs on the brakes. And the left kink after Fuchsrohre and into Adenauer-Forst I needn't shift down to fifth. Just a slight tap on the brakes.

My favourite section of the Nordschleife is from Karusselll to Galgenkopf. Mostly medium speed corners in third and fourth but those really are the best bits. I discover that I'm too slow in the Opel through Wipperman and Brunnchen. I'm so used to the M5 you see. The bewinged and diffusered Opel can take those beautiful turns way way quicker. I also discover that whereas you'd brake and downshift before the jump going into Pflanzgarten 2 in the M5, you needn't worry about the Opel. Just go through it flat in fifth. Brilliant. Even in arcade mode the Opel copes with the bumps of Pflanzgarten 2 perfectly ensuring you can snatch sixth in that section. Normally in simulation mode I'd set the suspension really soft and raise the ride height so that the suspension has more travel to cope with bumps and jumps. My Audi R8 for instance is set with near road car levels of spring stiffness, with the absolute minimum of bump damping but an appropriate level of rebound damping.

Still I'm 5 seconds adrift. The other challenge with the Nordschleife is keeping consistent. Because its such a long lap, my performance over a section of the lap differs greatly from one lap to another. On some runs I'm quick of sector 2 whereas on others I'm quick on sector 1 but completely blow it on sector 2. Keeping consistent is a must.

In the end I do it. The lap wasn't perfect but I made it. Again I find massive gains on sector 1 of the lap, especially through Hatzenbach and Flugplatz. I'm up by nearly 2.9 seconds over there. But then I start losing time at Fuchsrohre and Adenauer Forst. And again I lose it at Exmuhle. That nasty bump in the middle of Exmuhle sending the Opel into understeer and I'm forced to slow down. Still I'm 2 seconds quicker overall on this run. I do well over the next sector and coming out of Galgenkopf and hitting the timing beam on the long straight I'm 3.999 seconds ahead of my previous record. I'm not sure if I've come out that tricky corner before the straight well enough but we'll see. My foot is flat on the floor all the way to the third last tight right hander before the start finish. At the start finish line the time on the board is 6m 04.417s.

Phew! That was tough. OK so I know there are some of you out there quicker than Nick and I but this was a challenge for me and my limited abilities at least. Could I do a faster lap time? I know I can. In fact on subsequent runs, again I find massive gains of over a second at the first sector. Man, I must have really sucked through there previously. Alas, on those subsequent runs I end up crashing at one point or another, overdoing my effort. Still, I know I can go quicker. I just need to be more consistent.

Though, using a joypad on the Playstation being consistent is kinda hard but its all a matter of timing your button presses correctly. Some people might not know this but its also possible to keep a constant throttle using the joypad. Just feather the throttle button and keep it steady. The car will assume a constant throttle. Essential especially when going through slow corners and hairpins like the Karussell.

I haven't beaten Nick Heidfeld... yet. But I've matched him. Well, at least on Playstation. I know I'll never even come remotely close to him in real life. Even Quick Nick has reservations tackling the Nordschleife in the M5. In the article he admits to easing up during the taxi ride. On the Playstation you don't have to contend with g-forces and the violence that actually goes on during the course of a lap in any car. There are also no problems about whether you're brave enough to take Fuchsrorhe flat out. In real life, the Nordschleife must be a scary place. Thrilling but really scary. Getting it wrong there would in Nick Heidfelds words "be madness."

So if you fancy benchmarking yourself with a Formula 1 driver, then take up the challenge. Again, no cheating. Use the Opel DTM racer in arcade mode. 6m 04s is your target.

I suggest you buy a copy of Evo and read the article. Its brilliant especially if you're planning a trip to the Nordschleife any time soon. Its got a complete guide to the legendary circuit including where to stay and places to go. Also check out www.nurburgring.org.uk for more information. Ben Lovejoy's guide must be the web's best.

I really must go to the Eifel region in Germany before I die. Oh and to John Barker of Evo magazine: You may have helped develop GT4 but you suck! 6m 25s? That's chump change. 5m 53s in the Audi R8 (simulation mode, R1 tyres, 911 bhp) is your time to beat mate.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Other PC games don't include the Nordschleife?" Please... take a look at Grand Prix Legends which not only includes the Nordschelife, but has several hubdred real-life track addons. As well as racing physics far beyond the capacity of consoles. Of course GPL is an uncompromising similator, and you're not going to be doing 6 min laps on the Nordschleife. (Hehe). Take a look at the Sim Racing Mirror Zone, and the Race Sim Central forums. Catch up man, you could be having a really enjoyable time.
Cheers,
Todo

Jay Steele said...

Great article, Qwerty! I'll definitely have to fire up GT4 and have a go in the next few days.

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