Grand Prix Legends (nicknamed GPL) is a computer racing simulator developed by Papyrus Design Group and published in 1998 by Sierra Entertainment. It simulates the 1967 Formula One season and is considered by many people who play with it one of the most realistic racing games ever released.
The 1967 season is widely viewed as a turning point in Formula One, which was probably the reason it was chosen by the developers of GPL. The cars were powerful again after the rules changes of 1966 but had no aerodynamic wings as yet. They were still using only treaded tyres, which made them very delicate to drive. It was also the last full season before commercial sponsors' liveries replaced the teams' traditional national racing colours in 1968.
The risks involved in motor racing in the early-1960s were acknowledged and understood, and the general view was that like bullfighting, danger was an inherent part of the sport that you had to accept if you wished to participate. As the 60s progressed, the sport became increasingly professional and attitudes began to change. Jackie Stewart's shaping experience of being soaked in fuel while being trapped in a BRM wreck at Spa 1966 led directly to him, alongside BRM team boss Louis Stanley both becoming outspoken advocates for motor racing safety. The shocking fiery crash of Lorenzo Bandini at the Monaco chicane in 1967 and, in particular, the hugely talented Jim Clark's death at Hockenheim in a F2 race in 1968 that got Formula One as a whole to start thinking on the topic of safety more seriously. As one result of that, the 1969 race at Spa and the 1970 race at Nürburgring did not take place due to the drivers boycotting the sites as safety upgrades were not installed as demanded. A simulation based on these seasons would lack these great tracks.
The game, developed under the direction of David Kaemmer and Randy Cassidy, was published in 1998 by the Papyrus division of Sierra Entertainment. To this day it maintains a reputation as a very realistic race car simulator. Its strong points are fairly accurate car physics (how the car responds and feels on the track), reasonably attractive graphics, impressive engine sound effects, good online racing and solid Internet support from its user community. The weak points are the game's difficulty as the cars are quite difficult to drive well (although many fans consider this to be a virtue, as Formula One cars of that era were difficult to drive compared to modern high-downforce cars), and some minor physics flaws, such as primitive aerodynamic modelling (for drag etc.), and a simplified tire model that completely omits tire wear, although, in 1967, racing tires on F1 cars would not wear out during a race and might regularly be used for more than one event.
The cars available include the Lotus 49, the Ferrari 312, the Eagle-Weslake T1G, the Brabham BT24 and the H 16 powered BRM P115 (which though striking was not a great success; indeed, Jackie Stewart called it the worst car he drove in his entire career). There are also two fantasy cars to choose from, the Murasama and the Coventry — thinly disguised versions of the Honda RA300 and the Cooper T81B, with licensing issues precluding these particular marques from being included in the game. There are third party patches available to put the Cooper and Honda names back in the game. Some cars appeared only late in the season, especially the Lotus 49 which did not take part in Kyalami and Monaco. For all the cars, there are significant graphic updates available, most notably from the GPLEA (GPL Editors Association), which make the cars look far more realistic and detailed. Most of these were included in the GPL 2004 Demo but there have been subsequent upgrades.
The player races against the top drivers of 1967 including Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme, Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, Pedro Rodríguez, and Lorenzo Bandini. Jackie Stewart was not included due to licensing issues.
Unlike the real 1967 season the make-up of the teams remains stable throughout the year. The driver list is not entirely accurate, since some of the computer-controlled drivers appeared only rarely in real life. For instance, the Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise is driving a BRM in the game, although in fact he drove a Formula 2 Matra (at that time it was not unknown to see an F2 machine entered in an F1 Grand Prix) on three occasions in 1967, and never drove a BRM before 1972. The presence of the Belgian Jacky Ickx who had a minor role in 1967 (driving only at the Nürburgring — also in an F2 car — and at Monza) is also noteworthy in this regard. There are third party patches available to change the driver list.
There are 11 vintage 1967 tracks included with the simulator. These include the high speed Monza circuit in Italy, the roller-coaster-like Mosport track in Canada, the tight streets of Monaco, and the original 14 mile long Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany.
All but one of the races in the game are held on the tracks used for the real 1967 season. The French Grand Prix is raced at Rouen-Les-Essarts in GPL, even though the actual Grand Prix that year was held at the Le Mans Bugatti track. This change from reality met little opposition from players: while the Rouen track, site of the 1968 French GP, passes through beautiful landscapes and is pretty interesting for the driver, the Bugatti track and its surrounding landscape is generally considered somewhat lacking in interest by comparison. In fact, the Bugatti circuit proved unpopular with the drivers at that time, Denny Hulme calling it a "Mickey Mouse" track.
Also, licensing issues were probably a factor. Eventually, a version of the Bugatti Circuit was released by the community. (The Alternative GPL Track Database)
David Kaemmer said that "Driving a 1967 GP car is more difficult than driving just about anything else, and the simulation is more difficult than driving a real car... many people think that it feels like driving on ice."
In some ways GPL is more a virtual sport than a game. The essence of GPL is the talent required to drive these classic cars around the challenging circuits of the 1967 era. As in learning to play a fine musical instrument, the player must have the patience and the light, smooth touch to get the most from these machines.
Much of the difficulty in driving the GPL machines is due to the accuracy of the physics model, which is limited to dry conditions. Wet races are not missed, though, as the car handling is somewhat slippery anyway. 1967 Grand Prix F1 cars made a large amount of power i.e. over 350 hp (260 kW), had very little mass i.e. about 500 kg (1100 lb), and rode on hard, skinny, 'pre-radial' tires, with no downforce of any kind. All of these factors contributed to what in reality was one of the more dangerous Formula 1 seasons the series would know. Virtual racers can still get away with pushing the reset button, affectionately known as "Shift-R".
While Grand Prix Legends provided the most realistic (and hence, difficult) simulation of automotive physics in a PC game at its launch, the reputation of "difficult to drive" was exacerbated by a number of decisions made both for the demo and the launch of version 1.0.
The demo version gave users a taster of the Brabham F1 car at the Watkins Glen circuit. Unfortunately, the car was set up with approximately one degree of positive camber angle whereas an actual car of that era would have run one or more degrees of negative camber. Negative camber proportionally increases the lateral grip produced by the outside tire when cornering. Positive camber proportionally reduces the amount of grip available from the outside tire when cornering. This resulted in a car whose cornering grip was markedly less than it should have been and whose grip decreased more sharply than expected when the car turned a corner, greatly increasing the skill required to drive the car quickly.
When version 1.0 of the game was launched, it allowed users the option to drive "Novice Trainer", "Advanced Trainer" or fully fledged F1 cars. The Novice Trainer and Advanced Trainer cars approximated F3 and F2 regulations in that they had reduced power and in the case of the Novice Trainer, fewer gears. These trainers were more forgiving to drive, but the game only allowed the cars to be used for practice sessions. It was only possible to race against the computer using the F1 cars, which meant that a player's first experience of competition was in an F1 car at F1 speeds with F1 opponents.
A further complication affected users with lower powered PCs. Version 1.0 of Grand Prix Legends allowed users to reduce the number of computer opponents if their PCs were unable to render a full grid of cars at a reasonable frame rate. Unfortunately, reducing the field was achieved by removing cars from the back of the grid starting with the slowest, leaving a reduced grid containing only the fastest drivers.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect to the game's reputation was that of ride height.http://alison.hine.net/gpl/grehelp/ride.htm
Grand Prix cars from 1967 typically ran 5 to 6 inches of ground clearance, unlike the later ground effect cars that were designed to have the chassis as close to the ground as possible. Version 1.0 of Grand Prix Legends, allowed its cars to be set up with a ground clearance of only one inch.
Lowering the ride height lowers the center of gravity of the car which helps improve cornering ability by reducing the roll moment of the chassis. It also has the side effect of reducing the amount of suspension travel available.
When the suspension in a car is fully compressed, it reaches the bump stops, small blocks of rubber that catch the suspension arms at the end of their range of movement. This is often referred to as "bottoming out". Once a car's suspension reaches the bump stops, its effective spring rate increases sharply as the bump stops are effectively very hard springs. Increasing the spring rate at one wheel transfers weight onto this wheel and away from the other wheels, causing the car to understeer if it is one of the front wheels or oversteer if it is one of the rear wheels. The sudden onset of understeer or oversteer can result in loss of control if the driver does not react quickly enough to the change in handling.
The default setups in Grand Prix Legends combined uncharacteristically low ride heights with short bump stops which resulted in cars whose suspension frequently "bottomed out" and oscillated abruptly between the expected spring rates and much higher bump stop spring rates. This caused the cars to behave erratically over kerbs, bumps and any significant application of acceleration or braking, with only the highly skilled able to fully exploit these "low rider" or "go-kart" setups.
The problem was further complicated by the lack of audible feedback when the cars hit the bump stops, leaving many drivers scratching their heads at the erratic handling of the early setups.
Papyrus were aware that there would be difficulties for the novice even before the simulator was released. On the very first page of the manual, it cautions, "The first time you go out on the track, you WILL spin and crash. This is because, the first time they play Grand Prix Legends, EVERYBODY spins and crashes." Rumor among simulator racing enthusiasts was that when Jackie Stewart had an opportunity to drive the simulator in the late stages of development, he claimed that it was harder to drive than the actual 1967 Formula One cars.
Papyrus recognised the ride-height problem and the first patch (version 1.1) prevented setups from being lower than 2.5 inches. However, both the default setups and the majority of third-party setups were still designed with the theory used on modern, high-downforce race cars, with the car as low as possible with an extremely stiff suspension to prevent the car from bottoming out at speed (due to increased aerodynamic downforce not present on 1967 era cars).
Increasing the ride height back up to 1967 levels transformed the handling of the cars and demonstrated the power and sophistication of Grand Prix Legends, but the reputation of "overly difficult handling" and "no grip" was already established. However, for those who were willing to try the more realistic setups, it became obvious that, while total grip levels were still realistically low, the cars were now extremely driveable.
When it was launched, GPL required what was for the time quite high-end hardware. While a software renderer is available, for smooth gameplay a 3D card was all but essential, and GPL supports only two types: 3dfx and Rendition Verité. GPL's box states that the minimum CPU required with hardware acceleration is a Pentium 90, and without it a Pentium 166, but in reality both these figures are well short of what is needed for a satisfactory frame rate.
While acclaimed by the press in 1998 as the most realistic racing simulator ever, GPL did not sell very well, especially in the US where a Formula One-based racing game holds less appeal than it does in the rest of the world. Also, the cars were difficult to drive, while the game's hardware requirements meant that it did not run well on many computers at the time of its release.
GPL's lack of inbuilt support for 3D accelerator cards other than those produced by 3dfx and Rendition contributed to a decrease in sales when those cards became obsolete, since at the time there was no Direct3D support.
As of 2004 total sales were around 200,000 units. Many of these sales came quite late in the game's life, when increase in CPU power made the game run more smoothly, and after Papyrus had released patches to allow GPL to work with modern graphics accelerators. The addition of Force Feedback support also helped. The release of the game on budget ranges, the inclusion of a demo CD with the Nürburgring in the track's official 1999 season magazine as well as its giveaway in Germany in a 2001 issue of the magazine PC Action, also encouraged newcomers to GPL.
An out-of-the-box copy of GPL lacks several features that one might expect from a modern driving simulation, and so most people add as a matter of course several patches: the official version 1.2 patch that adds force feedback; a second patch to add Direct3D and/or OpenGL support; and a third patch that gets around a problem that prevents the original game from working on computers with CPUs faster than 1.4 GHz. It was considered best to get the most recent "all-in-one v2" patch from SimRacing Mirror Zone to get this sim working at its best but the newly formed Grand Prix Legends Preservation Society has come out with a new installer which not only installs GPL for the user, upgrading all the tracks and cars that come with GPL to the latest specification, but also helps with custom programs that are invaluable to the user. There is an original demo that was succeeded by the newer Grand Prix Legends 2004 Demo which has all the required patches included plus upgrades to the cars and track (as of 2004) that are included within the original one.
In later years, it became possible to have regularly-patched GPL running not only on Windows, but also on competing operating systems such als Linux and Mac OS X due to improvements in API-emulating programs such as Wine and Cider. Some configuration modifications have to be made before the program, despite its apparent lack of 'dirty programming', will run, however.
The backbone of this game is its strong community. There are updates and addons for all tracks, cars, menus, AI, and drivers. There are now more than 500 tracks made by the game's fans, which are listed at the Alternative GPL Track Database. On-line races are organised using Virtual Racers' Online Connection. Also available now is a new online tool called iGOR which comes with GEM+ 2 (a necessary tool for all the new mods.) Many other tools are available, including those allowing telemetry-like analysis and various degrees of customisation. These tools are often used for verification of laptimes for inclusion on the GPLRank laptime ranking system.
Testimony to this strong community support, are the extensive graphical updates of the original Monaco track, where numerous photos of the actual GP at the time were collected from the private collections of many people within the community. This to make sure that all the buildings, billboard, bridges and tunnels were historically correct. The project got the name Monaco Rocks and it has been in the works for years, over which period it constantly put out updates of the track.
Another noteworthy feature is the track Montjuich Park. As with the Monaco Rocks project, numerous historical photo's and video's were used to create the most historically correct track possible. With the help of some people within the GPL community, who apperently had connections with Spanish broadcasting companies, the track (along with the 69 mod) served as a representitive retrospective view of the former Spanish GP track during the broadcast of the Spanish GP 2007, with Sir Jackie Stewart commenting on a full on-board lap.
GPL Trackmakers already knew that the original game had a 25 kilometre limit when it came to track length. Modders have now tackled this limitation and patches are being released which solve this problem. In 2009, 11 years after Grand Prix Legends originally came out, and with the length problem out of the way, the community has almost finished its most ambitious project up to now: the realization of the full 72 km long Targa Florio track.
In the spring of 2004 the first community made mod for GPL was released (now in version 2). Since the game was proprietary software, and there were no official tools or SDKs available from Papyrus, almost everything had to be worked out from scratch, the whole process taking about four years. The mod represents the 1965 Formula One season, the last one where Formula 1 used relatively tiny 1500cc engines. It contains all the cars and drivers and a changed physics engine, which is considered at least as realistic as the original. Due to the smaller engines the cars in this mod are generally considered to be more easy-handling than the 1967 3-litre cars, especially for beginning drivers. In 2004 the 65 Mod won the 'Best Mod' award at Blackhole Motorsports , an international website aimed at 'hardcore' simracers. Download and Instructions
There is a new patch for the 65 mod that allows for better racing, it can be found HERE
Subsequent mods have been somewhat easier to make (since most of the hard work was done for the 1965 mod). In March 2005, the ThunderCars mod was released, which simulates a fictional spec racing series. The cars are very loosely based on early 1970s IndyCars, only with 426 cid (7.0 litre) big-block V8 engines making 625 hp. The cars are quite fast (with some tracks allowing speeds well in excess of 235 mph), but the big block engine and extra fuel needed to run it during a race make the car less nimble than the F1 cars, while increasing braking distances. Offsetting this somewhat is the addition of slick tires. On June 23, 2006 Thundercars Part2 was released, featuring adjustable wing physics similar to those in the 1969 mod.
ThunderCars announcement and download
ThunderCars Part2 release
The next mod released was one based on the 1969 Formula One season. This mod adds aerodynamic downforce to the physics model, a feature not included in the original physics model. As of the initial release, the wings were only adjustable outside the game in the GEM+ utility (also used to reconfigure GPL for the various mods), while in-game wing settings were later realised in the Part 2 release. Also, there are three carsets: one representing the pre-Monaco, high-wing configuration, one representing the post-Monaco, low wing configuration, and one without wings as used at Monaco (due to wings being temporarily banned because of major accidents at Montjuïc Park and the Thursday practice session at Monaco). The aero physics will be the same in any case, including removal of the wings for speed at the cost of downforce. The 1969 Mod was released on December 13, 2005 with the high-wing car models. Part 2, which features the low-wing car models, in-game adjustable downforce, a revised downforce model that fixes an issue with the front wing, and several other tweaks and enhancements, was released on May 5, 2006. The final release was brought out on April 8, 2007. The major additions and enhancements from the previous two releases include the wingless car models, a more realistic slipstreaming effect, and many "mod specific" enhancements, meaning that the 1969 Mod can have its own setup separate from the original game and other mods, all the way down to different track graphics.
1969 Mod homepage
This is another fictional mod that was released on April 2, 2006. It includes the original cars and ’65 Mod cars but the difference is that these have lights to be able to drive the Night Tracks. Until 2008 there had never been any Grand Prix races run in the dark but that doesn’t stop this unusual mod from being quite pleasurable.
Night Mod announcement and info/pictures --
Download and installation guide
This mod was formally announced on August 8, 2006. Naturally, the mod simulates the 1966 F1 season, with the cars themselves being based on the late season grid to allow as many cars as possible to be nearer the three litre engine formula that the 1966 rules allowed, as opposed to the two litre engines that some teams ran early in the season. The teams are the same teams from 1967, but the cars are generally lower powered (5-10%, excluding the Eagle, which had to use a 2.7 litre Climax 4-cylinder due to the Weslake engine not being ready), and generally somewhat heavier than their 1967 counterparts. The mod includes all the physics developments from the previous 65 and 69 mods (though even further refined), including the downforce model (which winds up being slight lift on these non-winged cars), more realistic tyre characteristics and the slipstreaming enhancements. Another new feature with this mod is that car choice has been expanded from 7 to 16 (out of a possible 19) and more tracks than 64 per season can be installed. To increase the realism of 60's engine characteristics, most run irregularly at low revs. The 66 Mod was released on December 26, 2007.
1966 Mod homepage
There is a new patch for the 66 mod that allows for better racing, it can be found HERE.
Future mods, planned or in progress if in most cases graphic conversion tools work, include a Rallye mod, 1935, 1937, 1941, 1951 and 1955 Grand Prix mods, 1964 and 1967 World Sportscar Championship mods, a Lotus Cortina mod, a Caterham mod, and at least a 1966 and 1971 CanAm mod.
Also, a mod for 1967 F2 and (to a lesser extent) F3 is in the works. Physics settings in the original package allowed a very rough simulation of 1967 F2 and F3, but the appearance of the cars was unchanged and the physics were less accurate than their F1 counterpart. The mod is expected to provide F2 car-shapes, physics and cockpits.
In 2001, a revised version of the GPL engine was used for NASCAR Racing 4. This game was a big hit in the United States, although as usual with NASCAR games, much less so in Europe. The final incarnation of the GPL engine can be found in NASCAR Racing 2003 Season which was considered at the time to be the benchmark of motorsport simulation excellence, particularly with respect to the tire model. More recently, the online subscription-based simulation iRacing, also designed by Kaemmer and built on the NASCAR Racing 2003 Season code basehttp://www.iracing.com/contact/faq.php.