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This was the Golden Age of Simracing

There’s no doubt that since the start of 2020, simracing has experienced one of the best periods in its history. But, with controversial stories raising their head seemingly every week, can we really call this the best era? I would argue that the ultimate time to be a simracer was over 20 years ago.

With plenty of amazing games and a competitive online community, modern simracing is certainly a great place to be. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get nostalgic every now and then. Despite the amazing quality of today’s racing titles, I find myself continually drawn to an older time.

I’m talking about a time when online racing and graphical beauty weren’t the focus, as they simply couldn’t be achieved. A time when disc installs and a lack of high-speed internet meant updates were far from the norm. A time when variety was the spice of life, and racers had a bountiful choice of games.

The golden age of simracing that I’m talking about is that of the early-2000’s. My childhood. My first foray into the amazing world we all love so much today.

Great Variety in Games

Back in the early-2000’s, simracing was a relatively new concept. Yes, the idea of replicating motorsport in a game dates back to the days of arcades. But, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that games like NASCAR Racing and the Formula One Grand Prix series brought simracing to people’s homes.

As such, the genre experienced huge growth throughout the 1990s and early 2000’s, making for some amazing creations. The constant development of gaming technology meant that developers could easily find their niche. Formula 1 alone was seen in a plethora of titles from developers like EA, Sony and Geoff Crammond.

But, it was around 2003-2006 that diversity truly reigned in my opinion. Rallying saw the Group A class’ popularity transfer to gaming. The Colin McRae games sat alongside the infamous Richard Burns Rally while the V-Rally series added a unique career to the rallying niche. The list goes on with companies like DICE and Evolution Studios joining the party. Compare this vast array to today’s rallying scene; modern fans have very little choice.

Furthermore, this simracing variety spread across a multitude of series. During this time, Gran Turismo seemed to be in its prime with believable physics and an enthralling take on its career mode.

Meanwhile, PC racers benefitted from the wide array of sim titles using the ISI engine from rFactor 1. This, originally basic, game designed to generate a modding community spawned many following games still considered commendable sims today. Simbin used the engine for its GTR, GTR 2 and GT Legends games. Additionally, nearly 10 years after its initial adoption, the ISImotor engine provided the base of Game Stock Car which later became the first Automobilista.

Finally, believe it or not, this era gave birth to iRacing. In 2003, Papyrus Design Group released what is still considered the best NASCAR and oval racing game of all time, NR 2003. The huge success this title gathered allowed the team to begin development on the Massively Multiplayer Online game we know and love, iRacing.

A Different Community Ethos

Today, simracing title creation focuses around one main goal; online racing and esports. Don’t get me wrong, this is great. The ability to jump into pretty much any racing game on the market and immediately be able to race other real people is truly a gift. But, when it takes away from other aspects of gaming, it can get tiresome.

Not every day of the week do I want to feel the pressure of racing wheel-to-wheel with someone I don’t know. Getting good at a car-track combination is time consuming. But, when an hour of practice culminates in a Turn 1 pileup and a two-hour wait for the next race, it can feel like a waste.

The great thing about the golden age of simracing is that online racing was much less of a thing. The internet was barely fast enough or reliable enough to host online racing, let alone make it the main focus of a game. As such, developers created in-depth and enthralling offline modes.

Titles like GTR2 and rFactor had brilliant AI that would race you in a semi-immersive way. GT Legends is remembered for having one of the most involving offline career modes. And Nascar Racing 2003 put together an offline oval racing experience that’s still class-leading today.

Rather than racing, the internet was predominantly used as a way of communicating with other simracers. Forums were the chance to share you experiences, compare setups and lap times. YouTube was in its infancy, but tutorials on how to create your own tracks, cars and liveries still featured in trough-loads. Back then, the toxic arguments between game fanbases were easier to avoid and seemingly rarer than they are today.

Enjoy Simracing’s Golden Age Today

If, after reading why I’m constantly looking back at this amazing time in simracing, you want a piece of the old-school pie, you’re in luck. The best thing about all these great titles releasing nearly 20 years ago is that they run on 20-year-old computers.

Since then, PC technology has come on leaps and bounds. As such, pretty much anything with a screen can run most of these games. Until a few years ago, I would run GTR2 with countless third-party mods on a Microsoft Surface, essentially a tablet. Work some coding magic and you might even be able to run rFactor 1 on a calculator.

It is relatively easy, therefore, to jump into any of these golden age simracing titles, even if you don’t have the strongest of computers. Furthermore, with modded content, many of them stand up proudly alongside more recent games. Better still, being so old, most of these games are either extremely cheap, like GT Legends on Steam which costs just £5/€6. Some, like Richard Burns Rally on Rally Sim Fans, are even free.

So what are you waiting for? Dive into the exciting world of early-2000s simracing and never look back.

Which era of simracing are you most fond of? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

A petrol head and motorsports fan since the early days, sim racing has been a passion of mine for a number of years. The perfect way to immerse myself in my true dream job; racing driver. With lots of experience jotting down words about the car industry, I am happy to share my passion for pretend race cars here on Overtake!