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Nurburgring Nordschleife Simulations

The Nurburgring Nordschleife is a very difficult circuit to learn being 12.9 miles long.  The number of corners is debated but the official figure is 73.  Add to this the undulating nature of the track with many blind corners or crests and you can see how it is commonly reckoned that it takes 50 laps to learn the corner sequence and another 50 to learn the lines!  However these days it is possible to buy a computer game and learn the course from that.  In fact if you eavesdrop on conversations in the 'ring car park it won't be long before you hear people talking about their GT4 laptimes.  Of course this is never going to substitute for actually driving the place in a  real car but it does let you learn the order of corners, which ones are fast, which are slow etc.  This then greatly reduces the number of laps needed to learn the circuit in a real car.

Gran Turismo 4

Forza Motorsports

The first computer game to contain the 'ring was Grand Prix Legends on the PC, released in 1998.  I have never played this but understand the track is a good representation even if the graphics are poor and the selection of cars limited (the game is based on the 1967 Grand Prix season).

Since then there have been 3 console games that have included the Green Hell.  The first on the scene was Project Gotham Racing 2 on the Xbox followed by Gran Turismo 4 on the Playstation 2 and Forza Motorsports on the Xbox.  It is these games that are discussed here.

Project Gotham Racing 2 (PGR2) was never billed as a racing simulator, it is more of an arcade style racer, and for this reason it is the least realistic of the games.  The track layout is roughly right but the gradients are frequently not apparent and the corners are often not tight enough.  Couple this with cars that can accelerate and, especially, brake much faster than their real life counterparts and this game is not a patch on the other two.  Yes, you can learn the sequence of corners but in most cars many of the bends are flat out in the game when in real life you'd be braking for them!  This is reflected in the Xbox Live records for the track which are about 1 1/2 minutes faster than the real cars can manage.

Gran Turismo 4 (GT4) and Forza are much closer to the real thing.  The makers of GT4 said that every track feature was accurate to within 25mm when they were making the game.  They also said that you could drive the course on the game in a given car, learn all the braking points and turn in points, then do a virtually identical laptime in a  real car of the same model.  A bold claim indeed.

Track Accuracy

The definite winner here is GT4.  As mentioned earlier the makers claim the track is accurate to within 25mm of the real thing.  However the accuracy doesn't end there.  All of the marshal's huts and catch fencing seems to be in the correct places whereas in Forza these things are frequently not featured at all.  Even the Armco is faithfully reproduced.  Most of the 'ring is lined by Armco 2 rails high but in lots of places there are shorter sections that are 3 rails high.  Once again GT4 has this in the right place and Forza usually has 2 rails all the way around.  Forza also has inaccuracies such as a small area of grass between the track and the Armco on the outside of Karussell when, in reality, the Armco is right on the edge of the track.  The biggest error in Forza is that the inside of Bergwerk should have a huge earth bank which means you can't see through it but in the game the bank drops away well before the corner with the result that you can easily see through what should be a blind corner!

A friend who has done more than 1700 laps of the 'ring (test driver for a major manufacturer) has this to say about GT4:

"It looks very realistic. Adenauer forst seems a bit wide, Werseifen too and
there are not as much trees in some places. The Karusel seems a bit flat.
The width of the circuit is OK and the bumps also seem realistic. I had a
few offs in places where you also get in trouble very easy in a real car.

However, scenery apart, the Forza track is a pretty good representation and is probably based on the same DGPS model that the Nurburgring sell to games companies.  All the bends look about right and elevation changes are apparent, however all is not as it seems - see the next section!

Bergwerk in GT4 - note bank on right and absence of Armco - all accurate

Bergwerk in Forza - no bank and Armco that should not be there!

Simulated Lap Times

This is where things get interesting.  Just for fun I used a Honda Civic Type R in each game and then compared lap times and speeds to those from Sport Auto magazine.  Sport Auto publishes what is widely accepted as the definitive set of lap times in it's monthly supertest at the 'ring.  Horst von Saurma, the magazine's driver, is a good driver and currently holds the record for a road car at the 'ring in a Porsche Carrera GT.

Now I am not a good games player and in driving games where records are maintained (such as those on Xbox Live) the best people in the world are around 5 seconds a minute faster than me.  Horst can do an 8:47 in a Civic Type R.  Within just 2 attempts on each game I had done a 9:07 on GT4 and a 10:30 in Forza.  With more practice both times would come down some more.  Then subtract the 5 seconds a minute and it looks like the GT4 times are optimistic and the Forza times are too slow.  It was easy to confirm that Forza times are slow due to the Xbox Live system.  The fastest person in the world in a Porsche Carrera GT has done a 7:59 on the Xbox while Horst has done a 7:32 in real life.  Also, the Xbox car was 'virtually modified' to make it faster.  A quick google for GT4 times shows that they are indeed too fast.

A look at the speeds in the game soon shows why for GT4.  In real life the Civic Type R hits 131mph on the way to Schwedenkreuz and takes Bergwerk at 55mph.  Even I can hit 139mph and 63mph respectively in the game.

However in Forza I can hit 142mph on the way to Schwedenkreuz and no less than 69mph through Bergwerk!  Then why are the laptimes so much slower than real life???  The answer is that the track might be accurate in terms of corners and straights etc but the scale is wrong and it is (literally) miles too long.  By driving a car round at a constant speed (manual gears, 2nd gear on the limiter) you soon find out that it is over 17 miles long instead of the 13.04 that the game claims!  Repeat the same test in GT4 and the circuit length is spot on.

Other Stuff

I own an Xbox.  In order to do this comparison I borrowed a PS2 and rented a copy of GT4.  Now I've got to say that I was quite shocked at the poor graphics on the PlayStation.  Things are very pixellated, there is loads of pop-up and very little detail off the track.  In Forza everything looks much smoother, there is a lot of trackside detail (spectators, fine branches on trees, better textures etc) and no pop-up.

Aremberg in GT4

Aremberg in Forza - note extra detail on bridge, more textured track, more detailed trees

Then there is the driving.  I found GT4 to be very sensitive to the controller input in a way that made it feel very much like an older computer game.  Also you can drive over the grass and bounce off the barriers with impunity losing very little speed.  In Forza a trip across the grass or into the barriers will slow the car down a lot and usually lead to a spin.  On top of this Forza runs a red timer that counts all the time on a lap that your car is 4 wheels off the track or collides with a barrier hard and then adds this to your laptime at the end of the lap.  This means that shortcuts and rail-riding are of no use.

Then there is the Xbox Live system.  This gives you the ability to race against others or to see other people's best times.  You can also download their ghost to race against or just to watch.  Superb stuff.


Project Gotham Racing 2 is a good arcade racer but just doesn't cut it in the company of GT4 and Forza.  GT4 is the most accurate simulation and you can learn the track right down to the scenery.  However for playability, looks and the Live features Forza is the best game.

You can probably learn the track just as well with GT4 or Forza, but remember, these are only games and you won't learn much more than where the track goes and which corners might be fast or slow in your car.  Remember our Honda Civic Type R virtual test car?  Well, here is a real one after the owner had completed less than 2 laps of the 'ring on his first visit in July 2005.  Be safe.

© Ian Crocker
Last updated on Jul 27th 2005