The five most important racing simulations of all time!

Counting down the five racing simulations that need to be remembered for their contribution for the genre. 

Racing sims come and go, but over the years there are a few that distinguish themselves. These titles often introduce a feature that sets them apart from the rest of the pack, or they become a fan favorite because of their immersion into the racing world. With so many out there to choose from over decades of games the task of narrowing the list down to just five was quite the task, but take a look and see if you agree.


5: Pole Position  (1982)


It might not look like much now, but Namco, and famed designer Toru Iwatani, brought a lot to the table with this game. Pole Position was the first racing game to have a track in the game based on a real life racing circuit. It also was the first game to have the player complete a ‘time trial’ mode before entering the real race. While it seems like more of an arcade game than a simulation, the new features introduced by this game to make it more realistic compels me to call it a simulation because of the era the game was introduced in.




4: Mobil 1 Rally Championship (1999)


While Open wheel and Stock car games were gaining popularity in the 90’s this game appeared in 1999 I think being fueled by the rise in popularity of rally racing worldwide. Actualize put a large number of features in this game for the diehard rally enthusiast. The game shipped with 22 cars and 36 stages to race on. The stages were taken from real life survey maps and then built in the game adding a level of realism that was not seen in rally games before when coupled with various weather conditions as well as night driving simulations.

Mobil 1 Rally Championship was also released on PlayStation with even more stages (42) to race on. The visible vehicle damage, picturesque stages made even more memorable by the attention to detail in recreating them, and the wonderfully portrayed cars made this a definitive rally game that drove the rally simulations to even greater heights.


3: rFactor  (2005)


rFactor is a sim that has to be on this list for the pure reason that it is a game that set the bar, and has constantly asked rivals to meet it. The first version of the game was released in 2005 and was created by Image Space Incorporated. ISI was known for quality simulations in the racing sim field and elsewhere. Not only was this team working to create simulations for military applications, they were also behind the 1999 title Sports Car GT. Keep in mind that rFactor pro is used by top racing teams around the world for their applications.

Sports Car GT could almost make the list by itself due to is clean graphics, fun vehicle physics and the high quality night and wet weather effects. rFactor extends this legacy with an extremely accurate sim that builds on something that is key to creating a successful racing simulation, community customization and modding. Being able to customize your cars or the tracks in the game are generally a sure fire way to create excitement in the sim racing community. Pair that with solid graphics and a great physics model and you have a masterpiece.


2: Grand Prix 2 (1996)


Microprose and Groff Crammond followed up on their first game by releasing the sequel in 1996. This game, simulating the 1994 Formula 1 championship, featured realism on a grand scale with features still not even seen in modern sims. The cars and tracks of the era were recreated with high resolution graphics that leaned on computers of that age.

This game was the first simulation to have a three axis physics engine allowing the car not only to drive and turn, but the car could also leave the track vertically in the case of accident or hitting curbs.

The game allowed for in depth data analysis of laps with the same tools that drivers would use to evaluate their performance. Cars could suffer mechanical failures and you could actually see the engine smoking or the broken suspension. The AI drivers were impressive for the day as well. The computer driven cars in this game in many ways rival modern games.


Other than these features, one other thing made this game special, modding. The modding community around GP2 was astounding. Programmers, artists, and others seemed to work tirelessly to make this game better all the time. New cars, paint schemes, tracks (or updates to existing tracks), tools, texture packs, sounds, and more allowed this game to live on for years. Players could download a new pack of cars, tracks, driver info, and more each year to keep the game alive. Community member Steven Young created Gp2Edit, which was an all in one tool to import and mod the game.

I can’t even guess how many hours I played and modded this game between 1996 and into the 2000’s when Grand Prix 3 and 4 came out. The later games, while improving on the series, had Grand Prix 2 to thank for setting the stage. This game was a hit for racing sim fans that has only been rivaled by a very few competitors.


Honorable Mentions: 

  • CART Precision Racing (1997)
  • GTR 1 and 2 (2005 and 2006)
  • Gran Turismo (Series) (1997- Present)
  • Forza Motorsport (Series) (2005 – Present)


1: iRacing (2008)

I have played a very large number of racing simulations over the years, but there is one that stands alone in terms of accuracy, quality, and impact. iRacing is built on a foundation of successful racing simulations any of which I could easily have included on the list themselves. This subscription based sim was released in 2008 and continues to this day.

Dave Kaemmer and John Henry formed this company from the ashes of Papyrus Design Group. Sim racers minds will be taken back to memories of IndyCar Racing 2 and Nascar Racing 2003 among other titles when hearing those names.

Games like IndyCar Racing 2 were marvels for their day with unending amounts of modding and extensive communities dedicated to working on the game. The modding community for Papyrus games was cranking out not only tracks, but new cars such as the famous IndyCar Racing 2 mod that changed the cars into GTP cars.

iRacing began with this strong foundation of fun and accurate sims and put together a masterpiece. While to modding community is more limited due to the nature of the way the game works, the community still churns out amazing paint sets for the game’s vast array of vehicles.


The game features dynamic laser scanned tracks which are accurate if not identical to the real circuits. You are limited to 14 tracks when you first sign up, you can expand your collection to over 75 through purchases. The same goes for cars where you start with 15, but can purchase enough to have over 50 to choose from. New cars and tracks are constantly in development each with their own unique characteristics tuned to reproduce the finest details.

The final thing that pushes iRacing over the top and makes it number one on this list is the continued advancement into making the racing simulation more accurate. The latest developments such as dynamic track features like temperature changes based on driving lines, rubber accumulation, and the coming introduction of accurately simulated dirt track racing show the team is dedicated to pushing the envelope of what racing simulations can do. iRacing continues to raise the bar with the introduction of each new feature while competitors try to keep up.


There you have it. Do you think this is the right five games? Let us know in the comments if you agree or disagree with the list!



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