THE combination of asphalt, petrol, rubber and engine oil has a particular allure, both trackside in real life and virtually in a computer game.
Most racing games put you in the driver’s seat and then task you with making sure the accelerator pedal and the floorplate become as well acquainted as possible.
Motorsport Manager, developed by Playsport Games and published by Sega on Steam, Linux and Mac recently (having previously established itself on iPad and Android tablets before that) takes a different approach to the world of car racing, however.
Rather than the driver’s seat of an F1 or GT car, you’re in the comfy manager’s seat of the racing team, overseeing all aspects of the operation from designing vehicles and parts to organising sponsorships to managing the team and even deciding what sort of tyres to put on the cars or how to configure the gearboxes.
In fact, the only thing you don’t get to do is drive the cars.
Most of the racing car drivers I’ve interviewed over the years have been upfront and vocal about how the people doing the really hard work are the ones in the pit, the ones behind the scenes and the ones working to make sure it all comes together so they, as a driver, get to make a ludicrously expensive car travel at mind-boggling speeds.
Motorsport Manager is a game about being those people — and it does it well.
I recently attended the F1 in Melbourne as a guest of Hisense, which included a pit walk and a chance to get behind the scenes in the Red Bull Racing Team’s garage.
I watched the pit crew from neighbouring Scuderia Ferrari racing team quite literally change every tyre on their team’s car at once in three seconds flat — which was truly amazing, but also made me wonder how come it takes the guys at the local tyre place several hours to do it when we need a new set of radials.
The combination of speed, precision and teamwork are vital for success in the world of racing and Motorsport Manager takes all the disparate elements of motor racing I saw at the F1 and manages to make them accessible yet challenging at the same time.
It channels that same desire to have just a bit longer at doing something, much like the Civilization games.
Setting your car up before each race involves a variety of factors including tyre pressure, camber, aerofoil angling, and even how much fuel to put in the tank. From there, it’s mostly up to your drivers, with some judicious calls from you on when to pit to change the tyres, refuel, or repair worn parts.
It’s amazing how much a difference something small makes — often I’d find my team crossing the finish line in a disappointing midfield position and realise they were only a second or so behind the winner — a second we’d lost in the pits due to taking things too cautiously.
Things like fuel and tyre wear suddenly become extremely important — do I pit now for fresh tyres? Will they last another two laps? How’s the fuel holding out? Can we push a bit more out of the engine without ruining it? Why is that Cake song The Distance so catchy and relevant right now?
As you win more races — or more realistically, suck less and finish in not totally embarrassing positions — your marketability increases, giving you access to better sponsors with more money. Which means you can upgrade your HQ, develop better technology, afford better parts and more qualified team members — who expect more money. At times it seems like it would be cheaper to run the cars using $100 notes for petrol.
What’s really interesting is how the game is about people as much as cars. Your drivers and teammates have various skills and talents which fluctuate across seasons, and trying to match the right mechanic to the right driver, or find a designer who can get you a podium-placing car without needing to resort to narcotics smuggling on the side to finance things is a delicate balancing act.
When it all comes together, though, it’s truly magnificent. The first time one of my team earned a podium position after finishing third was immensely satisfying and absolutely worthy of the fist-pump witnessed by my bemused cat.
Sure, the game isn’t without its frustrations — particularly if you find yourself struggling on the seesaw between needing better stuff but also not wanting to bankrupt yourself before the next season — and sometimes things seem a bit arbitrary. My driver isn’t a complete muppet, the car has some OK stuff in it, but we’re still finishing near the bottom of the field — which can lead to some head-scratching.
It would also be nice to be able to zoom in much closer to the action or even get a dashcam view of the race from one of your cars, but it’s a relatively minor quibble given the game is about managing the team, rather than actually being the one racing the car yourself.
The game also features the ability to create your own racing team and in addition, Motorsport Manager supports the Steam workshop so there’s a lot of user-made mods available, including some popular ones which add real-world sponsors and the like to the game.
Overall, it’s an extremely engaging, challenging and rewarding game that surprised me by how well it came together and how much fun I had with it.
Super-hardcore motorsports fans may not love the game — especially since they can’t take the steering wheel themselves — but if you’ve ever wanted to manage a motorsport racing team without needing a degree in mechanical engineering or an MBA, then Motorsport Manager should absolutely get your green light.