What makes the perfect race track? Motorsport.com has polled plenty of drivers over the past year in our Friday favourite series, and plenty of common themes occur. It must have a mix of challenging corners, be good to race on, and a good atmosphere always helps.
But what about the virtual realm? That was the question we pondered in coming up with this list of our favourite fictional racing tracks. And as you can see, Motorsport.com contributors have wildly varying criteria…
Dragon Trail Seaside – Gran Turismo Sport and GT7, Jonathan Noble
Tricky chicane in Gran Turismo’s Dragon Trail Seaside track makes it Motorsport.com F1 editor Noble’s top pick
Photo by: Gran Turismo
The Chicane of Death. Nothing quite widens the eyes of Gran Turismo racers than the brutal penultimate corner at Croatia’s fictional Dragon Trail Seaside Circuit. But it’s also exactly what makes the circuit such an amazing challenge.
The super high-speed left/right flick between high walls, sometimes flat out in the right car if you are brave enough, leaves zero margin for error as you point your nose to the gap in the barriers and hope you are on the right trajectory to make it through.
Such is its speed and unforgiving nature that it’s only after you commit to the blind turn-in that you know whether you’ve got it right. If you haven’t, then the outcome is simple: you go head first into the barriers on the right, or end up smashing your way off the wall on the exit. With a long straight afterwards, a tiny comfort lift to help thread the needle is super costly as it can suck away critical tenths on the run to finish the lap.
Knowing it can make or break a pole effort, it tempts you to take too many risks after you’ve nailed the challenging earlier section of the lap. And nailing DTS is no mean feat. From the tricky first chicane, where abusing the kerbs is a must for car rotation, to the swoops through the hilly section, it calls for precision.
Get the first part of a sequence wrong and, with each turn, you find yourself pulled further and further off the racing line. Get it all right though, and there’s that Chicane of Death to ruin everything. Just brilliant.
Bannochbrae Road Circuit – Project Cars 2, Tom Howard
Bannochbrae Road Circuit reminds WRC correspondent Howard of the IOM TT course blended with the classic Spa
Think the original Spa Francorchamps and the legendary Isle of Man TT circuit. Mash them together and you’ve got something that resembles the fictional Bannochbrae Road Circuit.
This fast yet technical figure of eight is one of the highlights from the popular, but now defunct, Project Cars series. Set in Scotland, this road circuit winds its way alongside a loch before heading into the beautifully rendered Highlands.
It is not for the faint hearted. The circuit features several high-speed sections, and being a fictional public road, it is incredibly bumpy and undulating. Should you elect to pilot anything with power, think a Group A Ford Sierra Cosworth or a Ford RS200 (pictured), then you will get some air over the crests as the circuit turns into a rally stage.
Once the circuit weaves up a hill, it enters a village featuring a daunting chicane that if misjudged results in an excursion into a corner shop or a pub. Once through the village, a series of smooth flowing curves lead to a sharp ninety right before the start/finish line.
Bannochbrae has become a firm favourite among a group of motorsport journalists that race in a small yet highly competitive online competition known as the ‘Cob Cup’.
Loch Rannoch – TOCA 2 Touring Cars, Thomas Harrison-Lord
Charging BTCC Super Tourers around a fictional Scottish loch – what’s not to like?
Photo by: TOCA 2 Touring Cars
Perth and Kinross’ freshwater loch isn’t fictional, but the track of the same name within 1998’s British Touring Car Championship video game is. Squint, and you may be able to see a passing resemblance to the Scottish countryside, but only just – mainly because the original PlayStation has all the processing power of a toaster.
Codemasters’ interpretation of scenic drive winds its way partially around the 9.3-mile arm of the sea, but for the brave, there are three alternative roads.
If you are struggling to find your way by John Cleland on the correct course, there is the option of diving down a parallel B road in a move dastardlier than Steve Soper’s alleged attempts. Fair warning though, one of the divergent passages features a patch of gravel, another a giant jump. There’s also a humpback bridge to clumsily navigate, thanks to the stiff suspension fitted to a Super Tourer.
Outside of the strait-laced nature of the officially licenced main experience, this creative circuit combined with cheat codes (one included hearing Tiff Needell’s commentary outtakes), TOCA 2 had a sense of fun often missing in contemporary sim racing.
This track was so beloved, it returned in 2004’s TOCA Race Driver 2 for one final Highland fling.
Trial Mountain – Gran Turismo 5, James Newbold
The demise of the old Trial Mountain chicane on the latest GT7 game is lamented by Autosport Plus editor Newbold
Photo by: Gran Turismo
I may have been a dab hand at Mario Kart Wii’s Sherbert Land course as a teen (Mr Sherbert Land doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Mr Monaco), but Trial Mountain from the Gran Turismo franchise prior to its reboot for GT7 was always going to be my pick. Before the back straight was significantly lengthened and, most presciently, the final chicane slowed down it was my go-to track to test out a newly-arrived car in the garage on my well-played (now expired) PlayStation 3 GT5.
The circuit had a wonderful natural rhythm, and plenty of corners that were a riot to drive. There was the sequence of uphill, blind corners to open the lap, where you’d have to fight particularly high-downforce cars that were more inclined to take off and investigate the trees. You had long and open corners leading onto straights, rewarding accuracy when it was more tempting to smash the handbrake and showboat. Getting a slingshot run through Turn 8 by getting early on the brakes and nailing the power early was always a favoured trick.
Then there was the fantastic, full-commitment final chicane with the steeply banked inside kerb which encouraged what some in the FIA might term track limits abuse (particularly when the car was flung upside down into the pitwall). Mastering the corner by taking just enough kerb not to unsettle the car and carry speed onto the pit straight was always a thrill. And especially when the car in question was a hurly, burly NASCAR.
Having only previously driven NASCARs on the series’ own EA franchise game on PS2, popping them into such a familiar setting in Trial Mountain was my idea of gaming perfection.
High Speed Ring – Gran Turismo, Lewis Duncan
It may not be the most challenging of layouts, but Autosport’s International editor Duncan relishes the traditional GT staple of High Speed Ring
Photo by: Gran Turismo
Ask anyone to draw the ideal race track and it will likely be something consisting of endless corners, winding longer than a Pink Floyd album.
But whoever it was at Polyphony Games who designed the High Speed Ring in the original Gran Turismo for the Playstation had the right idea. At six turns, it’s one of the series’ simplest layouts and is usually one of the first tracks players can tackle in any new entry.
Stretching to just 2.485 miles, High Speed Ring walks a fine line between being simple, yet challenging. There are no corners of any great difficulty, but it’s easy to get the lap wrong. Its close walls offer an unforgiving challenge if you are not precise, but there is still enough leeway to correct any errors.
Beginning the lap with the steep banking of the Turn 1 left-hander, the hard-braking Turn 2 comes at you quickly. The Turns 3-4 flip-flop are easy to get wrong, but nailing them provides endless satisfaction as you head to the straightforward but fast run through the Turn 5 right kink onto the brakes for the long Turn 6 left-hander to end the lap.
Featuring in all but Gran Turismo 3: A-spec, High Speed Ring has remained largely the same over the years – though has undergone subtle tweaks. For GT and GT2, the track was just 1.926 miles, before being extended to 2.485 miles from GT4 onwards. For GT7, released last year on PS5, Turn 2 was reprofiled to be more of a tighter hairpin, with an extended run into it and slightly longer run out towards Turn 3.
A staple of the GT series for 25 years now, High Speed Ring is fun in a small hatchback or something with a bit more firepower, and will never not be a joy to drive.
Autodromo Lago Maggiore – Gran Turismo Sport, Luke Smith
Autosport F1 reporter Smith laments that Lago Maggiore exists only in the virtual sphere
Photo by: Gran Turismo
Italy has more than its fair share of spectacular race tracks, but the Autodromo Lago Maggiore could stake a claim to being the best of the lot if it existed.
Nestled in the mountains by Lake Maggiore around an hour north of Monza, the track first appeared on Gran Turismo Sport and quickly became a favourite of mine. It has all the makings of a great grand prix track, including two long straights and some tricky blind corners.
But the best part about this track is the undulations. Following the esses that lead onto a long straight, there’s an amazing banked hairpin, allowing you to hit the brakes late and carry plenty of speed through the corner, with gravel waiting on exit if you get things wrong.
The dipping final corner is perfect to set up a slingshot on the main straight, or to bump your rivals wide with a last-lap lunge! it’s a challenge to get the slower-speed sections right, particularly in less nimble GT machinery, but it makes for a rewarding challenge.
Think Istanbul Park, just with more hills, more overtaking points and set against beautiful Italian countryside. Gran Turismo is onto a winner with this one.
Mushroom Gorge – Mario Kart Wii, Megan White
Mushroom Gorge brought news editor White closer to her siblings
Photo by: Mario Kart 8
I have many fond memories of playing video games with my younger sisters as a teenager, but the first is perhaps the best.
I was already a keen gamer when Santa gifted us a Nintendo Wii one Christmas, but until then, my two younger sisters (three and seven years age difference respectively) hadn’t really been able to join in. The Wii changed that – an accessible console which was even suitable for my techphobic parents to have a go (well, sort of…).
Mario Kart Wii quickly became a firm favourite, and we had a particular fondness for Mushroom Gorge. The circuit, featuring a twisting sand track and its eponymous bouncing mushrooms, provided us hours of entertainment, and enabled both my sisters to get to grips with console gaming.
Even if it may have caused more than a few arguments over dropped banana skins and red shells hurled at the leader (sorry, Molly and Hettie), it was great to finally be able to involve my sisters in a hobby I had dedicated so many (maybe too many) hours to.
From there, we moved onto more challenging titles – Burnout 3: Takedown and Tony Hawk: Underground 2 on Playstation 2 were also much-played. But I will always treasure the hours we spent playing Mario Kart together.
Rainbow Road – Mario Kart 8, Jake Boxall-Legge
Autosport’s technical editor Boxall-Legge remains a fan of Rainbow Road’s baffling gravity-defying course
Photo by: Mario Kart 8
Is there a more iconic fictional circuit than Rainbow Road? The kaleidoscopic course suspended within outer space has been a constant of Nintendo’s Mario Kart franchise and has challenged all before it across its various iterations. Four of those variations currently appear on Mario Kart 8, demonstrating its notoriety and fan-favourite status.
The original, a short but tough circuit on the Super Nintendo’s ground-breaking Super Mario Kart, featured no railings and left players without a safety net between the track and an inglorious plummet into the beyond. A complete rethink for Mario Kart 64 (on the Nintendo 64, naturally) added a series of star-adorned fences around a whopping near-two minute course bearing long and flowing corners. Subsequent versions continued to add to the psychedelia.
While each version has its plus points, with Rainbow Road surely having had more layout changes than Silverstone at this point, the MK8 reimagining of the N64 course is surely the best. An undulating mix of corners provide ample opportunities to nail the drifts, while partial walling and bouncing Chomps causing ripples in the track offer peril to even the most seasoned Mario Kart veteran. The aesthetics are perfect too, featuring very pretty visuals supported by an illuminated cityscape below.
Throw the usual flurry of shells, bananas, and other assorted power-ups into the mix, and you’ve got a cultural phenomenon that transcends the TV screen.
A descent into oblivion awaits those who fall foul of Rainbow Road’s perilous corners
Photo by: Mario Kart 8