Over the past nine years, Braselton has been transformed into a
resort by Don Panoz, whose company developed the nicotine patch. He built his
own winery and luxury hotel, founded the American Le Mans league, created his
own team, and bought the local racetrack, which is reproduced down to the square
inch in Forza . (It´s one of eight real tracks in the game, plus 39 fictional
One hundred yards up the hill from the track squats a row of steel
industrial garages. It´s 9 a.m., and Jeannette and DeVera have just met; they´re
in the parking lot talking cars, admiring the Acura NSX that they´ll race
tomorrow. Jeannette is a wiry 22-year-old who moves with a deliberate economy of
motion. He sights down the rear fender line, copping a feel from the left
quarter panel. "It looks hot," he says, his voice barely audible over the pings
and pops of the cooling engine. "How many horsepower?"
"Two ninety," DeVera
replies. Perhaps out of modesty, he adds, "I think." But the 28-year-old knows .
He owns a highly modified 1991 NSX and he obsessed over the mid-engine
super-Acura well before he could drive. "You know how a Camaro is symbolic of
´60s American muscle?" he asks. "That´s how I feel about the NSX and the ´90s-it
was the first of the really fast Japanese imports."
Inside the garage, thick
and glossy gray paint coats a concrete slab floor, and 20-foot walls meet a
corrugated steel ceiling. Three hydraulic lifts hulk along one side; on the
other, a mid-´80s Porsche 911 sits idle in full race livery. Conspicuously out
of place at center stage are two gaming rigs, both mounted with a racecar seat,
steering wheel, pedals and surround-sound speakers. Each rig sits before a
50-inch plasma TV.
"Are you kidding me?" Jeannette exclaims when he sees the
setup. DeVera just shakes his head, grinning, as they climb into their seats.
Dan Greenawalt, Forza's lead game designer, sets the drivers up on the
pre-release copies he´s chaperoning, and they dive into our duel between virtual
Jeannette selects a digital avatar of the prototype-class racer
his team drove two seasons ago. He holds the wheel lightly and jams down the
gas. The car gets squirrelly around the first turn, and he pauses the screen.
"How do I switch to first-person perspective?" he asks. "I´m more used to seeing
it that way." Greenawalt tells him how, and he roars off again. DeVera glances
over and makes the same change.
Within five minutes, Jeannette logs a time of
1:16 and change-just four seconds slower than his fastest lap at Road Atlanta in
the real car. "That´s better than my best time," says Greenawalt, who, as
Forza's architect, has been playing the game longer than anyone. "It´s unreal!"
Yes, but it does make perfect sense. As a driver for the Panoz team,
Jeannette knows the track well; the undulating 2.54-mile road course is his home
field. And he´s not as green as his age would suggest: At 18, he became the
youngest person to ever finish the 24 hours of Le Mans, the annual French
endurance race that is among the most grueling in all of motor sports. Three
years later, he came in third in his class.
DeVera has a background in racing
as well, but of a different, less-than-legal sort. He started out drag racing
late at night on the streets of L.A., but, after blowing more engines than he
could afford, shifted his efforts to building competition show cars and limited
his racing to videogames. Now he soups up cars for big-budget movies such as The Fast and the Furious and anyone else who can afford his hefty fees.
moment, he´s using his own strategy for warming up, informed by countless hours
of gaming. He´s doing laps in a Volkswagen Golf R32, which, though fast, is the
furthest from race-ready of the six cars he´ll test tomorrow. "A lot of people
like to start out in the fastest car, but I like to get acclimated with
something a little easier to handle," he says. "It lets me understand how much I
can get away with." He´s making slow laps, jerking the wheel back and forth to
gauge the car´s handling limits. "This is tight," he says, opening it up a
little. "The graphics, sound, everything, but especially the feel. I´m noticing
that I can´t let my inputs be too videogamey. My first couple laps, I was just
mashing the throttle-all-out all the time-but you really have to modulate your
controls, because the computer knows the difference."
Depending on the type
of car and its number of parts, anywhere from 3,750 to 9,375 variables influence
the way it drives. Tire adhesion is modeled on values for temperature and wear.
Not only the wheels but every piece of the engine that spins carries its own
inertia and resists forward acceleration in proportion to its size, weight and
rotational speed. Each car also has its own drag coefficient, and a major dent
will change the way air moves over its body, affecting handling. And don´t think
you´ll be back to peak performance for your next up: You have to spend winnings
fixing any damage you inflict on your ride.
So far, Jeannette hasn´t had to
shell out a penny. He shouldn´t be this good this soon, and his success hints at
Forza's realism. Although Jeannette is a far less experienced gamer, his times
are consistently better than DeVera´s. If it were a mere arcade game, the racer
would have had to learn to play it; instead he´s just driving.
starting to see small incongruities. "The Esses are tighter," he says about the
section of track from turn three to five. "But the speed is spot-on. I´d be
coming out at about 125 mph in fifth gear. Wow-I brake exactly where I really do
just before turn six. But five isn´t blind in real life."
is hot-lapping the Lotus Elise, and he´s frustrated with the computer´s model.
"When you go into a turn and you let up on the engine, it´s hard to get back
going, because the car has no torque under 4,500 rpm," he complains. "It´s kind
of a dog."
By 10 p.m., after 13 hours of high-definition eyestrain, both
DeVera and Jeannette are very clearly done. "I´m as sore as if I were actually
racing all day," DeVera says. Jeannette simply removes his glasses and rubs his
eyes. You have to wonder how they´ll feel by the end of a full day´s racing
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.