~~ BIG WALL OF TEXT :D ~~

Disclaimer: Use of the below and any future mods are at the user’s own discretion and I cannot be held liable for any lost/corrupted data or negative feedback with respect to your driving performance. The below apps are for PC ONLY (at the time of writing) though that is not to say that there will not be a future companion app for console users. It is HIGHLY recommended that you keep a backup of your last known stable game files on hand at all times in the event you need to revert the changes. For reference, the Project CARS save game files (for your single player) are located at <your Steam directory>\userdata\<yoursteamuserid>\234630\local\.

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With that out of the way, I’d like to take some time to introduce to you two very useful pieces of community created software, one of which is brand new and the other a few months old - though you’ll be surprised how many people don’t have it.

Crew Chief - Alternative Race Engineer (aka the Stig got sacked twice!)

Ever wonder what your favourite racing sim would be like if it had the same spotter system like in iRacing? Have you grown tired of playing in online MP only to bump a car by accident or have the rear of your car rammed vigorously by another car going through a turn? While TrackIR and a VR headset can help improve situational awareness, nothing beats the fast reaction times that result from pit based audio calls (car left/right, clear all around have come in handy for the past few months). In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, I am of course talking about mr. belowski’s Crew Chief app, now in it’s V4 config and available for both Project CARS and RaceRoom Racing Experience.

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Before we dive into this, there’s a feature you have to enable in-game first; don’t ask me why it’s here (options>visuals>hardware) because I can’t explain it either. In short what Shared Memory does is “stream” all telemetric based data via a dedicated port built-in by SMS, as if they knew the community would make tools for the game ahead of time. What data, you ask? Anything really - lap times, delta/splits, tire/fuel data and estimations, temperatures. Shared Memory is also used by a host of other applications as well: vrHive and the pCars Profiler are two very popular pieces of telemetry software that display this data to the user in a presentable, easy-to-read manner. Various pieces of hardware can also tap into Shared Memory, such as my Leo Bodnar SLI-PRO which can be configured to display every channel of data via it’s LEDs and displays (flag statuses, lap times, temperatures, the shift lights).

Crew Chief is actually an exception to the above PC ONLY statement; Patch 7.0 for pCars finally enabled UDP streaming over the network for console users, meaning they could now also take advantage of the Shared Memory system. As such, the app is now available on the Google Play store here (I haven’t checked whether it is available on the Apple store or not, but large Android tablets are easy to come by nowadays so you might consider those as an add-on).

So realistically, how much better could this Crew Chief app make my gaming experience? Simpy put - a lot better. For one, you don’t have to listen to Ben Collins anymore!

Shown below is the UI for the v4 version, and it brings a lot of welcome changes over the old v3.8 betas people were using. Gone is the need to download both the app and soundpacks, as now you get just the 64-bit installer and both soundpacks and driver names are downloaded/updated automatically (there was a link to the database, now at over 2,000 names, but I can’t seem to find it). Additionally you can control the volume of the race engineer (voiced by the app developer himself) and change what he says via the settings button (there’s also a profanity filter).

So what exactly can he say? Remember what we talked about with Shared Memory? Yeah, so that means anything. After updating to v4, the amount of recorded messages has also increased meaning better immersion, although when he yells out a long string of data it does get annoying. Over the past few hundred hours of racing with this, I’ve hard any single or combination of the following: opponent deltas F/R, player names (incl leader and assuming they’re in the database), when somebody is pitting F/R (incl race leader), lap times (incl race leader), split times by sector, damage (aero, suspension), fuel/tire wear rates (estimations for pit window), temperatures (brakes, tires, oil, water, ambient, track), and flag status. Oh, and of course the iRacing inspired spotter feature (car L/R, three-wide/you’re in the middle, clear all-round).

If you take a look at the available actions box along the bottom, you will see that players can actually interact with the app as well. If you have a mic installed and you repeat the EXACT phrases, then the crew chief will answer you with the appropriate data (so long as it is available). Examples of phrases include:

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-“how’s my [fuel / tyre wear / body work / aero / engine / transmission / suspension / pace ]”
-“how are my [tyre temps / tyre temperatures / brakes / brake temps / brake temperatures / engine temps / engine temperatures]”
-“what’s my [gap in front / gap ahead / gap behind / last lap / last lap time / lap time / position / fuel level]”
-“keep quiet / I know what I’m doing / leave me alone” (switches off messages)
-“keep me informed / keep me posted / keep me updated” (switches messages back on)
-“how long’s left / how many laps are left / how many laps to go”
-“do I have to pit / do I need to pit / do I have a mandatory pit stop / do I have a mandatory stop / do I have to make a pit stop”
-“where’s [opponent driver last name]”
-“what’s [opponent driver last name]’s last lap”
-“what’s [opponent driver last name]’s best lap”

-“who’s leading” (this one only works if you have the driver name recording for the lead car)
-“who’s [ahead on track / in front on track / behind on track]” (gives the name of the car in front / behind in on track, regardless of his race / qual position. This one only works if you have the driver name recording for that driver)
-“tell me the gaps / give me the gaps / tell me the deltas / give me the deltas” (switch on ‘deltas’ mode where the time deltas in front and behind get read out on each lap. Note that these messages will play even if you have disabled messages)
-“repeat last message / say again” (replays the last message)
-“What’s the air temp / what’s the air temperature / what’s the track temp / what’s the track temperature” (current air / track temps in celsius)

If you plan on doing any multi-car racing, be it online or otherwise, in Project CARS then this app is a must have.

Custom Grid Tool (for Solo Quick Race)

This is where the fun begins, especially when you tack on the above spotter app, but there is one item we must address right off the bat. Project CARS is not a modding friendly game, and this is blatantly obvious compared to a game like Assetto Corsa. SMS even admits this is the case, yet are not discouraging the community from creating content (at times, seemingly applauding Machine Dojo for tackling the task with their 2016 GT3 lineup). That is not to say that modding this game is impossible, it and the underlying principles are similar to any other game in that you have to keep everything updated with the current-most version of the base game. In our case, pCARS is in Patch 7.0 (with 8.0 releasing sometime in January) and you’ll need to download the latest version of the pCars Modding Unlocker / Generic Mod Enabler (V7.1 updated for the custom grid tool; alternatively V7.0 from the last game update, dated December 20, 2015)

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What exactly does the above mod enabler do? To put simply, it basically unpacks the game’s boot files in a similar fashion to the rooting / jailbreaking process for mobile phones. The process is quite simple, actually, and assuming you download the latest version you shouldn’t face any issues.

- Extract the files from the .rar file you downloaded to your pCars directory, located at <Steam_Directory>\steamapps\common\pCARS

...and that’s it. Really. You’ll notice that you now have a MODS folder, which is where you’ll place all your dank montages downloaded mods, be it this tool, another tool, or custom tracks/cars. To enable all mods, simple run the JSGME tool and enable the Modding Unlocker for Patch X.X. Once you’re done this, you can close the tool as the custom grid uses it’s own custom shortcut and doesn’t go through the JSGME interface; however, you’ll have to enable other mods in this fashion unless told otherwise.

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With the GME now installed and enabled, we can now get onto the grid tool. But first a few words from the author:

DISCLAIMER: This mod alters the unpacked game files, which will affect behavior of the vehicle filters in-game. Career Mode will not work properly with this mod running.

Please back up your Project CARS Profile before using. Also has not been tested for Online use! Author is not responsible for lost save data or broken profiles or bans.

This mod is intended to allow the user to pick their own grid for Solo Quick Race in Project CARS.

From here on the process is straight forward. Download crowtrobot’s Custom Grid Tool v0.9, extract the files to your MODS folder mentioned above, run the custom grid tool shortcut and you’re set! You’re presented with the above interface where you can mix and match cars and liveries to whatever degree you please.

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This is where it might get tricky though, for some of you not well-versed in the pCars content structure. While all the real cars have somewhat readable names (based off of in-game files), all the fictional cars aren’t very clearly labelled and have largely remained unchanged since the beta phase of the game. Additionally, everything is bundled together in very broad categories [GT (GT1X, GT3, GT4), OpenWheel (F-A, F-B, F-C, FG1000, F-R, FR3.5, and all the historics), Prototype (LMP1, LMP2, LMP3), Road (A, B, C1, C2, D), Touring (TC1, TC2, etc).] You get the hang of it real quickly, but you better get your choices correct first time as the remove tool doesn’t seem to be working right now (it is essentially a pre-release state atm).

The interface itself is pretty easy to navigate. Select the category you want, the car(s) you want, and the livery(ies) you want. Hitting “>>” will add the cars to the queue and “<<” will remove them; hitting reset will clear your list. It is also worth mentioning that saving the list will copy the data into a text file for future use, and loading will read that data so as to make setting up single races easier and quicker (for example, if you wanted to do a WEC event or Le Mans).

IMPORTANT. Your grid selection must be done WITHOUT pCars running in the background. Once you have selected your cars, hit Assign to Grid to finalize your list then proceed in-game and set up the race conditions for the Solo race (set the number of AI to n-1, where n is the number of cars in your list). The PLAYER selected car MUST be one from the list with the correct livery, but do not be alarmed when you see duplicates on track. In the in-game vehicle selection menu, you will notice a blanked out grey box (shown below); in here you will find every manufacturer and vehicle that you have selected in your list, to make selecting cars on your part easier. Once you have finished, remember to RESET the custom grid tool and DISABLE JSGME if you wish to resume single player.

ALSO IMPORTANT. The tool does not limit you to how many cars you can choose, which means you can pick 99 cars but not all will show up. What cars do appear are determined by RNG as is which AI will be driving what car. ELIGIBLE GRID SPOTS VARY BY TRACK. Not only must your CPU be able to handle this many entities on track at once, but the track must also have sufficient garage spaces; tracks like Le Mans have room for 55 AI + yourself, but this may night be the case at smaller tracks like Watkins Glen. A good number to start off with is 23 AI, and then work your way up from there. Be sure to remember to set the Type of Opponents to Multi-Class then adjust your AI difficulty to your desired level.

Once you’ve got all this down, you’re ready to rock! Sit back and enjoy the glory that is multi-class racing (though the AI aren’t the most cooperative with blue flags) and rejoice in the fact that you aren’t getting rammed off-track by some online prick in a RUF every other lap.

Oh, and I guess I should include some more notes from the author:

NOTES:

  • Use Save/Load to save custom grids and load, if desired.
  • Double-clicking a livery from the list will remove it. Or use the << button.
  • As stated in the disclaimer - THIS MOD CONFLICTS WITH CAREER MODE. Please close pCARS AND the Tool before using career.
  • Also as stated, MOD HAS NOT BEEN USED OR TESTED ONLINE. User should run on non-VAC servers if they want to test it. It does not modify any memory locations while running or the .exe, so it is doubtful it would trigger a VAC ban, but no guarantees.
  • Car selection filters from My Garage are also effected - either use Quick Select to choose car, or user will need to choose ‘Any’ filter in My Garage to find the car.
  • Tool creates .bak backup files of all altered files. If anything goes wrong, press Reset button and go to the /vehicles/ directory of all altered vehicles. Delete the altered files and restore the originals from the .bak files if this hasn’t been done already by the Reset. Reset and closing the tool should restore backups and remove them.

Testing

Of course I had to do some testing myself on launch day, and so far it’s been pretty good. There is one performance bug with excessive cars where it causes CPU usage to flutter momentarily, regardless of how many cars are tested and usually ~20-30 minutes though I haven’t yet pin pointed the cause. All the below footage is recorded in Bandicam, whose image quality (in H264) is worse than that of OBS.

Race #1 - LMP1/LMP2/GT3 @ Circuit de Spa-Fancorchamps

Of course the first race has to be at my most driven track. AI set to 80% and car count set to 24 as a proof of concept. No issues with the start in regards to multi-class, as the faster cars filtered through pretty much immediately; discovered that AI behaviour changes very little wrt how each class mingles on track, however cars in a similar class tend to “stick together in a pack” with minimal passes being made (this is just an observation, not a fault of the mod). WRT to the racing line, AI will still adhere to the “train track” behaviour and do not yield to blue flags, with passes proving difficult unless you forceably attack in braking zones or down the straights.

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Spa is a bit of an oddity as it is one of the longer tracks, yet also the fastest; LMP2 leaders came across the first of the GT3 backmarkers around L11 (at a 2:14 pace) and were not overtaken by race leaders (TS040) until L20, although they were running within 1 second of each other which proves that AI will still remain fairly consistent with traffic.

Race #2 - LMP3*/GT3/GT4**

* Radical RXC Turbo added as a pseudo LMP3 car despite the Road A designation; pacewise, expected it to be above the SR3RS.

** Ginetta G40 Juniors added to GT4 to simulate a slower sub-class

I wanted this race to feel like a slightly balls-to-the-walls track day mega event, with as many plausible privateers thrown in as possible and the obligatory GT3 teams who go for testing and what not. AI was bumped up to 90% and the car count was increased to 40 as Road America allows for more entities (IIRC the limit was the same as Le Mans).

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Piloting a SP300R, I wanted to see exactly how faster traffic would be able to manage the slower classes; managed to follow both the SR8RXs around for the better part of the first half before I took the lead, where I would proceed to put everybody a few laps down (lapped the Ginetta Juniors 5 times and the SR8s once). Things to note here are that, to my surprise, cars of different classes were fairly well represented in the finishing results instead of just having LMP cars dominating the GT class. This lead me to believe that the AI were still making passes despite being in slower cars (damage was enabled) and that the pit strategy did come into play somewhat.

Similar to the Spa race, the AI were still on rails though they did attempt more passes beyond track limits (because the AI don’t care about cut track penalties and cold tires, pff). That also meant that AI driving faster cars would still prioritize the line over corner speed, resulting in faster cars just sitting behind traffic through corners where a player would know to exploit their speed advantage.

Super fun, but very frustrating when you’re coming into a mix of slower traffic with the guy behind you closing the gap by the second; higher level AI is recommended.

Race #3 - LMP1/LMP2/GT3 @ Circuit de la Sarthe (24H du Mans)

And now for the pièce de résistance: the full 56 car field at Le Mans. Yes friendo, with this tool (and the magic that is pCars), you too can simulate this iconic mid-summer race to your hearts content - assuming your PC can handle it. Yet another 30 minute qualifying + 60 minute race, with calendar date set to July 14, 2015 (10x time progression, start time 7AM) and clear weather. AI is again set to 90% (because I’m a pubscrub and can’t handle 100% yet) with the field set up as follows (based on 2015 starting grid):

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- 14 LMP1 cars (Toyota TS040, Audi R18 TDI, Audi R18 e-tron Quattro, Marek RP 339H subbing for the Porsches, Aston Martin DBR1-2 subbing for the Rebellions, RWD P30 subbing for the ByKolles and Nissan entries)

- 19 LMP2 cars (Oreca 03 subbed for both 03R/05 and Greaves entries, the Sigmatech Alpine car, Marek RP 219 D for all Ligier-based entries, and RWD P20 for the Morgan/ByKolles/SMP/DOME entries)

- 22 GT3 cars (Aston Martin GTE, BMW M3 GT2 subbing for the Ferraris, RUF RGT8 GT3 for the Porsches, Mercedes-Bens SLS AMG GT3 for the Corvettes, and Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 for the Vipers)

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- Garage #56 is filled by the Aston Martin Rapide Hydrogen car, classed as a GT4 entry.

While the struggle was real trying to record this, I can say the final result was worth it and, like the crew chief app, solidified this mod as an addition that any avid racer needs to get. Overall the experience is much more fluid with similarly paced cars rather than cars at the extreme ends (the exception being the LMP1 hybrids). My FX8350/CF 290s struggled to keep the game above 40 FPS at 1440p but I really can’t complain as the tool did achieve what it set out to do.

Since Le Mans is such a large track, I actually didn’t encounter slower traffic until later on - if this is your goal, then I’d suggest shorter tracks for an optimal lapping experience. Above that, there wasn’t as much action between classes as there was intra-class. My Oreca 03 made fairly quick work of all the GT3 backmarkers but had the most trouble with the other LMP2 cars, namely when you’re all juggling for position because of similar pace but there is nowhere to go. The LMP1 cars blew past fairly quickly (although the TS040s were slow off-hybrid power); spoiler alert: the DBR1-2 won overall, beating the R18s. You’ll never see that in real life.

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AI were still making passes beyond track limits, and at times would force you off-track because you physically can’t push them back to get some space. This a particular issue in an LMP2 car where it is stupidly easy to pick up aero damage, and why I put emphasis on making smart passes rather than fast ones. The performance hit was still there, and sent me into the gravel at one point but I had the foresight to slow down and mitigate potential damage (for my system, it dropped frames from 30 to 8 but it may be different for yours).

A mini-tage of what it’s like to weave through GT3 traffic.

And yes, because I’m a newb and because pCars’ track limit system sucks (sometimes it’s perfectly acceptable to put two wheels off, SMS) I did get DQd with 5 minutes to go. At that point of the night I was so frustrated with the thing that I didn’t bother, and just to be able to play in a multi-class environment was a win in itself. If you’re curious, I was running P15 as I was getting passed by a LMP1 car (a RWD, second in his/her class) who forced me just wide enough to get all 4 wheels off. If I had carried on without incident for 2 more laps, I too would have finished second in my class.

Verdict

A combination of both the Crew Chief (if you don’t already have it) and the new Custom Grid Tool make for an unrivaled gaming experience that few games can reproduce. Add to that the ability for telemetry monitoring, dynamic day/night and weather systems, and fairly competent AI, and you begin to see just a few of the redeeming qualities that keep players coming back for hundreds of hours at a time (assuming you can look past some of SMS’ flaws). In case you missed it above, I HIGHLY recommend you pick this one up and give it a shot for yourself; perhaps you will find something about it that draws you in that wasn’t in the game prior.

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SMS said it wasn’t possible in pCars 1 to do multi-class offline racing. Somebody proved them wrong. While custom championships aren’t ever going to be a thing, it gives us hope that they have a good direction to take the franchise when it comes to releasing pCars 2 in 2 years time. Until then, if there are any Oppos who would like to give this a shot in an semi-organized online lobby, then I’d be down to race with y’all.