GRAN TURISMO CAR REVIEWS

Top Gear Test Track













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The Gran Turismo Sambabus Challenge (Beginner)

Level Needed: 4

First time I tried the Beginner-level Top Gear tryst, I was astounded at how tough it is. We're simply driving a bunch of old VW Buses in this 2 lap go-around, but do not be fooled; this "Beginner" tryout is not easy.

I haven't watched Top Gear much, which may shock some of you. I just don't have the time. But I've noticed Top Gear's cast of characters (Jeremy Clarkson, the mysterious "Stig", etc) tend to have a lot of humor...some of it cruel. Often their antics revolve around pulling stunts upon one another, which makes me think they came up with the idea of this first run, slow as it is, and then had a good laugh over pints of ale as they realized how many gamers would simply NOT be able to finish this first test!

>>Like Jeff Gordon's NASCAR tutorial, the Top Gear Test Track is rather like one of GT4's harder Missions. Looking at it this way from the get-go (rather than starting with the attitude that the VW Bus Bustle will be a walkover) is a good way to start.

>>Unlike GT4's Missions, the Buses in this event will not just behave like robots as they drive. Keep this in mind. They swerve unexpectantly. They cock-block at times. They get confused. I've even seen them try to pit-manuever me into a wall of cones! All of this makes this first mission extremely tough.


1). I find it best to do this test in 1st Person mode, where the van I'm driving can't be seen, but the gauges (speedometer, tachometer, etc) can be seen. Cockpit view doesn't offer enough visibility, and neither does 3rd person (camera behind the van). You can drive with whatever view feels most comfortable, of course; but trust me, it's best to be able to see what's going on around you.

2). As the drive starts, we're cruising in 2nd gear. It's best to be using a manual transmission (MT) for this test and most other tests. This is not just for comfort, it's also for better control over the VW Bus's meager power range. An automatic will shift too early at times. It will also put you in the wrong gear at the wrong time.  

3). Let the tachometer redline lightly up to 4,000 rpms, then shift up to 3rd gear. Follow this pattern as often as you can, but do not let the tach get past 4,000. Doing so will cause the RPM limit to slow the Bus, which is disasterous.   

4). Follow the Bus ahead, shifting into 4th gear eventually. You'll notice this Bus immediately in front of you will start to veer off to the left as it approaches the first major turn. Do NOT do this. Instead, veer off to the right, so that your bus is actually entirely to the right of the yellow dotted line in the middle of the track. This will allow you to enter this first lefty turn with proper out-in momentum, although once you're "in", you have the choice of staying in to the left, or getting to the right. This depends on where the 11th place Bus is as you approach it.  

5). It's possible to enter this first turn with NO BRAKES, or just a tap of brakes. Whatever you do, try not to brake too heavily. The Buses ahead of you will do just this (brake heavily), which means you can get the advantage of momentum.

6). Swerve quickly into this turn, downshifting into 3rd gear, and watching out for the lonely red cone on the inside of the turn. 

>>>Oh, almost forgot. One of the tricks for survival is NOT to knock over any cones. Some cones will FAIL the test if you hit them. Other ones will not. I've come to the conclusion that it's simply best to avoid knocking any of them over, rather than trying to remember which ones are okay to hit and which are not. If you have the time, perhaps you can actually learn which are safe to knock over. I just like to play it safe.    


7). If you're carrying a lot of speed at this point, it's best to try and get past the first Bus during this short straight section. I've passed this one on the left or the right; either method is okay. Sometimes, I've passed it immediately after entering the turn, other times I've followed it into the mock left/right chicane area and then passed him as he brakes.

8). If you haven't passed this first Bus during the short straight, watch out because it will brake too early into the chicane. Make sure you're not following it at this point. 

Note: another cruel joke played by the Top Gear staff happens during passing. Your Bus needs to be entirely in front of the Bus you just passed for a position change to count! In other words, if your rear bumper has not passed the front bumper of a competing Bus, you're still going to be counted as being in a lesser place. This makes no sense, of course. Races always count whichever car has its front-end ahead of the other to be ahead of that other car. Period.  


9). Getting thru the chicane, things start to happen fast. I find it best to get by the 11th place Bus on either the left or the right, and then entering the chicane with NO BRAKES. Again this helps keep momentum.

10). It's best to blast pass the 10th place Bus on its left, and immediately swerve to get by the 9th place Bus on its right. Try to avoid contact with them, as any contact can possibly slow us down. Sometimes, this is easier said than done, of course. An occasional clunk or a bounce off their side is okay. Long-term rubbing and pushing is generally not okay, though.

11). Follow the trail of Buses! There's a multi-colored tire wall coming up on the right. Avoid this.

12). We're still in 3rd gear as the Bus navigates thru a long 130 degree right-hand turn. Try to stay inside of the Buses if you can. There's a red & white painted line on the inside of this curve to help guide us. Do this right, and the 9th place Bus is history, as it tends to take this turn too wide, which means we can pass it on the inside.  

13). The track straightens out for awhile, and things can get a little unpredictable. Sometimes, I've found there will be a gap between my Bus and the 8th place Bus. Other times, I'll wind up awkwardly just behind #8. Either way, it almost seems as if this particular Bus knows I'm back there, and will swerve left and right in an attempt to keep me from passing him. Upshift into 4th when appropriate.

14). Now we're entering a weird area. You'll either be alongside #8 or stuck behind him. It's best to be alongside him, of course, as he will (again) brake too earlyMake sure he's on your left as you pass him. Passing on the right is tougher, as there isn't as much room to maneuver without rolling over some cones.

13). Brake in as straight a line as possible! Braking while turning here (trail-braking) can cause the rear-engine Bus to get squirrely. Any speed gathered up will now disappear fast as you struggle to get things under control again. 

>>>It's also best to enter this area with just a momentary tap of brakes. Not much braking action is needed to slow this hippy death-trap. Too much brakes causes your Bus to slow down more than it needs to.   

14). Downshift into 3rd while turning in. The turn goes left and then immediately right. Tap the brakes again, and downshift into 2nd. IMMEDIATELY start powering-out once you're in 2nd gear; do not hesitate. Even a small hesitation can cost a precious amount of momentum.

15). If all goes well, you'll now be passing the #7 Bus, which (again) takes too wide a path in and out of this turn.

16). Upshift into 3rd when appropriate (4,000 rpms) and follow the trail of Buses! You might find yourself edging past #6 down this straight area. Upshift into 4th.

**By now, if I'm not in at least 6th or 7th place, I'll simply restart the entire Test over. No sense wasting time, as it will take an enormous amount of concentration and nerves to overtake the rest of the pack if those early Buses have not been passed, yet.

17). Now we're in that area of the track called the "Follow Through". Follow the 5th place Bus if it's not too far ahead. Small amounts of aerodynamic drafting can take place, and we're gonna need all the speed we can get.     

>> Things get silly along here, as some of the leading Buses start knocking cones everywhere. I believe (again) this is another of Top Gear's little pranks to confuse us!

19). The track veers left. It's okay to run into the grass a little here; but don't knock the cone over on the inside of the turn. If you are not following the Bus ahead of you closely, make sure to take this turn sharper than he does, especially if somebody is following you, taking advantage of a draft. There's a lot of space to travel across here. Taking this turn more sharply also causes your Bus to take a shorter route, which saves time.

20). On the other hand, if you've got yourself a good draft from the Bus in front, it's best to just follow him. Perhaps you might get lucky and make a pass here where it's wide and safe.

21). The parade starts veering left, and things can get ugly fast as we turn into this next area, which is all a sudden very narrow. Everybody brakes heavily. If there's a lot of space ahead of me, I find that just a tap will do. But if there's traffic up ahead, watch out! They slow to a crawl thru this area. Try to get by one or two of them here if you can. Better said than done, though.

22). Downshift into 3rd and maybe 2nd if you need to once you're in the straight section. Which gear you choose depends on who is in front of you, and how far they are in front of you.

23). I found that I was in 4th place by now, as the Bus rolled down the longer straight area where the Finish line is. It may be possible to be in 5th at this point and still succeed, but any less than 5th and I personally would abandon and start the entire run over, unless I was just practicing for future runs.  

24). The rest of the test requires you follow all the rules stated so far. The remaining Buses will drive a bit unpredictably once they've got some space, so do your best to avoid them, choose the right gear, and you'll eventually ace the Beginner Top Gear Test Track.    



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The Gran Turismo 111R Challenge (Intermediate)

Level: 8

It's time to step up the game. Instead of a slow Volkswagen Bus, we're now behind the wheel of a much faster (and slippery) Lotus Elise 111R.

Right off the bat, I'm going to recommend something I would nomally shun: driving aids! At least ABS and TCS, both on a setting of "1". This is what I used personally. Active Steering (Strong) and Skid Recovery Force can be used for those who are really getting desperate for a gold, although in my opinion this feels cheaty to me.

Without any aids at all, the car is barely controllable, since it is riding on Hard Comfort tires (cheapest of radials). The real-life Elise would be rolling on something more equivalent to Soft Comfort, so I don't feel bad turning on ABS (which the real-life 111R could possibly have) and TCS (which it wouldn't).  

I feel somewhat embarassed to admit this, as I'm what they call a "purist", which means I try and use whatever equipment the original vehicle had available. I drove the Sambabus challenge with ABS off, for instance, no TCS or any other aid. But upon viewing how all the other Elises drive, I don't feel so bad. I'm convinced they have at least TCS on its default setting of "5", as well as some other possible aids. Notice they rarely get ruffled as they fly through the Follow-Through area. In comparison, I've found that I can't take the Follow-Through without at least some sliding, smoke, and drama.  


1). Shift up into 3rd and 4th at the beginning. Follow the 111R up ahead so you catch its draft. Drafting played a minor role during the VW Bus challenge, now it's even more important.

2). Just after the track bends slightly to the right, there's a red & white marker of some sort to the right of the track. Start braking just before passing the marker, and downshift slowly from 4th to 3rd to 2nd. This is tricky because to get it right means to trail-brake (turn slightly while braking) without getting too sideways.


3). Chances are the Elise will be in a mild slide by now. You'll want to carry a bit of speed into this first hard left, just as you did during the VW Bus challenge. It's okay if you use that first Elise as a steel wall, chances are you'll wind up bumping it. Countersteer to make sure the car stays balanced before planting that throttle.  

* Countersteer is VERY important during this test. Countersteering means turning in the direction opposite of the actual turn. We countersteer to help stop any sliding motions. So if you're making a left turn, you'll initially steer left, but then countersteer to the right if the car starts to slide.

The throttle itself will also need to be approached delicately, even with all the driving aid junk on. Don't floor it too early....the car will still get sideways or lose lots of traction (and therefore speed) if you do. Instead, give quick blips of gas as you try to accelerate, until the car feels nice and stable. Control is everything! If you're having trouble controlling this car but you really want a silver or gold here, I recommend buying an Elise and then driving around on cheap hard radial tires. Any track will do. Just get a feel for what to do as this car slides and slips about.   

4). The second Elise (10th place) can be passed on the left or the right, depending on where you wind up after the car is straightened up. It should be passed during the small straight section where all the cones are.

5). Keep that speed up! Shift up into 3rd as you pass the 10th and possibly 9th-place car. As you enter the Chicago area, pay attention to where everybody is on the track. As you attempt this test over and over, learn where the Ai cars like to be, and DON'T TOUCH THEM as you pass them. 

6). As the track does its S-turn thing, and the red & black tire wall is on our inside, brake early (before the tire wall) and downshift into 2nd. Stay to the RIGHT car #8. This is tricky, of course, because if you go too far inwards, the tire wall will bump you and possibly fail the test.

7). Stay on the inside, stay as tight as possible as the track bends in a loop. Just like the VW Bus drive, a good guide to follow is the red & white line on the inside. You don't have to actually drive this far inwards, of course....but don't get too far out either. The Ai takes a very wide line here, so if we stay tight we can travel the same distance in less time.

8). As we leave the loop and the speed picks up, shift up into 3rd and 4th. Get a draft from the car in front of you, but try to stay towards its right side.

9). The Hammerhead area is coming up next. A giant white paint strip on the track is coming up. It looks like a giant white bar code. The Ai brakes just before driving over it. What you'll want to do is brake just as you drive over it. This will automatically gain you a position. During my run, I was now in 6th place.

10). Keep braking and downshift from 4th to 3rd to 2nd. Stay to the right since enemy Elises will be entering this complicated area from the left. You should hopefully be able to pass another car as you brake into this loop area (possibly bumping the 5th place Elise a little for leverage), making it to 5th place.

11). Again, stay towards the inside (where the red & white line on the road is). The Ai takes this bendy left/right switchback pretty wide, making it easy to pass another car (perhaps) just by staying inwards, since less track will need to be travelled over.

12). Leaving the area, I was (again) in 5th place. Carefully give some gas early....while still deep in the turn. Shift up into 3rd gear a little early so traction isn't lost as the car is still steering & accelerating.

13). Follow whatever car is ahead. Catch a draft down this straight area if you can.

14). There are some small red & white markers on the left side of the track. Just after passing the last one, wait a second, and then turn carefully while releasing the throttle at high speed. Look out and stay away from that that lonely red cone on the inside! Brakes are NOT needed into this area, known as The Follow-Through. Leave it in 4th gear as you turn.

15). The car will start to skate a little bit sideways as it enters The Follow Through. Give slight throttle as it does. You'll be tempted to floor the gas (as I did) early, but this bad. Causes loss of traction/speed.  

16). As you cruise thru Bentley (where the massive group of cones to the right are), look out for that lonely red cone just off-track! Knocking it over will guarantee a FAIL.

17). There's a short, wide landing-strip of a straight, and the plane is now off to our right in the distance. We're going straight but we'll need to edge off towards the left eventualy. Watch what the cars up ahead do as they enter this area, known as Bacharach. This is a very blind area. 

18). Look off on the right side of the track. There will be another one of those red & white markers sitting in the grass. As you pass it, start braking firmly, and then steer towards the giant X on the tarmac. It's a large, blackened "X". You'll see what I mean. As you aim towards the left, you can start braking firmly just before passing over the X, or brake earlier where that marker was.. Downshift to 3rd while carefully steering in and braking if you need to.           

19). Up ahead, one of the Elises gets into a wild slide, smoking its tires. This is the Gambon, a short straight area. Chances are, we'll also get into a bit of a slide even if driving aids are ON. Just control the car as you enter the short straight area. Downshift into 2nd possibly.  

20). #4 brakes a little too cautiously, giving us a passing advantage if we get it right. Cheaters can also push this Elise off-track if they like, using this particular car as a wall.

21). We're back in the Start/Finish area. By this point, I had just three cars left to pass. The leading car sometimes gets a bit of distance ahead of everyone else, but if you follow the course's rules, don't give too much throttle in 2nd gear too early, and brake & steer without excessive sliding, gold should now be in your hands. Rinse & repeat.

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The Gran Turismo Kubelwagen Challenge (Advanced)

For some reason, I thought this final challenge would include cars which are really fast, big, and really difficult to control. I thought we'd be racing Aston Martins or something. And as the challenge started, I looked at the grid of eight Kubelwagens, and thought this is gonna be a cinch. Heh heh..then I saw the rest of the field, which is a group of Swimmwagens driving on the opposite side of the track!  Uh oh...

But this "advanced" challenge is actually the easiest of all, in my opinion. The main things to watch (of course) are those Swimmwagens during the Follow-Through area, where the two paths of driving on this silly track can possibly collide. Here are some tips.

1): Never over-rev your Kubelwagen. Watch your speed. As it goes between 49 and 50 miles per hour down straight areas, think ahead, and start giving less throttle. Somewhere between half-throttle to three-quarter's throttle is usually sufficient. The Ai is of course maxing it at such times, since they don't know any better. As their engines meet their RPM limits, they'll start to slow back, and here's our chance for an easy pass here and there.

2). Certain areas do not require any brakes at all. Yet, the Ai will be braking heavily into such areas. Gambon is a great example. Chicago might require just a blip of brakes, and maybe a downshift into 3rd gear if traffic is just ahead of us but I've used no brakes / 4th gear if there is nobody to immediately pass.

3). Start watching for the opposing traffic as early as you can. As you roll on the straight areas of the track that lead into the Follow-Through, it is possible to plan ahead, and slow down if you need to, all to avoid a good sideswipe. It is possible to hit somebody and wind up golding this event, but it is best to just avoid all contact.

4). The leading Kubelwagen seems to be able to avoid all contact with the others, meaning it will usually get a good, strong lead. Don't freak out. Just be patient. Don't hit that RPM limiter, don't use brakes (or use them as sparingly as possible). And don't don't don't get in an accident. The leader usually is done for by the time he's rolling into the final braking zone of Gambon. And if not then, at least by the very last turn of the event.
      















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