September 02, 2009

 South of Stockholm lies the Swedish GP-styled racetrack at Mantorp. This place seems small by comparison to well-known layouts like Brands Hatch but makes for a good practice track for area racers like Patrick Soderlund, EVP of EA's European games label. He and his professional race team are preparing for 24hrs at Nürburgring, and have agreed to bring International press along for the ride. Car & Driver and Men’s Fitness are just two of the outfits here bringing some NYC way of life to the Swedish country side. Mantorp's front and backside straights, chicane to a hard downhill righthand-breaking corner before an uphill s-turn, provide one hell of a thrill as my open top Ginetta is passed like standing still by these race-tuned Porsche GT3's wearing black-on-white SHIFT liveries. I don't even see them in the mirrors before the sound of their engine racing by at 6000rpms rips through the atmosphere inside my helmet. A ride inside these beasts prove out the difference of stock vs race tuned; comfort stripped and heavily modified rides. SHIFT uses all of these interior elements to provide the most unique element to racing in Need for Speed. Independently-mounted head camera jostles separately from the car chassis over rumble strips or off-road surfaces. Impact with other cars snaps the drivers head left and right, as the body rocks the opposite direction. At speed everything shakes so violently the dashboard loses detail and blurs to focus view on the road ahead. All this is analogous to the visceral thrill of hammering the back straight at Mantorp @ 240Kmh and braking hard at 150meters to scrub enough speed prior to the ripping through the downhill corner holding 160kmh. Ripping back uphill through the s-turns prior to roaring down the front straight in-front of the grand stands. The journalists are heard to scream, squeal and laugh at the sheer thrill all day. No one admits to wetting themselves but I have my doubts. The Ginettas are an open-top English roadster popular in large community racedays throughout Europe. They’re low to the ground and have short throw five-speed shifters, though 2nd through 4th are all that's used over the circuit at Mantorp. During the day three road warriors run off the track covering themselves in dirt, one breaking a motor mount. A few more spin outs and 180's and I realize not everyone should be allowed to drive. In the front parking lot a time attack course is arranged with a Volvo turbo wagon for competing times through an obstacle course. This seems drab next to watching the 180hp riding mower that's making 200kmh speed runs down the track at Mantorp. Everyone's mouth agape at the sound and sight of the lone rider hammering the wheelie bar as this tiny beast roars down the front straight. What a scene and a sight, what a rush and a life to live this automotive hobby in the flesh for everyone in attendance. The time playing with SHIFT is spent on both PS3 and Xbox 360, representing the scalable physics and AI difficulty, from professional setup with zero assists in some Tier 2 cars like Nissan GT-R and Audi RS4, to a highly assisted driving model for supercars like the McClaren F1 on Willow Springs and the Lamborghini Reventon at Laguna Seca. These cars accelerate quickly and amplify the full effect of the Driver Experience, head camera slamming back on acceleration. They brake so well into each corner throwing the 1st person POV forward, further selling The Driver in the race. This aspect is so innovative to the racing genre the European press are often transfixed watching others race.