Racing games that are serious about the strategy of racing?

As much as I’ve enjoyed Project Cars 3 for its character, variety, and progression system, I’m keenly aware that it’s mostly about lap times. The actual races are fine, but they don’t have any interesting solutions for how to make you not bang off other cars around corners, and they don’t take into account damage or wear over the course of a race. They don’t even have pitting! When the rubber hits the road, Project Cars 3 is mostly about getting the best lap times you can get, with occasional and occasionally silly donnybrooks included for good measure.

But what if I wanted to take it to the next step? Can someone recommend a racing game that really takes into account the long-term considerations of actual racing? If I were interested in the strategic element of a race, what’s a game that would reward my interest? That really embraces the idea of a race as a long-term battle with other cars, as something in which pitting, colored flags, and not bouncing off other cars to take turns is fundamental? Preferably something with seasons and hopefully even progression of some type. Even if it’s not a driving sim! Is there some sort of team management game like that one soccer fans spend hundreds of hours playing? NFL Football Manager, or whatever it’s called?

@Mr_Bismarck, as one of our resident racing game connoisseurs, what would you recommend? And don’t say “join a multiplayer league”! I’m looking for something I can tinker with as a single-player game as I learn.


Not Bismarck, but I too have longed for a more management focused racing game, but the only one I know of is Motorsport Manager. It’s probably what you’re looking for, but it often feels that the grind is more important than the strategy.

I believe RFactor 2 is generally considered to have the best tire-wear and track models, so it’s probably the most strategic among the actual racing sims.

Oh, and the current F1 and NASCAR games both have career modes. I don’t like most modern F1 tracks so never tried it, but it’s well regarded and the newest one lets you run your own team, but I think it’s pretty limited there. Not sure about the NASCAR game, but I think its reviews were always mixed.

This is quite the rabbit hole, so I’ll split the answer into two parts and start with the Football Manager-style game and echo Dissensus, as my recommendation would be Motorsport Manager.

It’s originally a mobile game but the move over to PC was done well and it’s a fun time that can offer a few different kinds of entertainment.

Firstly with DLC you can choose between racing in the open wheel “Formula” cars, GT-style cars or the endurance LMP-style cars, then you can choose the length of your events (100% endurance races that go on for hours!) and finally you can pick to start with one of the existing teams, from good to awful, or start a brand new CHICK RACING team from nothing (what’s worse than awful?) for extra-extra challenge.

The game also allows for mods and the Steam workshop has quite a lot, although the best ones are focused primarily on making a good facsimile of Formula 1.

There are some quirks, like when you design a new part you only get one of them, not two so you constantly have one car better than the other. This can be worked to your advantage though as drivers all have personalities and some of them require being designated the lead driver and being given a better car or they sulk.

Some of its glow comes from it having zero serious competition, but it is a really good game.

As for the first part, I suspect it doesn’t exist right now.

Project Cars 3 and something like the most recent GRiD feel like genuine attempts, but the core to a racing game is the racing and when a game drops a player into a race with low lap count and puts you in 12th place it’s usually an admission that the racing part isn’t actually very good.

It’s like a racing game version of the Chick Parabola. The intent is you fly around with your hair on fire trying to find a way past 11 cars in three laps in the hope that it’ll all be so hectic that you won’t notice that the AI doesn’t know how to drive. At all.

At the other end of the spectrum are games like the rFactors, Automobilistas, Assetto Corsas, Raceroom Racing Experience and it’s hard to recommend them because I suspect they’re aimed at a completely different audience and none of them offer a Pokemon style “collect 'em all” experience.

If I did have to pick one of these traditional sims I would go for the original Assetto Corsa.

Firstly it’s now frequently very cheap for the complete version with all the DLC so you’re out about $10 if the experiment doesn’t work out. Also it does have something pretending to be a career mode, although this is really just a gated series of events where winning one season will progress you to the next. It also has a fun collection of slow cars and the AI is fine.

All of those can be played with a gamepad, but a wheel will make a vast difference to consistency.

So my real choices for people coming from racing games who want to dip a toe into something more about racing would probably be:

Forza Motorsport 7

Has a large car catalogue that you can unlock and or buy with currency earned by driving and has some structure to offer, progressing through certain "Cups’ that limit car type and power.

The AI is fine and some powerful cars are controllable without using a wheel. It isn’t for everyone, but I have a soft spot for this game.

The downside is you have to use the MS store which is a nightmare and as with a lot of the games I play there isn’t much structure. A lot of the fun will come from thinking “I feel like racing these cars at this track” and then setting up that combo yourself.

Formula 1 2020

The official game of the Formula 1 world championship lowers the difficulty of driving the cars to appeal to a mass audiences and has a career mode where you progress from a (thin) Formula 2 season into Formula 1, develop your car and advance your way up the grid to better cars.

F1 has a lot of widgets and greeblies, but you can set the game to control things like engine mapping, DRS and energy deployment and never think about them again.

MotoGP 2019/20

If you’re prepared to try riding a bike with a gamepad these games are a really good time. The AI is good and the career mode is excellent. In 2019 you can start in the Red Bull Junior series where everyone has the exact same tech, but in 2020 you’ll need to start in Moto3, then advance to Moto2 and then MotoGP.

I have had many of my best offline (single player), races ever in this series, because the lower power bikes are very slipstream dependent which means you end up racing in a pack and will struggle to escape the AI. This comes naturally without the devs having to put in some sort of artificial rubber banding.

The career mode is good for feeling like you’re making progress as a rider and you get to improve your bike as you go too, unlocking development points by meeting goals and targets in the practice sessions before races.

The lines through corners and braking approaches you take on a bike are very different to that in a car and the game hurts itself by having one of the worst “suggested lines” in all racing games. It turns in too late and brakes in wildly incorrect places so if you’re new it will actively hinder your enjoyment. It feels like a big step to turn it off, but it will really reward you to ignore it.


I was a real European snob about “circle driving” before I accidentally ran a Rookie Oval race in iRacing because my regular road race wasn’t ready. I quickly became hooked to what is a totally different experience.

The (not always four!) corners on a track aren’t actually identical, but the deal really isn’t learning the track, it’s learning how to survive with 40 other lunatics driving close enough that you can see the whites of their wild eyes. At two hundred miles per hour.

Bad beats are a constant as you’ll frequently be caught up in accidents that weren’t your fault and if you do finish a race you’ll probably have cramp in your hands from white-knuckling the wheel/gamepad.

The game has a career mode and a mode where you start your own team from scratch. I enjoy this series - just don’t tell anyone.

Does Qvadriga count?

I thought the strategy of racing was “drive faster than everybody else.”

Really any of the F1 games, even an older one if you want to check it out on the cheap. These are very detailed in terms of flagging, tire wear, pit stops, fuel consumption etc. They are also really good driving games in their own right. There’s a fairly extensive career mode that can be pretty engaging as well.

I played a NASCAR game back in the 2000s that really surprised me with how much it was about strategy, not racing. After all, it was mostly racing in an oval. But it was about how you use the drafting to preserve fuel and keep top speeds, and when you pit to get more fuel. Of course, it was compressed because you can’t make gamers sit there for hours in a race.

I remember something similar in Test Drive Le Mans, the racing game on the Dreamcast. They even had the option not to compress time by doing an actual 24 hours race, but me and my friends fantasized about doing that option but never actually did it.

Similarly, I think the first GRID had that kind of strategic feeling with their Le Mans race, where they compressed the time but it was still long enough that you had to worry about going in to the pit to refuel. But maybe in my mind I’m mixing up GRID with Test Drive Le Mans. That’s entirely possible.

I was going to mention the F1 games. Not sure they are exactly what Tom is seeking, but they are at least along those lines. Tremendous racing games, too. (and quite difficult, at least for a klutz like me)

One of the reasons I was so excited about Assetto Corsa Competizione - it’s a game that focuses on GT racing and endurance races that allows you to save and exit in the middle of the race.

I think it’s the first one to actively promote that since something like GTR2 and it allows me to run 24 hour races, one hour at a time.

I’ve even done the thing previously where you race for an hour, save the game and then pass the save on to someone else for them to take on, so you can have a team of you doing very long races. It’s a lot of fun.

I’m also voting for MotoGP.

I played one of these too. The oval racing was really all about testing your car setup from the workshop / pit stop changes, shaving a few ms off each lap time here and there. It was actually very enjoyable finding a perfect racing line for each tweak, going for performance over endurace or vice versa. The long races were a workout, but the best part was the damage modeling, ensuring that at some point I’d turn around and race in the opposite direction to create the most carnage possible.

Yeah in Test Drive Le Mans on the Dreamcast you had to pit at Le Mans in order to save the game.

Dirt Rally, because you have to be consistent and keep your car in one piece.

Descenders has rogue-lite season structure, where you have to pick your way through the events in a Slay The Spire kind of way. Maybe not what you’re looking for, but kind of unique.

Cyanide Studios made a series of cycling games, including Pro Cycling Manager 2020.

Those giant bicycle crowds make me want a musou cycling combat game.

Yeah, counter to common perception, oval racing might be the most ‘strategic’ type of racing outside of endurance (I guess an endurance oval would be the ultimate here). Mostly, I think it’s the lack of refueling that really limits race strategy in F1, that and lacking the multiple drafting lanes. But, oval racing is really stressful. I’m not sure I could handle too many in one session. And the scenery is frequently underwhelming in ovals, not that road courses are immune from that.

My reservations about a NASCAR sim are the length of season and track selection. If I could run a much shorter season than the 30+ they do in real life and focus mostly on short tracks, super speedways, and road courses, I could have a lot of fun with it. Well, that and getting rid of the playoff system. I bet NASCAR Heat lets you customize the former to some extent, though the latter might be asking too much.

Are there plans to handle multiple drivers per team? It seems like every time I’ve played a game with endurance racing, it expects you to run the entire race. That’s great for control freaks, but misses the experience of having to rely on teammates to keep your timing up. I get that it can be frustrating for gamers to totally cede control to an AI and yes, I’d be upset if I put together some great stints to have my AI teammate crash out, but I’d like the option for a greater sense of verisimilitude (choosing teammates to share a car with would add an extra layer of strategy too). [For solo play with an AI partner, I should specify.]

Despite Motorsport Manager’s namesake, it only deals with one type of motorsport i.e. Formula 1 racing. My major complain of the game is that you’d hit the peak of Chick’s parabola very soon once you realize that the AI doesn’t know how to plan for rainy sessions! The weather prediction was so accurate in the game you could time it easily when to replace the cars with wet tyres while the AI remained oblivious. You’d pull off significantly large margin so much so your cars could sometimes lap the second place in wet races.

I’m not sure whether the developers have addressed the broken AI management in wet races. Otherwise, it did pretty good in modelling the critical strategy aspects of F1 races e.g. tyre choices, pit strategy, car setup for a track, etc.

This isn’t the case. Official DLC packs for GT and Prototype racing came out a couple years ago.

ACC enforces stint limits (usually 60 minutes at a time) and requires you come in and change drivers on penalty of disqualification. Of course you are both the person driving in and the person driving out, but most of these games have a button to switch to AI control, so you could change drivers, press the AI button and then go about your day.


The joys of endurance racing.

Lap 1 : “I can’t see on the run to Piratella!”

Lap 21 : “I can’t see on the run to Piratella!”