IndyCar Series 2005: Last of the Breed

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We take a look back at Codemasters’ IndyCar Series 2005, the last full-fledged modern IndyCar game ever to be released.
IndyCar Series 2005: Last of the Breed

Twenty years have passed since IndyCar has been the subject of a standalone video game, with Motorsport Games’ recently aborted attempt now in developmental purgatory.

IndyCar Series 2005 simulated the entire 2003 season (yes, a game released in 2004, calling itself ‘IndyCar Series 2005’, re-creating the 2003 season), and was the follow-up to IndyCar Series from the year before, both developed by Codemasters.

If that isn’t confusing enough, IndyCar racing was a minefield of splits, litigation and baffling decisions, with the Indy Racing League (IRL) and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) operating separate open-wheel series in North America (with the odd race abroad, as was the case with the race at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi).

IndyCar Series 2005: Last of the Breed
IndyCar Series 2005 had a cockpit view, and it was a great way to play the game

IRL was the home of the Indy 500, however, and this took centre stage in IndyCar 2005, with the IRL’s roster of cars, drivers and tracks – consisting entirely of ovals – all present and correct in-game.

The Indy 500 even had its own game mode, with practice and qualifying sessions building toward the full, 500-mile extravaganza, including pitstops and cautions. It was a comprehensive celebration of all things IndyCar and was perhaps more simulation than arcade – surprising for a PlayStation 2 and Xbox racing game.

IndyCar Series 2005: Last of the Breed
Weight jacker issue

The last Indy sim?

It’s fair to say that IndyCar 2005 was more detailed than you’d expect from an officially licensed console title. In fact, to be competitive in the single-player career mode you had to meddle with your set-up, lest you became a mobile chicane.

Tyre pressures, gear ratios, camber, toe and wings could all be adjusted, and while out on track players could tweak the weight jacker (moving it to the left utterly transformed your car’s handling) and fuel mixture settings on the fly. It was impressive stuff and you had to stay in the draft and groove to make progress.

Indycar 2005 was tough, however: controlling your car could be problematic. As the green flag flew, preventing wheelspin was an exercise in patience, with turn-in at high speed requiring precision timing.

IndyCar Series 2005: Last of the Breed
Twin Ring Motegi Superspeedway

Luckily,  your spotter was on hand to guide you through races. Although his constant calls of ‘left side, left side, left side’ could grate, they were genuinely useful. And you needed all the help you could get, as one false move from the twitchy controls and you’d be in the wall and out of the race.

However, once you’d binned it, the resulting replay was spectacular to watch, with car parts flying everywhere and cars rolling over. AI opponents could also lose control by themselves, adding extra jeopardy to driving at 230 mph.

And to add even more realism you could use a steering wheel peripheral, then play against friends online – a pretty impressive feat for a 2004 console game.

Oops

Old faces

The driver lineup oozes with nostalgia too, with long-forgotten names like Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter and Helio Castroneves forming the grid. Hang on…

Genuinely, however, IndyCar 2005 tugs at the heartstrings of motorsport fans when the likes of the dearly departed Tony Renna, Dan Wheldon and 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran flash up on-screen. 

15 tracks are faithfully replicated in-game, with some receiving slightly more attention than others. Indy is perhaps the most accurate circuit representation in-game, with the bright lights of Texas adding a little night-racing ambience. On the other hand, some tracks are a bit bland, with the game’s graphics slightly simplistic, even for 2004.

This extends to the game’s audio, with exhaust notes and background music grating, but maybe not enough to put hardcore IndyCar fans off.

All the old favourites are here (and still there full-time, in the case of Dixon)

Dan Wheldon: future star

Emerging English talent Dan Wheldon played a central role in IndyCar Series 2005, providing his voice for the game’s neat ‘Masterclass’ mode, explaining the intricacies of IndyCar racing in his distinctive mid-Atlantic drawl.

The tutorials are thorough and tough to beat: achieving a gold-rated time takes a lot of patience but they’re a fantastic way for beginners to understand the minutiae of IndyCar racing.

The fact that future two-time Indy 500 winner Wheldon (2005 and 2011) leant his voice to the game helps add an air of authenticity to proceedings, something World Rally Champion Richard Burns would also implement in his eponymous rally title – Richard Burns Rally – just a month later in July 2004.

Unfortunately, however, there was less help available in normal single-player races, where input from an in-game engineer would’ve helped those unfamiliar with IndyCar’s rules and set-up options.

The much-missed Dan Wheldon lends his voice to IndyCar Series 2005

What next for IndyCar video games?

So, what now for IndyCar video games? Well, Motorsport Games had the license to produce and sell official IndyCar titles but couldn’t fulfil the terms of the agreement. The Australian arm of MSG was dissolved in November 2023, effectively mothballing a half-finished game in the process.

IndyCar agreed to settle the contract for $400,000, with the deal including all the IndyCar game’s assets, leaving its progress in limbo until a suitable partner can be found to take the reins.

Who could that partner be? Well, many fans would like iRacing to take the project on, considering IndyCar already has a license agreement in place with the subscription-based sim. 

Not only that, but iRacing has prior experience in publishing an officially licensed racing game thanks to World of Outlaws: Dirt Racing, developed by Monster Games. Could this be the answer? Only time will tell, but with iRacing also securing the rights to produce NASCAR console games from MSG it would make a whole lot of sense.

IndyCar Series 2005: Last of the Breed
Single file formation on pit road

Too serious?

IndyCar Series 2005 was designed to appeal to hardcore IndyCar fans but because its tracks were light on variety (not all ovals are the same, but turning left can only hold one’s interest so long) and the learning curve was steep, casual fans were perhaps a little alienated. 

Critics were also less than enamoured, but the game got a lot of things right. Sadly, however, IndyCar Series 2005 represents the last time IndyCar had an accompanying video game, it truly was the last of the breed. Let’s hope it doesn’t stay that way.

IndyCar Series 2005: Last of the Breed
Pitstop animations were rudimentary but impressive for 2004. You could even save your game during a pitstop!

What are your thoughts and memories of IndyCar Series 2005? How closely should a modern IndyCar title follow in its slipstream? Join the discussion in our Discord server.

*although two further IndyCar titles were released on console, they were the historic-focused Indianapolis 500 Legends and  Indianapolis 500 Evolution on Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 respectively.

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