Can you make a road racing Challenger in Forza Horizon 4?
Dodge Challengers are a rare sight at road courses IRL and in Forza Horizon 4, so I set out to if you could make a proper track day Chally!
I'm sure it won't be a surprise to hear that there are very few Challenger Hellcats raced online in Forza Horizon 4 online lobbies. Much like in the real world, one does not simply see a Challenger in a “road racing” setting all that often. While driving what used to be my go-to car for S1 900 online lobbies (a 2013 SRT Viper made to look like a TA), I wondered what would happen if I made a Challenger similarly to how I made my Viper “TA” and how well –or horribly– it would fare in an S1 900 online lobby. My goal was to make it somewhere in the top 5. That was what I was considering “competitive”.
It took a lot of upgrades, tuning, and getting used to, but I can now report on my findings...
First Chapter: The Upgrades
So what did I do for upgrades then? Well, initially, my whole goal was to make a purely handling-focused car (a lot like my S1 900 Viper TA replicar). The Hellcat has 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque but only has 275-section tires, so obviously (and rather infamously) the Hellcat has traction problems that would need to be resolved first.
Annoyingly, I couldn't go for the one option that would have the best chance of solving the Challenger's tire woes though. The Liberty Walk widebody kit that I was pining for at the beginning of this build removes the option for a front splitter. Annoying, because –outside of increased tire widths– I was banking on the presence of a splitter to reduce the understeer of the Hellcat. Unlike the Viper, which has its front-engine far enough beyond the front axle to be called a front-mid-engine car, the Challenger's 6.2 liter V8 is pretty much right on top of the front axle. This means that, while the weight distribution itself isn't the worst ever, there is more weight on the nose (and axle) of the car than is ideal for track driving, which means you're very likely to encounter some understeer.
Again, as a way of combating this, I was hoping to get the splitter along with the Widebody kit. With those dreams dashed though, I decided that having some aerodynamic weight on the front-end for mid-to-high speed corners was a little more important than getting some slightly bigger tires.
As it turns out, that might've been a good call. For the front, I could get some Viper-sized 295-section front tires, and some not-so-Viper-sized 335-section rear tires. All with the narrow body. Not only that, but I could increase the track-width at both ends, which also gave me some handling benefits.
As I said at the beginning, my initial goal was to make a purely handling-focused car. I wasn't going to touch the power because the Hellcat doesn't really need more power. Its old suspension and high power output made it clear in my mind that all I would need to do is put some racing springs on the car and take as much weight out as possible (among other things). As I would come to find out though, I wasn't able to make a purely handling-focused Challenger that would also make it to the top of S1-class (S1 900). I did all the normal race upgrades and even went for one of the lightest wheels in the game but to no avail.
Some of you might be saying “why wouldn't you just leave the power then?” And the simple answer is that I wouldn't be as competitive without doing all the upgrades I could for the class. With that in mind, reluctantly, I went to the engine menu and started adding power.
Surprisingly, I had more than enough Pi left to do almost everything. I did the air-filter, the fuel system, the ignition, the exhaust (a must for power and weight reduction), the flywheel, the compression/pistons, the valves, and even the camshafts. The result? About 880 horsepower and somewhere above 750 lb-ft of torque. Way more power than I wanted, especially considering this car's less-than-ideal suspension for proper, competitive track driving. Oh, and the weight. I did manage to get the car down to 3,400-ish pounds (which isn't too bad all things considered) but I still feared the big coupe would be too heavy to make it within the top 5.
However, I did have one last ace up my sleeve for making the Challenger Hellcat as competitive as possible: Tuning. For those of you who want one of the best guides for tuning I've found for Forza, check out this video from Hoki Hoshi. I tune all my cars with this method now and all of them are just awesome to drive on the roads of Horizon 4.
Gushing aside, I now had to –yet again– bank on this method to turn the Challenger into a weapon for the track (however effective).
Then the time came to put the Challenger to the test and see if it really could be made into something competitive enough for consistent top 5 finishes...
Second Chapter: The Racing
I must confess, my first few stints with the big coupe weren't exactly the last word in racing perfection. I had been driving my S1 Viper a lot beforehand so getting used to a car that was significantly heavier and had worse dynamics wasn't something I accounted for prior to jumping in some online lobbies. However, once I settled in and got used to the Challenger's different characteristics, I started doing strangely good. The weight was still there, but it was tolerable. I –finally– wasn't the slowest car in a straight thanks to the monstrous power, the brakes were much better than expected, and the grip was a vast improvement over stock. Wheelspin was still a concern, but as long as you rolled onto the throttle at the appropriate time with appropriate care, you could get out of the corners way better than before.
It wasn't all good news though. The Challenger had a weird tendency to undulate unnervingly through some corners (as if the damping wasn't stiff enough and there wasn't enough suspension travel to cope with that), it still felt a bit heavy for the class, and despite the power output it still wasn't the fastest car on the grid.
With all that in mind, were all the upgrades and half-hour I spent on tuning enough to make the Challenger Hellcat properly competitive in S1 class? Yes.
Let me be fair about things for a second, we all know that Forza online lobbies aren't the pinnacle of driving excellence (as I demonstrated in my first few races), doing well in lobbies like this aren't the end-all-be-all of whether you or your car is any good (despite the presence of a few tryhards). I wasn't looking –or expecting– to win. All I wanted was to be in the top 5. If I could be in the top 5 whilst being in a nearly full field whilst also dealing with tryhards, then I would know whether or not this build was any good.
And so that came to be.
The Bamburgh Coast Circuit
While not the first track I went to, the Bamburgh Coast Circuit would prove to be one of the most educational tracks I went to during the multiplayer rotation. With a combination of slow corners, fast sweepers, and long mid-speed corners, this track was a great place to see what the Challenger was made of.
And so it was. Turn 1 proved that the Challenger had far less understeer problems than I feared it might (yes, even with the splitter). I was expecting to be in the next house but I couldn't have been more wrong! The Challenger dug into the tarmac like a terrified toddler after seeing a mascot and made it through the turn with surprising speed. Not quite at the level of my Viper but not too far off all things considered! The double-left hander also proved to be no match for the mighty Challenger. I had more than enough grip to keep up with the significantly lighter machinery around me and I actually had more corner speed than some of them (some of that was down to their poor racing line though).
The next left-hander before the long right-sweeper (a corner I fear because of its tightness) also didn't dampen the Challenger's stride. I did have to be wary of my throttle input so I didn't just obliterate the tires but provided I could be careful there the Challenger once again was proving itself to be an enjoyable car on the track.
However. There was one section of the track I didn't realize would bring the big coupe to its knees. The left-right-left-left chicane just before the main straight. Perhaps foolishly, I thought I had solved all of the Challenger's corning problems (based on my experience with the previous turns), so when I came to the big braking zone for this slow set of corners, I was lulled into this sense of comfort that I'd be able to take the corner with more speed than I might've initially expected.
I should've heeded that initial expectation. The moment I got half-way through the corner I realized the Challenger was not going to play ball. The Challenger was now oddly riddled with understeer and the only way to fix it was to essentially peddle my way through the corner. A massive disadvantage, when there are multiple cars in the race that are far lighter and can carry much greater corner speed through this section (thus immediately putting them on your bumper). I thought that maybe I just overdrove the car or had a bad line, so on the second lap I tried again (waiting to see if this issue was just driver error). Sure enough, the same problem persisted. It wasn't me, the Challenger just really doesn't like slow, tight corners.
No matter how I tried to take the corner I just couldn't get a flow I was satisfied with. Annoying, but without massive suspension, weight, and dynamics changes it's probably a miracle I even managed to get this far with the Hellcat.
Overall: The first proper race with the Challenger Hellcat “ACR” turned out way better than I was expecting. For the most part, I reduced the understeer to (largely) tolerable levels and it now had SIGNIFICANTLY more grip than ever before. Enough grip to give the other cars I was racing a real fright. I even managed to finish 5th and 4th on two separate runs at the track (the first time there were 11 people on track and the second time there were 10). So far, so good.
The Princes Street Garden Circuit
Oh dear, a track with mostly slow corners. The Princes Street Gardens Circuit was a track I thought I'd really struggle at. Turn 1 is a tight corner (so understeer and oversteer could've been a problem), turn two was tight and threatened oversteer because of its geometry, the double right-hander at the end of the uphill section is tight and slow, and the first right-hand corner at the end of the down-hill Esses is also tight and slow. Not what you would call an ideal situation.
Thing is, The big boat actually did surprisingly well! I'm not going to say it was the most comfortable race I've ever had around the street circuit, but the muscle yacht put its best foot forward and put in a very respectable showing despite the weight and dynamics penalty!
Even still, the left-hander after turn 1 proved to be tricky, and like the last section at Bamburgh, the Challenger hated life through the double right-hander with every fiber of its being. Everywhere else the Challenger could just about tolerate (even the first of the double esses, though only barely).
Ironically, I wasn't the one struggling the most in the corners though. As I said at the beginning, I was gunning for the likes of the Mustang GT350R and the Camaro ZL1 1LE (or a 1LE with Forza aero), and as it happens someone finally brought a sixth-gen Camaro with Forza bits for me to race against. Once I caught up to them I found out that I was much faster than them through the turns (we were pretty equal on the straights). A good part of that was due to their poor racing lines, but I had a pretty clear advantage that I think I could press home even if they got their lines right.
Overall: While not as enjoyable to drive as it was at the Bamburgh Coast Circuit, the Hellcat “ACR” did far better than I was expecting given the tightness and slowness of the majority of the track. Even more importantly, I got to fight a car I was benchmarking and proved my Challenger could keep up! In short: You can race the Challenger Hellcat at this track, but take extra care to get the car turned for those slow corners.
Lake District Sprint:
And finally, let's talk about a sprint race. Apparently I didn't do that many of them (and few were well populated), so this one will have to do. Still, this one isn't completely full of tight corners nor is it just a straight-line snooze-fest, so let's get to analyzing.
The first big sweeper at turn one, as you would expect, was handled very well by the Challenger. It wasn't my best start so there seemed to be a bit of understeer mid-way through the corner but it was largely good news at this corner.
The north right-hand entrance at Ambleside brought more good news, though with slightly more significant notes than the big left-hand sweeper. This corner seems to decrease its radius slightly near the exit, so it's easy to think that you're understeering when really you're just running out of room. With that said, I did run a little wide on the exit and hit a portion of the cobblestone walls.
The left-hander after the north entrance was less troublesome. I kind of messed up my gear change so I didn't take as much speed going into the corner but I did power out and had more than enough room to go faster (which I would have if I didn't mess up the entrance lol).
The right-hander and left-hander at the little bridge in the beautiful (but tight town of Ambleside) always worries me. I somehow tend to mess it up going the opposite direction when in freeroam, so I felt that I had to be extra careful not to screw it up in this race. I almost screwed it up before I even made it to that corner though, I got a bit of a slide on during the left-hander before the bridge. That put me to the outside at the exit of that left-hander but put me on far too shallow a line going into the entrance of the right-hander for the bridge.
Despite that immediate screw-up, I –thankfully– got the big boat slowed down enough to take the corner without any other mistakes being made (and without costing me even more time). The rest of the race went on without other hiccups and I came in sixth. One place behind where I wanted to be but still a pretty good result.
Before we get into my overall-overall thoughts on how the races with the Challenger went, I thought it would be a good idea to explore how a similarly built widebody version would do (after all, some of you will have different preferences to me and would build your road racing Challenger that way instead).
So what did I find out when I made a Widebody version of the Challenger? Well, little that I liked, and one very big thing that I definitely didn't like. Let's begin by getting the hard facts out of the way first though.
Obviously the appeal of going this route with your Challenger build is the fact that you can get bigger rubber, and indeed I was able to get some real meaty tires on my car: A whopping 335s on the front and definitely Viper-sized 355s on the rear. Everywhere else the two Challengers are nearly identical: It has nearly the exact same horsepower (898 horsepower and 778 lb-ft of torque compared to 883 horsepower and 764 lb-ft of torque), it weighs nearly the same (3,502 pounds instead of 3,409 pounds), and the weight distribution is exactly the same at a 54/45 split.
They largely drove the same as well. The straight-line advantage I talked about earlier was (noticeably but minimally) amplified thanks to the lack of a splitter, turn-in was slightly better in some slow and medium-speed corners, but high-speed understeer was noticeably increased thanks to the lack of the splitter (exactly what I feared going this route).
What makes this car complicated is the simple fact that the lack of a splitter increased the aforementioned high-speed understeer, and I hate high-speed understeer. This meant that I actually preferred driving the narrow-body, slimmer tired Challenger than the splitter-less, thicker-tired wide-body Chally. It felt more balanced (the wide-body kind of felt like it had less rear-end grip because the overall downforce levels were down), a bit more stable, and could –obviously– carry more corner speed in the corners I aimed to make the Challenger good at.
Despite that, I managed to get more 4th and 3rd place finishes than I remember getting with the narrow-body Challenger (even though I preferred its brother). Obviously, this meant that a hot lap comparison was in order.
I decided I would go to 2 tracks and would run approximately 10 laps in each car (a little more if I felt like all the prior laps were crap). The first track I went to was the good ole' Bamburgh Coast Circuit, and the second track was actually the Lakehurst Copse Circuit. The idea behind these two tracks was that I'd go to a track that might favor the widebody (the last section at Bamburgh specifically), and then go to a track that might favor the narrow-body (Lakehurst has a lot of understeer inducing high-speed turns), just to see how big the differences would be at their logical extremes.
After running both versions of the Challenger at Bamburgh first, I got some interesting results. If you want to see those results specifically then wait to the end of this section where I'll have the charts for Bamburgh and Lakehurst, but for now the upshot is this: The Widebody managed to be a fraction faster than the Narrowbody, but only thanks to a costly bit of over-driving on my part. The lap times even reflect how infuriatingly close the two builds are, with the Narrowbody turning in a lap time of 52.352 seconds, and the Widebody turning in a lap time of 52.286 seconds. Easily within driver error.
That result is slightly puzzling, considering the Narrowbody was faster through the entirety of T1 (thanks to the splitter), T3 (thanks again to the splitter), the entrance of T4 (not the exit, where my excessive speed in the beginning cost me), T5 (thanks AGAIN to the splitter), and the first and second left-hander at the last section. Nevertheless, the end result was surprisingly close and I imagine that if I didn't mess up the exit of T4 the Narrowbody might've been slightly faster (though once again the difference would've been within driver error).
For Lakehurst, the story is exactly the same here as well! The Narrowbody and Widebody were only separated by tenths. My best time in the Narrowbody was a 1:00.960, and my best time in the Widebody was a 1:00.928. ONCE AGAIN WITHIN DRIVER ERROR!
Turn 7 (the fast left-hand sweeper lined with rocks on the exit) was the first place where I experienced the biggest difference between the two builds. The Narrowbody was far more confident here and could take noticeably more corner speed because it has, say it with me, A SPLITTER! I could carry more momentum through the turn, and scrub off speed through the duration of the corner. The widebody, on the other hand, needed to brake (like at Bamburgh) to the appropriate speed before I could turn in. That's why the Narrowbody has a high corner entry speed than the Widebody but the same exit speed.
The second place where I experienced a noticeable difference was at the last right-hander before the chicane just behind the start-finish line. While the trap speeds don't reflect a big difference, the Narrowbody felt far less understeer-y and much more confident.
My takeaway, with all that in mind, is this: Maybe you'll like driving the widebody more than I did. Maybe you'll find that it suits you're driving style a little more or perhaps you'll enjoy having some more eager turn-in than if you built a narrow-body Road Racing Challenger, but for me, that noticeable increase in high-speed understeer because of the lack of a splitter reduces the appeal of the widebody. It did feel a bit more nimble, and in some corners more eager to turn-in (again, especially at the slow section at Bamburgh where the narrow-body struggled), but a lot of routes in FH4 have high-speed corners and that's where I like to experience the least amount of understeer that I can. For me, the Narrow-body is the better build route to go.
When all is said and done, you can't really go wrong with either though. No matter which route you take, you're going to be doing a lot better than I think most people would give a Challenger like this credit for. So: Can you build an effective Challenger for road racing in Horizon 4? Absolutely, and it'll be unexpectedly good at that.
I hope you all found that entertaining and informative! Tell me what you think down in the comments below! See you all later.
Originally posted on Cody's Car Conundrum on 2/22/2021.