Thrustmaster GP1

Following are my comments on the Thrustmaster GP1. See my technical requirements page for more details about other hardware mentioned here. Also see my T2 page for some tweaks, some of which also apply to the GP1.

Well, I finally broke down and bought a Thrustmaster GP1 wheel. I'd wanted one since I first saw them, but couldn't justify the original price because I already have a Thrustmaster T2 and a CH Pro Pilot yoke and CH Pedals. But today I saw the GP1 for $49 at Sam's and couldn't resist.

What has intrigued me was the possibility of using the paddles on the back of the wheel for shifting, while using my CH Pedals for brake and throttle. Just like a real F1 car. Now that I've tried it, I love it!

New! July 98 - It turns out that the GP1's paddles make it ideal for Grand Prix Legends, because it provides a way to utilize GPL's unique analog clutch feature. See below for details.

Following is a comparison to the T2, a review of the GP1, and notes on how to set up the GP1 for use with Grand Prix Legends.

Comparison of GP1 and T2

The two are very similar; most of the injection moldings for the case appear to be virtually identical. The internal workings of the wheel look identical.

The biggest difference, of course, is that the GP1 has no pedals, but instead has two paddles on the back side of the wheel. These operate two potentiometers which function as Joystick 1's Y axis. These are intended to be used for brake and throttle.

Also, instead of a shift lever, there are two buttons on the front of the wheel which are intended to be used for shift up and shift down.

There are two other significant differences. The rim of the GP1's wheel is narrower and harder (and feels cheaper) and the travel of the wheel is limited to 180 degrees vs. 270 degrees in the T2. Also, in general the GP1 looks cheaper, with a sticky decal on the front instead of a casting, and a plastic instead of aluminum panel around the wheel hub.

Road Test

So far I've only used the GP1 with my favorite sim, the Rendition-ready version of ICR2.

First I tried the GP1 as a normal wheel, using the CH Pedals, figuring this is the setup that would be most similar to the T2 that I'm used to. Since I normally use Automatic Shifting, the buttons and paddles on the GP1 wouldn't be used.

The GP1 worked ok this way, but its limited travel, plus stiction in the wheel due to the stiff bungee, made me much more clumsy - and slower - at my current venue, Vancouver, than I have been with the T2. I changed the bungee to a weaker one (see below) and got an immediate improvement, but still found the limited travel to be a disadvantage. With 50% less travel, the car is much twitchier. I could go into the garage and cut back on steering lock, but this would leave me with less lock for the hairpins or banzai burnouts when I need to turn around after spinning out.

Luckily, as I was replacing the bungee, I noticed that the GP1 had two mysterious little holes near the top of the panel, plugged up with plastic plugs. These turned out to be in exactly the same place as the stops in the T2. Voila! All I need to do is knock out the plugs and move the stops to the upper holes, and I'll get 270 degrees of motion! Cool!

However, after using the wheel a bit, it was apparent that Thrustmaster had limited the travel for a reason: with 270 degrees, your arms are going to get pretty twisted if you have to keep your hands in place to hold onto the throttle and brake paddles. So before boring into my new equipment with my trusty Black & Decker, I decided to try the GP1 as it was intended, using the paddles for throttle and brakes.

I changed the settings in ICR2 to use the paddles, and hit the track. To my surprise, I adapted very quickly to this; in a couple of laps, I was within a couple of seconds of my best time with the T2. Awesome! This means this wheel is actually useful and is a reasonable low-cost alternative to the T2. The only drawback is that my hands got tired when doing all the work of steering, braking, and accelerating, but I'm sure this would improve with practice.

Hmm. I wonder if my rapid adaptation is a result of endless hours of wasted youth, driving slot cars with my right forefinger, so that now this seems perfectly natural?

But I digress. Despite my quick adaptation, the car was still twitchy, so I got out the Black & Decker and moved the stops to get the full 270 degrees, making sure the steering pot wasn't being forced past its limits. It worked! Now the car felt almost exactly the same as with the T2 (except for the cheesy skinny wheel rim). Just for fun, I switched back to the wheel and pedal configuration and ripped off a lap within a couple of tenths of my T2 record. Excellent!

Now for my grand experiment. How would it be to use the paddles as shifters? Could I make a lap without blowing the engine (a previously unheard-of feat, in my case!) I went back to the ICR2 Options screen, and set the paddles to be Shift Up and Shift Down, and turned on Manual Shifting.

Totally cool! I blew the engine leaving the pits, of course, but then I was able to run several laps without leaving virtual engine parts all over the track. I got to within a couple of seconds of my personal record, something unheard of in previous attempts at automatic shifting.

As a comparison, I went back to the T2, leaving Manual Shifting turned on. Amazingly, after a couple of explosions, I was able to drive for a few laps without blowing the engine. My brain must have gotten hooked up to this idea somehow!

But I found this much more awkward. Having to remove my hand from the steering wheel to get to the shift lever definitely impacted my concentration and my smoothness at the wheel, as well as my lap times. I am sure that with practice I would get better, but it would never be as good as using the paddles for shifting. I guess those F1 guys had a good reason for moving the shifters to the steering wheel a few years ago.

Despite my clumsiness right now in trying to steer and manually shift, my lap times, along with the behavior of the car at certain points on the track, make me suspect that using manual shifting is ultimately faster. That is, if I can get to the point where it becomes almost automatic, and doesn't distract me from steering, throttle, and braking chores. It will be interesting to see if I can actually demonstrate this.

In conclusion, I have to say that my experiment is a grand success, even better than I'd hoped because it was so easy to change the stops to get 270 degrees of travel.

For $49, the GP1 is a steal. The combination of the GP1 and a pair of CH Pedals (which I bought for $50 at Circuit City, I believe, some time ago) is cheaper than a T2 and distinctly superior to it if you want to do your own shifting. You'd have to spend hundreds of dollars or build your own wheel to surpass this setup.


Using CH Pedals allow another advantage: on its "Car" setting, the left pedal is the Joystick 2 Y axis, and the right pedal is the Joystick 2 X axis. This allows you to set up ICR2 so that you can press brake and throttle at the same time. In the T2, the pedals are both on the Joystick 1 Y axis, so stepping on both pedals just gives some compromise value. With the CH Pedals on separate axes, it may be possible to steer the car at low speeds with simultaneous application of brake and throttle, or get the engine "up on the boost" before releasing the brake.

Other Tweaks

Unfortunately, the GP1 is stuck with the T2's lousy clamps for attaching it to the tabletop. Compared with those of the CH Pro Pilot yoke, these are a joke. I've found I can keep the T2 (and GP1) in place pretty well if I clamp a thick rubber mouse pad between the wheel base unit and the table.

My brother Nate removed the clamps and bolted the wheel base unit to metal straps which in turn are bolted to the table, which works great, but limits portability a bit.

I found that the T2's steering potentiometer gets loose in the boss where it sits, resulting in some free play and therefore some lack of precision and consistency in the steering. I've safety-wired mine so it doesn't move in the boss. I suspect the GP1 will need this too eventually, since its internal design seems to be identical to the T2's.

The stock bungees in the T2 and GP1 result in fairly high steering effort. Since the steering shaft bearings aren't all that great, this results in a fair amount of stiction, as well as more of a tendency for the wheel to come loose from the table (damn those clamps!) as I saw merrily away at it. I've replaced my bungees with lighter-weight ones from bicycle tie-down bungees. Using the little spools that come on the original bungee turns out to be important to keep the new bungee from wearing out.

See my T2 page for more details on these two mods, and other suggestions that are also relevant to the GP1.

With the CH Pedals, and using the paddles for shifting, that leaves all four buttons on the GP1 unused. Using the GP2Button patch, it would be possible to assign them to, say, roll bar adjustment, or perhaps pit communication functions. I plan to try this at some point.

Using the GP1 with Grand Prix Legends

July 98 - It turns out that the GP1's fingertip paddles make it ideal for use with Grand Prix Legends. However, to use it this way, you need a pedal unit, which I consider essential with GPL anyway. I use CH Pedals (not the CH Pro Pedals; just the vanilla CH Pedals). These pedals have a switch which allows you to put the pedals on seperate axes, which is really almost essential in GPL; you need to be able to left-foot brake at times while you still have some power in, and having seperate pedal axes allows you to do this.

The GP1 simply plugs into the CH Pedals' Y-connector, and voila! You now have a four-axis controller that will not confuse Windows 95's Game Controllers Control Panel. Note that if you have an older GP1, you'll need to use the adapter that came with it (or that you can order from Papyrus) to put the GP1's paddles onto the Y axis of joystick A (also known as Axis 2, or, in GPL's configuration panel, Axis 1, the steering axis being Axis 0).

If you use GPL's Direct driver, simply define the GP1/CH combo as a four-axis, four-button joystick. If you wish, you can create a Custom configuration and check the Is a Race Car Controller box. This will give you all four axes, and modify the steering response curve slightly. If you use GPL's Optimized driver (essentially the old DOS driver from N2 and ICR2) you'll get all four axes automatically.

When you configure this controller combination in GPL, simply tell it that the CH pedals are throttle and brake, and one of the paddles is the clutch (I prefer the left one for the clutch). The other paddle will be unused, but who cares? Now you can make smoking, screaming burnouts with the best of 'em!

The GP1/CH Pedals combo is ridiculously cheap; I got my CH Pedals for $50 at Circuit City, and GP1's are rumored to be selling (at EB/Babbiges?) for $50 - with a $50 rebate! But hurry; this deal is not likely to last long, and probably signals the end of the production run of the GP1.

My comments on the GP1 with Spectrum Holobyte's Grand Prix 2:

I finally got around to trying this wheel with GP2. It works fine, but unfortunately, unlike ICR2, GP2 does not allow you to select joystick axes as shift triggers. So, you must use the buttons on the front of the wheel for shifting, as Thrustmaster intended. If you're using CH pedals, then the paddles on the back of the wheel go unused when running GP2. A pity.