This Isn’t Pod Racing, it's so Much More - WipEout and the AGRL


This week Sony released WipEout - The Omega Collection. Stelvio Automotive looks into the world where Formula 1 is dead and the Anti-Gravity Racing League and Plasma cannons rule the racing scene.

By Sean Smith 

In 2017, the IndyCar Series is the fastest form of circuit racing on the planet with cars hitting top speeds of 240mph on the big ovals of Indianapolis and Pocono Speedway. In the future which I hope will exist in the year 2048 and onwards; those speeds will barely beat the lowest class of racing, the Vector division of the AGRL.

For many PlayStation stalwarts the WipEout video game series will be a well-known franchise which launched with the PlayStation 1 in 1995. The original game’s manual (which weighs about 500kg) reads as follows “It’s 2052 AD. Anti-gravity racing has become the world’s biggest sport. The F3600 Race League is where it’s at.”

But that story officially begins four years beforehand (WipEout 2048) with the first season of the sport. Set in the cities due to purpose built tracks not yet being available you fly the early F3600 rockets around New York. The series goes on through many name changes from the AGRC through to F7200 by Wip3out, then the near post-apocalyptic F9000 series set in the year 2156 AD. The tracks by this time are colossal with jumps off clifftops and skyscrapers and races through baron wastelands and mountain tops.

After years of depression, corruption and rioting in the late 2100s, the AGRL returns in the year 2197 with the FX leagues and goes on to become the final FX400 league in 2207 AD. This is a world where speeds are colossal and danger is high. There are team rivalries and a collapse of a race series backed heavily by cartels which causes worldwide recessions. It’s literally a world of racing. I love it!!!!

Going back to the start, original teams were Auricom (US/CA), Feisar (EU), Qirex (RU), Pir-hana (BR) – later Piranha - and AG Systems (JP) all with distinct rocket designs and design philosophies, Pir-hana are the best for top speeds whilst not having the ability to out handle the good all rounder teams of Qirex and Auricom, while Feisar and AG Systems are more focused on handling and ease of piloting at the cost of their straight line ability.

WipEout rockets use special electromagnetism and gyroscopic controls along with air brakes and boost thrusters like you see on Sci-Fi spacecraft to get round the tracks at huge speeds. They run on initially reheat jet engines using non-fossil derived fuels which leave vapour trails and have little to no engine noise; signalling new innovations in jet and/or rocket powered propulsion (or perhaps even alien tech).

As cool as those aspects are, the fact is that the most important thing about this series is the weapons. WipEout has many from homing missiles to mines to the quake which sends a literal wave of destruction along the track. But the Daddy of them all is the Plasma Bolt. In many instances it’s a 1 hit kill as the rocket charges dark matter and fires a single straight shot at an enemy. A kill in the game will have the commentator go “Contender Eliminated” and it’s the true greatest feeling in racing.

As I mentioned briefly the AGRL has multiple divisions which are separated into speed classes. These are Vector (c.200mph), Venom (c.285mph), Flash (c.330mph), Rapier (c.405mph) and Phantom (c.500mph). As you would expect, each ship can be better suited to the different classes. Piranha for example for a skilled pilot will generally be much faster in the lower divisions whereas when those same corners are coming at you twice as quickly a Feisar is normally a safer option with its considerably better handling.

The relevance of these future rocket racers to today and why it’s worthy of an article is because of A. the racing aspects and B. the idea that the first game implies about future engine propulsion. That 500kg user manual specifies the engine details for the teams and the Auricom is particularly interesting with a “3x660bhp – reheat” engine, essentially 3 jet engines, yet as I said before the rocket makes no noise.

One possibility is they could be using extensively powerful hydrogen generators and fuel cells. We’ve seen early development from the Honda FCX Clarity around hydrogen tech, they currently make similar power levels to a family saloon and make no noise, much like these rockets. Hydrogen also only has a bi-product of water; so who’s to say the vapour trails WipEout show behind their rockets aren’t water trails. If that's true and you consider WipEout is now 22 years old, that’s incredibly forward thinking from the developers.

I’ve said before that hydrogen is the future of transport in my opinion. Toyota and Honda have now launched their new Hydrogen project this year and are investing heavily in the infrastructure. If it catches on in America and Japan, that will cause a tidal wave across the world of this technology so it’s not unfeasible to think that this kind of powertrain will be mainstream in 31 years’ time. Aspects of the game such as the air brakes are being seen on hyper cars today like the McLaren P1 and Ferrari FXX-K and again can be expected to be featured in mainstream racing series in the future.

The anti-gravity feature of the race I think is the most far-fetched. But it’s not impossible. A way it could become reality right now are in two development paths. 1. Magnetism or 2. Jets/Fans. Both of these would need to be hugely powerful to lift a machine and human occupant, then keep it up when its moving then also stop it careering into a barrier when a turn comes at you at 500mph. Fans and jets may be easier today but they are heavy and require a fuel source. Magnetism though with a reverse polarity built into the track to push up the rockets would be a long term and possibly much safer solution.

I don’t personally know if WipEout style anti-gravity racing will ever be a reality. I hope it will because the spectacle would be truly incredible to watch. Seeing ground based racers do loop de loops, jumping off mountains and firing plasma at each other would be incredibly fun to watch. The future of racing could take many forms and I know which vision I would support.

Bring on the Anti-Gravity Racing League. I’ll be the first to sign up as test pilot for Auricom.