Get Started with Sim Racing - From Sim Rigs to The Best Accessories and More.
What is Sim Racing?
Sim Racing Genre
There are many different types of sim racing games, but they all share one common focus: simulating true to life vehicle dynamics. Generally sim racing focusing on on track road racing with titles like Assetto Corsa Competizione, iRacing, and rFactor2 being a great option for the competitive, but still accessible GT3 and Endurance racing classes. Other titles like Dirt Rally 2.0 and WRC 10 are dedicated to rally racing, you won't be racing against others wheel to wheel, but the challenge of variable surfaces, just try racing from tarmac to snow to ice and back again, will be more than enough to test your mettle.
Online multiple player and competitive esports are huge part of sim racing. For the largest variety of racing, at almost anytime day or night you can't go wrong with iRacing. It's subscription based and matches you against drivers with a similar performance level (iRating) and race craft (safety rating). Others swear by titles like RaceRoom and rFactor for the depth of content, or for F1 diehard the official F1 2021 game offers highly competitive ranked play.
Sim Racing versus Arcade Racing
Arcade-style racing games were the first attempt at sim racing, dating back to Pole Position in 1982. These games were more about entertainment than functionality, offering a fast-paced action that was less realistic.
There's still plenty of fun and enjoyable arcade racers out there, like the legendary Forza Horizon and Codemasters GRID series but, for those wanting to really prove themselves simulation level titles are the way to go.
Arcade racers typically don't use true to life physics, cars often drive like they're "on rails", this let's you feel like a racing legend even if it's your first time behind the virtual wheel. True sims on the other hand have a learning curve, often a punishing one. Don't expect to be competitive, or potentially even complete a full lap, the first time you play. But, as you put in the practice you'll be rewarded by seeing your skills improve and a sense of achievement that an arcade title simply can't provide.
Emphasis on Replicating Real World Conditions
Sim racing is all about replicating the feel of a real race car. Racing simulators have come a long way in recent years, with better graphics and physics engines that create an experience that is close to the real thing.
Laser scanned tracks are also becoming more commonplace in sim racing games. These tracks use lasers to map out every bump and curve of the circuit, resulting in an incredibly realistic experience. Not only does this make for great gameplay, but it also allows drivers to learn circuits faster than ever before.
Vehicle dynamics and setup can play a huge role in handling and performance. Simulation titles typically let you adjust suspension setups, aerodynamics (if present), even tire pressure and compound make a difference.
Sim racing is quickly becoming the go-to medium for motorsports fans who want to get closer to the action. It bridges the gap between real motorsports and video gaming, providing an experience that is unmatched elsewhere.
Solo versus Online - This is What makes Sim Racing More Sport than Game.
Test yourself as a sim racer and see how your on track skills stack up.
You can only race against the clock or AI for so long before you need to see how you perform under pressure, wheel to wheel. Sim racing's biggest draw is the ability to build a virtual racing career in almost any motorport discipline, and in formats ranging from friendly one of races to e-Sports series that follow real-world racing such as NASCAR.
Unlike many game genres you'll need to do some work to make sure your car control skills and race etiquette are up to par before competing online. Thankfully, most sims offer a tutorial or in iRacing's case a relatively stress free Rookie division. Remember, you're racing against real people and clean, contact free racing, even if you finish dead last starting out, is better than ruining someone else's race with a crash or other unsafe behavior. It's intimidating at first, but like any skill as you put in the practice you'll start to feel at home on the track.
How Realistic are Racing Sims?
Sim racing has proven realistic enough that some highly skilled sim racers have successfully made the jump into real world racing. Sims like iRacing feature true-to-life physics models that take into account everything from tire wear to dirty or clean air, a level of detail not found elsewhere.
What Equipment Do You Need to Build Your Racing Simulator Setup?
Sim Rigs, Cockpits, and Seats - The Driving Foundation
When getting into sim racing, the first thing you'll need is a good sim rig. There's a lot of options out there for a variety of price points. Generally, there's three main types of setups excluding more DIY solutions.
If you're just getting started consider a wheel stand paired with your normal PC/gaming chair. This is going to be cost effective and most wheel stands fold up when not in use, a great feature if you don't have room for a dedicated rig.
The next step up is going to be a dedicated cockpit that let's you mount your wheel, pedals, shifters, and sometimes monitors and other accessories. There's a range of price points and costs here so options are fairly plentiful. In this space brands like Next Level Racing and GT Omega. Most dedicated rigs will also offer accessories to expand functionally as you progress in the sport.
Once you're certain you'll be sticking with sim racing an upgrade to a more high end rig may be right for you. These typically feature true to life, or even real-life, seats for greater comfort over long sessions. And, most importantly they'll be much more rigid allowing you to use the more realistic direct drive wheels and heavy duty load cell or hydraulic pedals. There are typically two types of high end rigs, those that use custom tubing like rSeat and those that use square profile extruded aluminum (often called 8020). A big advantage of extruded aluminum rigs is the ability to attach almost any type of accessory to nearly anywhere on the rig.
Sim Racing Wheels
Just like in real life a good wheel makes all the difference in car control. There's three general types of options available, gear-driven, belt-drive, and direct-drive.
For new comers you'll probably start with a gear driven wheelbase, they're cost effective and often sold as wheel + pedal combos sets. Brands to look for in this space include Logitech and some of the more budget friendly offerings from Thrustmaster.
The next step up in are belt driven wheels, these use a belt to help smooth out the response of the wheel and have much more accurate road feel.
The top of the line are direct drive wheels, the steering column is directly connected to the motor providing much higher torque and a ton of realism. These are much more premium and can easily run well over $1000, but if your serious about car control they can't be beat.
Typically, budget wheels use a fixed steering wheel, your stuck with the wheel shape and size. Higher end options let you swap in different shapes of wheels to accommodate different vehicles and titles, you can have a F1 style wheel for open-wheel racing and a slick flat bottomed GT wheel for endurance events.
Sim Racing Pedals
Just like wheels there are several levels of pedals available, each typically increasing in performance and precision.
For a complete beginner you'll probably have a set of potentiometer pedals included with your wheel, they're simple and cheap but not very precise.
The next step up is a magnet Hall sensor, these measure the travel of the pedal more accurately. At this level pedals are typically sold separately so you can pick the set that best suits your driving style. Don't forget to get set that includes a clutch pedal if you want to race with a shifter.
Load cell-based pedals measure braking force using a load cell, which is more accurate than potentiometers. This gives you more precision when it comes to how hard you're braking. Load cell pedals offer more precision than linear-based pedals, but they're also more expensive.
Hydraulic-based pedals are the most expensive type of pedal set, but they also offer the best feel for sim racers. The reason for this is that hydraulics replicate real car behavior better than any other type of pedal system. These pedals aren't cheap, but they can take your fine vehicle control to the next level. If your a serious open-wheel racer this can be a great investment.
Shifters and Handbrakes
Most wheels include paddle shifters, there's not reason you can't use these for every vehicle type but for the most immersion and realism you'll want to get the right shifter(s) for you. A sequential shifter is a great addition for iRacing and rally games where many vehicles use sequential transmissions. A classic H Pattern shifter is a great option if you're driving a lot of street legal vehicles.
If you're a rally fanatic you need to consider adding a handbrake as the additional vehicle control is crucial for putting down fast times
Haptic Feedback for Sim Racing
Haptic feedback is a type of racing information communicated by vibration. It can let you feel events like wheel slip and wheel lock, adding an extra layer of realism to your experience.
There are many different haptic devices on the market, but the ButtKicker Gamer PLUS is one of the most popular. It attaches to almost any sim rig, cockpit, or seat and provides powerful vibrations that accurately simulate what's happening in the game.
If you're looking for even more immersion, consider using HaptiConnect software with your favorite games. This software turns in-game vehicle telemetry data into physically accurate haptic feedback, letting you feel every bump and scrape along the way.