With Esports becoming more and more popular with each passing day, it’s no surprise to see racing simulators becoming commonplace. Professional racers all the way up to Formula 1 use racing simulators to practice their driving and to help learn tracks and there are even professional sim racing leagues like the F1 Esports Series that will be launched next year. With talented sim racers even being drafted into real-world racing, you may want to buy yourself a wheel and pedals get in on this exciting and relatively new hobby. Today we’re going to answer some common questions surrounding sim racing setups and hopefully put you on the right path for when you go to purchase your equipment.
Table of contents
- The Different Types of Simulator Wheels Available
- What About Pedals and a Shifter?
- PC or Console?
- Cockpits and Wheelstands
- OK, So What's the Best Setup for a Beginner?
- Logitech G29
- Playseat Challenge
- Optional Extra: Oculus Rift
- And Can I Get Rundown of All the Popular Games?
- Project Cars 2
- Assetto Corsa
- Gran Turismo Sport
- Forza Motorsport 7
- F1 2017
- Dirt 4
- NASCAR Heat 2
The Different Types of Simulator Wheels Available
The first thing you’ll want to know about is wheels and what makes each one different. There are a large variety of wheels on the market covering a number of different price points, so no matter how much cash you have to spend, you’ll be able to find something that fits your budget.
Most wheels use a belt drive system to produce what is called ‘force feedback’ – which is what gives the wheel resistance to your steering inputs. Higher end wheels will have stronger force feedback and are thus considered to deliver a more realistic driving experience, whereas some of the entry-level wheels will have less torque and won’t feel quite as engaging. The price range on wheels like these is about $150 to $600.
If you truly have a lot of money to invest into a simulator setup, you can purchase what is called a direct drive wheel. These wheels include a strong electronic servomotor and a detachable steering wheel with a quick release that is compatible with a real racecar, allowing the user to swap in a variety of wheels with different shapes and sizes. These wheels deliver the utmost in realism and force feedback strength, but will usually cost $1,000 and up.
What About Pedals and a Shifter?
Good question. Many consumer wheels are offered in a ‘bundle’ that includes the wheel and a pedal set. Lower end wheels (~$150) will usually have plastic pedals that include only a gas and a brake.
As you move up the price ladder, however, the pedals may be a made from a mix of metal and plastic for a higher quality feel, or they may be made entirely from metal. These pedals sets may also include a third clutch pedal, which can be paired with a manual shifter for added immersion. A manual shifter isn’t always included in a bundle, however, in which case it must be purchased separately.
Similarly, some steering wheel/pedal/shifter combinations can be paired with an electronic handbrake. A handbrake won’t be of interest to someone looking to do circuit racing, for example, but is a must-have if you want to use your simulator for drifting. Those looking to use their simulator for rally racing will also need a handbrake.
PC or Console?
Whether you decide to play on PC or console depends on how seriously you want to take the sim racing hobby.
Sim racers who play on PC typically do so for two reasons: there’s more wheel/pedal support and there’s a wider variety of compatible games. Some of the high-end wheels, such as the force feedback wheels we mentioned above, are available on PC only. These wheels will sometimes also come with buttons that can be mapped to perform certain tasks, which isn’t always possible on console.
Many popular sim racing games are available for both PC and consoles like PS4 and Xbox One, such as Assetto Corsa and Project Cars 2. Some of the most highly rated sim racing titles are for PC only, though, such as iRacing and rFactor.
Which game you want to play, and whether or not you want to frequently compete with other sim racers, will decide if you should play on PC or console. Many sim racers, including professional racers such as Lando Norris, flock iRacing due to the realistic feel it provides and the large community of active users. If you want to race against others often, the PC-only title is definitely the way to go. Other PC titles like rFactor are used by professional racers to help hone their skills due to the realistic driving feel and accurate 3D track models, which may be another reason to go the PC route.
For less serious sim racers, a console should suffice. Both PS4 and Xbox have sim racing titles like we mentioned above, along with less serious racing games such as Gran Turismo Sport and Forza Motorsport. In short, those looking to take the hobby a bit seriously should probably get a PC, whereas your average hobbyist will be perfectly happy using their existing console.
Cockpits and Wheelstands
Right. You are probably wondering where you’re going to mount your wheel and pedals, and there’s no shortage of options for you on this front.
We’ll start with budget options like wheelstands. A wheelstand is essentially just a portable, fixed stand for you to mount your wheel and pedals to, which can then be pulled up to a chair in front of your TV. These are typically cheap compared to purpose-built seats and cockpits (~$150) but may not be as sturdy as some of the more expensive solutions.
Then there are more expensive cockpits from companies like Playseat and Rseat. These will usually combine the wheelstand and a seat with a racecar-like position into one unit, which you usually have to put together yourself. These range in price from around $300 to $1,000, the main difference being sturdiness, build quality and the quality/style of the seat itself. Some of these will also include mounting points for a television, ensuring the field-of-view is accurate.
Finally, there are motion simulators. These attempt to mimic the g-forces of driving by using hydraulics to tilt and turn when cornering, accelerating or braking. Most are only compatible with PC and can cost up to and over $100,000. Companies like CXC Simulations, for example, sell motion simulators as entire bundles, which retail for $49,000 to $87,000. You have to really like racing virtually to buy one of these.
OK, So What's the Best Setup for a Beginner?
What you buy ultimately depends on what game you want to play and how much you want to spend, but there are some go-to sim racing setups where beginners just can’t go wrong. The following is our suggested sim racing setup for most beginners looking to race on either PC or console.
Our ideal beginner’s setup starts with a wheel/pedal set, of course. We’d suggest the Logitech G29, as it’s compatible with PS4, PC or Xbox One and is of a high build quality. The pedal set that comes with the wheel also features metal pedals, as opposed to the plastic pedals that are offered with some lesser wheels.
There are lots of companies making sim racing cockpits, but Playseat is a reputable company with fast shipping and good prices that we feel very comfortable recommending. Their entry-level product, the Playseat Challenge, does a good job in keeping the wheels and pedals in place and can fold up so it doesn’t take up a bunch of space. It also undercuts many other cockpits in price, coming in at around $250.
The company’s mid-level product, the Playseat Evolution, uses a seat more akin to a real racecar’s and a slightly more upright driving position. It’s easy to assemble and should cost you around $350. We’d suggest either, but the Playseat Evolution will be better suited to those sim racers who are a bit more serious.
Optional Extra: Oculus Rift
Any TV or monitor that you use for gaming should work just fine for sim racing. Some more serious racers use triple-screen setups to give them an almost 360-degree surround view, but this expensive solution is quickly being replaced by virtual reality. Many sim racing games now support VR, including iRacing, Assetto Corsa and Project Cars 2. You’ll want to make sure your PC is powerful enough to run VR, however.
If you’re playing on PS4, you’ll be forced to use the Playstation VR system and can’t use the superior Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.
And Can I Get Rundown of All the Popular Games?
Of course! Apart from iRacing, which is an online-based game that you play by paying for a subscription, most popular sim racing and racing titles are available on Steam, the PS4 or Xbox online stores or Amazon. Here’s a list of some of the most commonly played titles.
Project Cars 2
Project Cars 2 is a high-quality game that is widely appreciated for its vast array of cars and tracks. It also has just about every possible weather scenario you can think of, including rain and snow, along with a 24 hr night/dawn/dusk clock. An active online community, decent downloadable content and stunning graphics further its status as a must-have game for sim racers.
There’s hardly a more loved sim racing game than Assetto Corsa. Developed by a small company called Kunos Simulazioni, Assetto Corsa is the gold standard in force feedback and driving feel for sim racing games. It doesn’t have a whole lot of official content, but that’s negated by the vast array of third-party mods for the game on PC. You’ll definitely want to pick this title up – it’s usually well-priced.
Gran Turismo Sport
Gran Turismo Sport is probably the most popular racing game for PS4. In addition to the active user base, this go-to racing game has a ton of cars and tracks and even an online racing championship that is sanctioned by the FIA – the same governing body that operates Formula 1. If you’re playing on PS4, this will be a title worth looking at.
Forza Motorsport 7
There aren’t many good sim racing options on Xbox and while Forza Motorsport 7 is a racing game, it leaves something to be desired in regards to force feedback feeling and realism. The game was also panned upon release for its ‘pay-to-win’ loot box system, but if you just want to turn some laps in unique, custom cars, you might find it fun.
The official F1 game was massively improved for 2017 and now features better graphics and a very in-depth career mode. If you’re an F1 fan, contesting the World Championship with a wheel in F1 2017 will be loads of fun – we promise. F1 2017 can probably be had for cheap right now, with the new F1 2018 game set to be released later this year.
Developed by Codemasters, the same people in charge of F1 2017 and the other F1 titles, Dirt 4 is the go-to rally racing game for console and PC sim racers alike. If racing stage rallies on tarmac, dirt and snow are your thing, Dirt 4 is the racing title for you.
NASCAR Heat 2
Much like F1 2017 is the official F1 game, NASCAR Heat 2 is the official game of NASCAR. It leaves something to be desired in regards to graphics and overall refinement, but oval racing with a sim racing wheel is a blast and NASCAR Heat 2 is really no exception. This is another title that can be had for cheap, so it may be worth checking out if you’ve got a penchant for turning left.
The first rFactor title was released in 2005, with the second instalment coming in 2013. Both are considered to be highly realistic with accurate tire models that can truly help you refine your driving skills. This is a simulation software through and through and is popular with serious sim racers and professionals. F1 teams even run a version of this software that allows them to plug in their own data called rFactor Pro.
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