If you’re looking to get started with sim racing, it’s easy to get lost in all the information and equipment that is available. This blog should help you get up to speed. In here we’ll try to explain the absolute essentials of sim racing, and all the extra’s that comes with it.
WHAT IS SIM RACING?
Inside the racing game genre, there are some different sub-genres. Usually, these are ranked based on their level of simulation. It starts off with ‘arcade’ racing games like the old Need for Speed series and the current Forza Horizon titles. The goal of these games is to focus on fun gameplay. Jump high with your car, drive through explosions, crash with 200 km/h but still continue… Games that are fun to play, and have the ability to be played laid back on the couch or with friends.
The next step is ‘sim-cade’, a mix between arcade and simulation games. The most popular games in this genre are Gran Turismo and the Codemasters F1 games that come out every year. These racing games try to be close to reality, with realistic lap times and graphics, but they must also be played by millions of people. They have a low entry level, which means almost everyone can play them, and you don’t really need a steering wheel to be competitive. They have a high level of accessibility and can be played in your living room with a controller.
And then there are ‘simulation’ racing games (or ‘sims’ as the purist like to call them). They focus on simulating the real world as much as possibly, and they don’t mind if an inexperienced driver spins every half a lap… because that’s probably what they would do in the real world too! Everything is focused on realistic driving physics. Popular titles in this genre are iRacing, rFactor and Assetto Corsa (Competitizione). Just like you won’t drive your own car with a controller or joystick, you need some basic hardware to get around the track in these sims.
THE ESSENTIALS FOR SIM RACING
So, you want to go sim racing? What kind of hardware do you really need? To play sim racing games you need:
- Steering wheel
- Pedal set with at least a brake and a throttle (clutch is optional)
- Computer or gaming console like PlayStation or Xbox
- Monitor, TV or VR-headset
- A sim racing game!
Once you’ve got all of the above, you’re good to go. The list might look long, but you probably already own a TV and a computer. And a steering wheel doesn’t have to be expensive. A decent starter kit is the Logitech G29 for example, which starts off at €249,- or the Thrustmaster TMX at around €200,-. You get both the wheel and pedals for this.
THE (FUN) PROCESS OF UPGRADING
Decided for yourself that sim racing is what you like? And you don’t mind to spend some extra on this hobby? Then fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a deep dive into the wonderful world of sim racing! There is a whole world out there of very cool equipment all aimed at bringing you more immersion in driving a racing car at home. You can immediately upgrade to the highest level of hardware, but you can also keep some money in your pockets and upgrade in smaller steps. The fun in this is that you will have new gear every once in a while, and new stuff to look forward to.
Like said before, a nice entry level wheel starts at around €200,-. But a quick google search shows that there are also wheels above the €1000,- mark. What makes these steering wheels better? And do you really need them?
FORCE FEEDBACK, TORQUE AND SPEED
Because we cannot feel G-Forces when racing digitally, we need some ways to get information about what the car is doing. That’s why almost all steering wheels have ‘Force Feedback’. The game outputs a signal based on bumps, grip levels and yaw angles of the car, and sends this to your wheel. With this information your brain can process quickly what your car is doing, and you can correct oversteer before you start spinning.
The higher the price of the wheelbase, the greater the force of the feedback. The more expensive bases like Simucube or the Fanatec DD1 have the force to slap your hands off the wheel once you crash, with powers replicating the real world. The more expensive wheel bases also have more detail and speed in the feedback. Besides big bumps and kerbstones, they can let you feel every little detail the road has to offer. This kind of feedback isn’t essential, but it makes sim racing more immersive. One negative side effect: the higher end wheel bases usually come without a wheel rim. So you have the purchase one of those as well separately.
Just like the wheels, there’s also a huge price range in pedal equipment. Prices start at around €80,- for a good basic set like this Fanatec CSL kit, but can quickly rise above €1000,- for pedals that replicate real world equipment like the Heusinkveld Ultimates. Apart from the materials that are used (a lot of plastic for the cheaper models to more steel in the higher price range), for pedals there is one huge differentiator between ‘cheap’ and expensive sets: a load cell.
LOAD CELLS AND POTENTIOMETERS
In real life our brain does a lot with muscle memory. Before you pick something up, your brain already estimated the weight and thus knows how much force to put through your arms. The same goes for braking. You learn very quickly with how much force you need to press on your brake pedal for the perfect amount of stopping power. A load cell measures this exact force, and can give you constant braking performance. The lower end models don’t have a load cell. They often use a potentiometer. This measures travel distance instead of force. And while you’re perfectly able to use such pedals in your sim, with potentiometers it’s harder to brake constantly at 80% for example.
The more experienced sim racer will tell you that the first upgrade you should buy, is new pedals. Upgrading from a potentiometer to a load cell is one of the few upgrades in sim racing that really makes you quicker and more consistent!
– Fanatec Clubsport V3
ALUMINIUM SIM RIGS
This is the part where Treq comes into play! If you own powerful force feedback wheels, or pedals which can handle over 80 kg of pressure, you need a sturdy frame on which you can mount all the equipment. Any flex in your frame means you lose force feedback signals. It also means you lose braking performance if you’re not bending the load cell, but your frame. This is why we recommend upgrading from a desk-chair or Playseat to a strong sim rig before upgrading your wheel base or pedal set. The aluminium profile based rigs like the Treq One and Ace are designed to have no flex whatsoever. This way you can feel the maximum amount of feedback from your equipment. Bolt on a nice racing seat and you’ll increase the immersion as well!
COMPUTER OR CONSOLES?
When getting started with sim racing, you can either use a gaming PC or an Xbox/PlayStation. Assetto Corsa, Project Cars and the Formula 1 games are available on all platforms. With the latter you should make sure that your steering wheel or pedals are compatible with either Microsoft’s or Sony’s brands. Sometimes they can work with either one or both, but this is not a given.
If you want to get the most this market has to offer, we highly recommend sim racing on a PC. This way you get a lot of options consoles can’t offer: Ultra widescreen or even multi-monitor support with very high framerates. Hardware support for brands like Heusinkveld and Simucube. And access to titles like iRacing and rFactor, with loads of settings, mods and other features not present on gaming consoles. You can even get your simulator to shake and move like a real car by making use of a motion rig.
Like most hobbies, sim racing can get as crazy as you would like it to be. It’s possible to start out with a basic wheel and pedal set at around 200 euros and mount this to your desk. Hook it up to your school or work laptop and go from there. Once you’re tired of your chair rolling backwards every time you press the brake pedal, you can invest in better hardware. More powerful Force Feedback wheels, load cell pedal sets, aluminium racing rigs and multi monitor setups. A proper sim setup with a high end direct drive wheelbase and triple monitor setup will cost around €3500,-. And you can easily double or triple that with motion rigs and automotive-grade steering wheels. But do you really need that?
That’s something only you can decide! Every upgrade will add fun and immersion, but doesn’t necessarily make you go quicker. Sim racing titles do get more serious by the hour, and it’s amazing how close we are with replicating the real world nowadays. And good hardware helps with that. We’re looking forward on what the future will bring, and will always make sure our products are ready for it!