What Sim Racing Equipment To Upgrade First
I'm often asked, which piece of sim racing equipment should I upgrade first to find the most lap time. In this guide, I'll run through which pieces of sim racing equipment make the most difference.
What piece of sim racing equipment makes the most difference to lap time?
By far, the most impactful piece of sim racing equipment that can help you improve your lap time is your pedals. Upgrading to a decent set of sim racing pedals will give you a much better feel under braking, allowing you to race more consistently, and find additional lap time.
In this 2023 sim racing setup guide, I’ll look at which pieces of sim racing equipment make the most difference, and what to upgrade first.
I’m often asked which pieces of sim racing equipment should be the first to be upgraded. Surely there is more impact to be made with some equipment over others.
I’m going to take a deep dive into which pieces of sim racing equipment really matter the most, and what equipment will help you improve your driving and lap times.
What sim racing equipment makes the most difference to lap time?
So there has to be some sim racing equipment which is more valuable in terms of performance gain than others, and I have to agree. Adding a decent set of load cell pedals to your sim racing setup will benefit your lap times much more than adding an external handbrake for example.
But there is one thing I have to discuss before I jump into specifics. When you are planning on purchasing or upgrading your sim rig, you have to be aware that upgrades lead to more upgrades.
Upgrades lead to further upgrades
What I mean by that is that as you upgrade certain parts of your sim racing setup, and introduce more high-performing equipment, you will almost always be forced into upgrading other parts of your rig.
As an example, like many sim racers, I started out with a nice budget-friendly Logitech wheel when I first started sim racing. I initially mounted this to my desk. I then swapped the desk for an all-in-one Playseat rig, and this did me well at the time.
I then upgraded to a Fanatec racing wheel, and this was considerably more powerful than my Logitech wheel. When trying to use this with my Playseat rig, I found that the power of the wheel base was literally shaking the rig to pieces. I mean, some bolts did quite literally get shaken loose.
This resulted in the need for a new sim rig, which at the time I wasn’t planning on doing. But I had to upgrade my sim rig to be able to continue to use my more powerful racing wheel.
The swap from Logitech to Fanatec at the time also resulted in my Logitech shifter no longer working. Resulting in me purchasing another third-party shifter. And the story goes on.
This shows that you do really need to plan your upgrades as you start investing further into your sim rig. Try to think ahead, and plan your ultimate sim racing setup.
But let’s jump back to focusing on which pieces of sim racing equipment will benefit your lap time the most and give you the best return on investment.
Sim racing pedals
It is widely agreed in the sim racing community that the number one performance-impacting upgrade that any sim racer can make is with their pedals.
Budget sim racing pedals have got better and better over the years at improving the feeling you get under braking. However, there is still a pretty vast gap between a budget pedal set and a load cell pedal set.
When you brake down (no pun intended) the areas of a lap where your inputs are actually affecting your lap time you’ll have the following list;
- Braking distance
- Mid corner speed
- Correct racing line
- Corner acceleration on exit
All of the time that you are spending with your throttle to the floor isn’t really affected by your sim racing equipment. Finding lap time on the straight parts of the track is more down to your in-game car setup.
Where you really gain or lose time is through the bendy bits of a track. And it all starts with your braking.
Confidence and consistency
Being able to feel confident on the brakes each and every time you hit the same corner around a lap will allow your driving to become much more consistent.
A lot of sim racing mistakes are made under braking, from not braking late enough, not braking hard enough, locking wheels, not trail braking and more. And mastering these techniques all requires confidence under braking.
Budget racing pedals
A set of budget sim racing pedals normally utilise potentiometers or magnet sensors combined with a spring of damping block to simulate some form of resistance. However, all this is doing is measuring how far you depress the brake pedal and converting it into your in-game braking input.
Real world cars utilise braking pressure and force rather than pedal distance to dictate how much braking force is applied. And this is where load cell brake pedals come into play.
Load cell pedals
A good load cell brake pedal will measure the amount of force that you push the brake pedal with rather than simply measuring the distance. This is much more realistic and allows you to build up your muscle memory each and every lap.
After a few laps or short sessions racing with a load cell brake pedal, you will almost always be able to improve your consistency under braking.
And once you have a base level of consistency, you can then start to push yourself during the braking zones. Start to apply a little more pressure initially, or brake a touch later carrying more speed into the corner.
And when it comes to releasing the brake pedal and trail braking through corners, this will impact how your car behaves mid-corner, and will drastically affect your racing line.
I won’t dive too deep into trail braking in sim racing, you can read our complete sim racing trail braking guide here. But a load cell brake pedal will give you much more finite control over this technique.
All of these techniques will start to unlock your real potential under braking and help you find valuable lap time in the sim.
The best sim racing pedals
Below are my recommendations for the best sim racing pedals across a range of categories. If you are looking for a budget set of sim racing pedals, the two-pedal Fanatec CSL Pedals are ideal costing under €/$100.
The best load cell pedals come in the form of the Heusinkveld Sprint pedals. While you can get cheaper load cell pedals from brands such as Fanatec and MOZA, the Heusinkveld Sprint pedals offer insane performance and a realistic pedal feel.
Sitting behind sim racing pedals, quite far behind in fact, is the need to upgrade your racing wheel. It is probably the part of a sim rig that most will tend to upgrade first, but whatever you do, upgrade your pedals before your racing wheel.
Swapping from a low-powered racing wheel such as the Logitech G923 up to a direct drive wheel is a pretty major change in terms of the quality of force feedback.
And this does present you with a lot more information about how your car is behaving on the track surface below.
Does a direct drive wheel make you faster?
Upgrading certainly won’t find you immediate lap time or consistency like a good pedal set can do. However, the additional feedback that I mentioned is very important.
With a direct drive racing wheel, you’ll feel more refined and subtle details which can tell you how your tyres are behaving in more detail. And you can use this information to over time react slightly differently to how you would using a non-direct drive wheel.
You’ll almost always become a better sim racer using a direct drive wheel, but not neccessarily faster. Sometimes, upgrading all the way up to a Fanatec DD2 or Simucube Ultimate can even negatively impact your driving.
The top of the range direct drive wheels that create 25Nm plus of torque can actually slow you down. You’ll spend more time wrestling with the wheel trying to get it turned, than you do focusing on improving your racing line.
This is where the new batch of smaller, less powerful direct drive wheels have come in and dominated the sim racing market.
Fanatec, MOZA, Logitech and now Thrustmaster have all released smaller direct drive wheels with forces up to 8 or 10Nm or torque.
At this range, you get a good amount of weight and strength from your wheel, without it trying to constantly break your wrists. You will feel a significant change in the different levels of force feedback compared to a gear or belt driven wheel, and this will benefit your overall driving.
But in the case of a sim racing wheel, bigger and stronger isn’t always better.
The best racing wheels
When it comes to racing wheels there is a huge amount of choice across a range of budget and compatibility. Ultimately, the best budget racing wheel has to be the Logitech G923. It offers wide console compatibility and decent performance for a low price.
The best mid-range racing wheel I’d say is the Fanatec GT DD Pro. This racing wheel offers 8Nm of direct drive force feedback for a mid-level price range.
The best premium racing wheel would either be a Simucube 2 Pro or the Fanatec Podium F1. But I’ve given it to the Podium F1 due to its compatibility with PS5 and Xbox consoles.
Best Budget Racing Wheel
Best Mid-Range Wheel
Fanatec GT DD Pro
Best Premium Racing Wheel
Fanatec ClubSport DD+
Up to 2.2Nm
Up to 8Nm
Up to 15Nm
PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC
PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC
PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC
From £269 / $350
As I mentioned towards the beginning with my story about my own personal upgrade path, your sim rig is a key part of any sim racing setup, and can often be forgotten about when looking at other products.
Despite this, it is probably one of the most important parts of your sim racing setup to get right from the beginning.
Your sim rig will act as the home to all of your sim racing equipment, and it will be the part of your setup that bares the brunt of the force generated by your pedals and racing wheel.
So ensuring your sim rig is up to the task of holding your pedals, racing wheel and any other peripherals in place without flexing or shaking is important.
If you are racing with a direct drive racing wheel on a sim rig that simply isn’t strong enough to hold it securely, this will cause your rig to shake, vibrate or flex.
And any movement within the chassis of your sim rig can mask or distract you away from the actual force feedback that is being created. It can be much harder to decipher the detailed force feedback and react correctly.
Another point to look at when deciding on a sim rig is your comfort. Ultimately, you’ll be spending hours at a time sitting in your racing seat and at your rig. So you need to be comfortable and in a position that allows you to get the most out of your setup.
Across a long race distance, if you’re uncomfortable, you may start to move about in your seat to stretch certain limbs or be distracted away from the track. And you’ll also feel the pain the next day if you aren’t sitting comfortably!
Different types of sim rig
As with most forms of sim racing equipment, there are many different types of sim rig available. They can range from costing just £/$100 up to many thousands depending on the style.
Towards the budget end of the scale, you’ll find wheel stands and smaller more compact metal framed sim rigs. These are ideal if you are just starting your sim racing journey, and if you don’t have much space.
And some wheel stands such as the Sim-Lab wheel stand pro is designed to even withstand some more powerful racing wheels.
All-in-one sim rigs
As you move up in price, you’ll find a range of all-in-one sim rigs. These often utilise a metal tubular construction and often include a racing seat. Again, these are ideal for a budget-minded sim racer and great for that first step onto the sim racing ladder.
Aluminium profile sim rigs
If you are planning on a pretty powerful racing wheel, then you may want to look at aluminium profile 80/20 sim rigs. These utilise strong lengths of aluminium profile all interconnected to form a rig.
They’re heavily customisable allowing for a really personalised and comfortable setup for your requirements. And most importantly they’re designed to withstand extreme forces without flexing.
Tubular sim rigs
Sitting alongside aluminium profile sim rigs, you’ll find a range of extremely sturdy tubular sim rigs. Sim rigs such as the Trak Racer TR8 Pro that I have in my home setup, and the RaceX Pro rig feature extremely sturdy metal frames.
These are designed to withstand extremely strong forces just like 80/20 sim rigs are, but do so in a more appealing form factor.
Now, this is extremely subjective, but I think these tubular framed sim rigs are much nicer looking than an 80/20 sim rig, but many others will disagree.
They do provide a good amount of stability, just as much as an 80/20 rig in some instances, but they normally don’t have as much customisation. You can be limited to a set amount of external add-ons, whereas with an 80/20 sim rig, you can customise it to your heart’s content.
Rather than looking at your sim rig as a necessary upgrade after purchasing a racing wheel, try to think of it at the same time. What wheel do you plan on getting now or in the future? And will your current or planned sim rig be able to handle it?
The best sim rigs
Choosing the style of your sim rig should be your first choice. But once you have decided, below are the best sim rigs across each category.
Ultrawide or triple screen monitors
Next on our list is actually the device that you are viewing your sim racing on. Ensuring that you can see enough of the track around you with the correct FOV, and that you’re viewing it at a stable frame rate are both important.
The world of gaming monitors is a huge minefield. You’ve got the initial choice of size and configuration. Do you want a standard 16:9 gaming monitor, or do you opt for an ultrawide or a triple screen setup.
Once you’ve decided that, you need to take the next hurdle of frequency and battle terms such as G-Sync and FreeSync. And finally, do you opt for VR or stick with a conventional monitor?
So many questions, where on earth should you start?
Well, the first decision is probably the most important, and that is which configuration are you going to opt for.
The go to for gamers and sim racers for many years is the standard 16:9 gaming monitor. These are possibly the most accessible gaming monitor, giving you the highest number of options to choose from.
An ultrawide expands the aspect ratio up to 21:9 or even 32:9. These monitors are designed to opn up your vision around you and are ideal for sim racing. You can see more of the environment, the track and the cars around you, giving you a potentially higher competitive edge due to increased spacial awareness.
Triple screens increase your spacial awareness to another level. This is the term given to positioning three individual 16:9 monitors all next to each other with the side monitors at a slight angle around you.
A triple screen setup is similar to an ultrawide monitor, but expands your vision even higher, in some cases, allowing you to see out of the side windows and your side mirrors at all times.
Virtual reality is the new kid on the block. Although I’m not sure I can say that any longer as VR headsets have been a part of sime racing for over 5 years now.
VR headsets mount a couple of screens directly in front of your eyes, allowing you to feel like you are actually sitting behind the wheel of your favourite car.
Which screen option to go for?
Choosing between these options is very much a personal preference. If you ahve the space and the GPU to handle the extra performance required, then a triple screen setup will allow you to see the most amount of on track information.
But if you are sim racing on a gaming laptop, you may not be able to support three monitors. Meaning an ultrawide would be the next best choice. Again, you get a wider view of the action in front and around you than if you were using a standard 16:9 ratio monitor.
And then there is VR. Is VR at the point where you get an advantage from using it over a standard monitor. That is an extremely tricky question to answer.
Right off the bat, I don’t think VR technology, or more importantly computing power from a typical gaming PC is at the point where VR graphics look good enough yet.
Yes, some VR headsets and mega gaming PCs do look fantastic. But a typical Oculus Quest or HTC Vive VR headset that is accessible to most of us isn’t there yet in terms of graphical performance.
And that is where VR falls down. If the graphical fidelity and performance is a step down from a traditional monitor setup then it isn’t worth opting for…. yet.
Most importantly, whichever screen setup you go for, ensuring you can run your sim racing game at a constant 60fps minimum is the most important thing. If you’re getting stuttering or frame drops this will almost always impact your reaction time and ability to perform at your peak on track.
Best monitors for sim racing
Below are my recommendations for the best monitors for sim racing. I have included my top pick for a monitor for each category, ultrawide, triple screen and single screen.
Samsung Odyssey G9
Best Triple Screen
LG Ultragear 27GL83A-B
Best Single Screen
Samsung Odyssey G75T
I mentioned gaming PCs and laptops a little in the section about monitors. And that was for a good reason. When sim racing, a lot can be said for the ability to react fast, to both track surface changes, car behaviour changes and other sim racers dive bombing you like Daniel Ricciardo in a Red Bull.
Being able to react quickly to all of the variable events around you is important. And if you are sim racing on a PC that isn’t quite good enough to hold a consistent frame rate, your gaming PC can actually be holding you back a little.
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I’m sure we’ve all tried playing a game on a console and experienced some form of frame rate stuttering or slowdown, and we know how annoying it can be.
But if you are experiencing any form of stuttering, frame drops or lag when heading into a corner at 150mph, you should think about upgrading your PC.
You certainly don’t need to be able to run sim racing games at ultra settings, with dust and smoke particles turned up to 11. But ensuring you hit a steady frame rate of 60FPS or higher is important.
Some sim titles in fact, such as iRacing or Automoibilista 2 don’t require overly high PC specs to run them on higher settings. In fact, a relatively mid-tier gaming PC will be able to run most games at a consistent setting above medium or high graphics settings.
This is certainly a part of your sim racing setup that can be upgraded after elements such as perfecting your sim rig or pedals. And in most cases it can be done incrementally over time.
Best gaming PC for sim racing
Below are a few recommended sim racing PC builds across a range of budgets.
Run most racing sims at low-medium graphics settings
Achieve consistant 60FPS at high graphics settings
Ultimate Racing PC
Achieve high FPS at max graphics settings
TRIPLE SCREEN COMPATIBLE
TRIPLE SCREEN COMPATIBLE
Yes - 1080p
TRIPLE SCREEN COMPATIBLE
Yes - 1440p
Shifters & other peripherals
In the final category, I’m going to look at other peripherals such as sim racing shifters, handbrakes, button boxes, external dashes, ButtKickers and more.
These peripherals should all be grouped in a category that I’d call “nice to have”.
Really, adding any of these to your sim racing setup won’t actually affect your performance on track or your lap time. Instead, they can be cool to own, and they can increase your enjoyment and immersion.
In some cases, an actual H-pattern shifter, or an external handbrake can help you better manage your car, especially in games such as Dirt Rally.
Making it easier to execute a handbrake turn during a rally stage without trying to hit a small button on your controller can help improve your enjoyment and control. So there are some instances where specific peripherals can help your driving.
Generally though, these elements won’t impact your lap time like upgraded pedals, wheel or sim rig can.
Hopefully, this guide will ahve guided you a little towards the sim racing gear that will most impact your lap time, and will have showed you the sim racing gear I’d recommend you upgrade first.
One of the most important factors to remember about sim racing, is that it can be an expensive hobby, and you can easily fall into a rabbit hole of upgrades.
You can have just as much fun using a Logitech G923 mounted to a desk as you can sitting in an expensive sim rig. Upgrading can be done over time, so try to look after your wallet and manage your budget while doing so.
Sitting down for an afternoon and planning your ideal sim racing setup before buying anything can really help save you a lot of money in the long run.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What equipment do you need for sim racing?
At the very start, you only need a racing wheel which consists of a wheel base and a steering wheel, along with a set of pedals. You can mount your racing wheel to a desk or table and use any chair to race in.
Do you need 3 monitors for sim racing?
A 3 monitor set up will help you see more of the action happening around you as you sim race. However, you certainly don’t “need” 3 monitors for sim racing. You can race perfectly well on a single monitor or TV.
Is a handbrake worth it for sim racing?
A handbrake will increase the immersion of sim racing, and potentially give you slightly better control when rallying or drifting. If you are looking to expand your sim racing setup, a handbrake is a nice to have item.
Is PC or console better for sim racing?
You can sim race on both console and PC, although a PC has many more sim racing games, and has higher compatibility with a lot more sim racing products.