Beginners Guide To Sim Racing
This guide is designed to introduce to the world of sim racing. It will run through all of the sim racing terminology if you are a beginner to sim racing.
What is sim racing?
Sim racing is the name given to virtual racing. Sim racers use physical racing wheels and pedals to race virtually using games such as iRacing and Assetto Corsa. This beginners guide will run through everything you need to know to start sim racing.
Sim racing overview
As mentioned above, sim racing is a form of virtual motorsport. It is the term given to those who race virtually using sim racing games. Sim racing can be done using a controller but sim racers primarily use racing wheel hardware to simulate driving a real-world car.
Many simulator games strive to replicate real-world motorsports and the sensation of driving as closely as possible. This is undertaken via super realistic physics engines which sim racing platforms are built upon.
These platforms will digitally replicate real-world tyre models and car physics to provide a driving and racing experience that is as close as you can get without stepping behind a real-world wheel.
The realism that these simulators create is often enhanced by using a variety of hardware such as racing wheels, pedals, sim rigs and VR technology. Combined, this hardware works to boost the level of immersion when racing virtually.
The equipment itself can start from a simple racing wheel that produces light levels of force feedback. But it can extend all the way through to professional level simulation rigs which incorporate motion technology and VR that can cost upwards of 5 figures!
Sim racing equipment explained
In the pursuit of making sim racing as authentic and realistic as possible, many sim racers will use hardware to enhance their immersion. This includes racing wheels, pedals and racing seats.
Below are the components and equipment that can make up a typical sim rig.
- Wheel base
- Steering wheel
- Sim rig (including wheel mount and pedal mount)
- Racing seat
- Monitor and monitor stand
- Gaming PC or console
- VR headset
- Motion platform
Of course, you don’t need everything on the list above to start sim racing. You can technically sim race using just a controller and your console. However, to achieve high levels of immersion sim racers will incorporate hardware from the list above to enhance their experience.
At a beginners level, you would only need a racing wheel (which is made up of a wheel base and steering wheel), pedals, somewhere to mount the pedals (either a sim rig or a desk) and your console or PC.
This beginner set-up will get you started in the world of sim racing, allowing you to experience force feedback, and apply realistic inputs to your steering wheel and pedals.
As you progress further into the sim racing rabbit hole, you will undoubtedly look to improve your physical set-up and hardware to increase immersion. You can add additional elements such as a physical shifter or a VR headset to further improve immersion.
Sim racing wheel bases
A sim racing wheel base is the term given to the part of the racing wheel which generates the forces.
In beginner racing wheels such as the Logitech G923, the steering wheel and wheel base often come together and are physically attached. As you can see in the image below, the steering wheel itself is connected to the wheel base and isn’t detachable.
These types of racing wheels are designed for beginners to start sim racing with as much ease as possible. By purchasing an all-in-one racing wheel, you don’t need to worry about steering wheel compatibility and you’ll often save money.
With more high-end or professional products such as those from Fanatec or SimuCube, you will often buy the wheel base separately from the steering wheel. This allows you to customise your set-up by adding different steering wheel rims.
This approach also allows sim racers to upgrade their wheel base to a newer or stronger model without necessarily changing or buying a new steering wheel. A separate wheel base allows for more flexibility when upgrading or customising your sim racing set-up.
Inside the wheel base is a motor that produces force feedback. The force feedback is then sent to the motor shaft and in turn the steering wheel either directly from the motor, or via a series of belts and gears. The internal motor is the element that drives the steering wheel which allows it to emulate the forces that a real-world car would feel.
What is force feedback?
Force feedback is the name given to the forces that the motor inside a wheel base creates. This technology is designed to replicate the forces that your car would feel as you drive it in real-time. Force feedback allows you to experience a similar feeling that a real-world driver would if they were driving the car in reality.
The goal of force feedback is to give you the most realistic feeling via your steering wheel. This in turn will increase your immersion levels and give you a better idea of how your car is reacting to your inputs and the road surface.
Force feedback is always created by the motor within the wheel base, but there is a selection of different technology which is used to translate the forces from the motor to the motor shaft.
These technologies include gears and belts which are typically found on lower-powered motors. For high powered motors there is a technology called direct drive which is the term for when the motor is directly attached to the motor shaft.
Gear-driven force feedback
Gear-driven force feedback is often used in entry-level wheel bases. This style of wheel base uses a small motor, which sends the forces through a series of gears to the motor shaft. The motor shaft then connects to the steering wheel where you feel the force feedback.
Logitech are well known for using gear driven force feedback in their racing wheels. The G923 is the most recent implementation of gear-driven force feedback in a Logitech wheel, although other brands such as Thrustmaster also utilise gears in some wheels.
Belt-driven force feedback
Belt-driven force feedback is similar to gear-driven in the fact that they also utilise a small motor. The forces that are produced from this motor are then transferred to the motor shaft via a series of belts.
Belt-drive allows for smoother force feedback than gear-drive, but some of the finer force feedback detail can be lost in translation. This can produce a muddy sensation in some lower-end wheel bases.
More expensive belt-driven wheel bases don’t suffer from this issue as much, but the power is almost always weaker than direct drive wheel bases.
Direct drive force feedback
Direct drive wheel bases sit at the top of the technological tree. They utilise a larger motor which is directly attached to the motor shaft. This allows for all of the power and detail to be directly transferred to the users hands.
Direct drive wheel bases are generally the most expensive to buy, but do offer a far superior experience in most cases.
Sim racing steering wheels
The steering wheel part of your racing wheel describes the physical wheel that you hold in your hands. These can often be purchased independently from the wheel base allowing you to customise your own racing wheel setup to the style you like.
Steering wheels come in a variety of forms, from traditional circular wheels, to square open-wheel and Formula 1 style wheels.
They also range in the amount of technology available. At the lower end, you can purchase a steering wheel which has just a few face buttons to allow you to control your console or car.
As you move up through to more expensive steering wheels you can find officially licensed wheels from brands such as BMW, Bentley and Ferrari. The most premium steering wheels feature large screens which can show full telemetry read outs.
You can also find steering wheels which have a lot more input on the wheel itself, in the form of rotational encoders, switches and buttons. These allow you to control more in-depth functions of your car whilst driving. Examples include adjusting your traction control, turning on your headlights through to changing engine modes and turning off your engine.
Steering wheel quick-releases
If you are purchasing a higher-end steering wheel separately from your wheel base, you will normally require a quick-release to attach it to the wheel base.
A quick-release is the piece of hardware which directly connects your steering wheel to your wheel base ensuring your wheel doesn’t come loose.
These can come in a variety of PCD measurements which is the term for the steering wheel fitment. You will have to ensure that you match the PCD to the steering wheel’s fitment in order for it to work.
If you want to mount a steering wheel to a wheel base but the PCD measurements don’t match, you can find adaptors that bridge this gap. These allow you to match a variety of steering wheels with a range of wheel bases.
Sim racing pedals
Pedals are sometimes included as part of a sim racing bundle along with a wheel base and steering wheel. This is often the case with more accessible and affordable products such as the Logitech G923.
But you can purchase higher-end pedals individually such as those from Heusinkveld, who offer professional level racing pedals.
You will often look to mount your pedals to a pedal mount which is normally part of your sim rig. This will allow you to be as aggressive as you need when attacking the brake pedal.
Much like wheel bases and steering wheels, sim racing pedals also come in a variety of different formats with a range of differing technology.
These technologies normally refer to the way the forces and inputs are measured. You can purchase pedals with much more advanced technology which produce more realistic input, but the more high-end you go, the more the price will increase.
The different types of sim racing pedals are;
A potentiometer pedal will measure the force applied by the distance the pedal is pressed. This means the further you push the pedal in, the higher the braking force will be applied in-game.
These types of pedals are often found in more budget-friendly pedals, and they offer the least amount of realism during use. If you are coming from a real-world car, these also offer the least amount of realism, making racing with them a little harder.
Hall effect sensor pedals
Hall effect sensor pedals work in a similar way to potentiometer pedals, in that they measure the distance the pedal is pressed to determine the amount of input.
However, they are slightly more advanced due to them utilising contactless magnets to transfer the data. This means they will generally last longer and not wear as much as a potentiometer pedal would. The use of magnets also allows them to be more precise than a potentiometer pedal.
Load cell pedals
A load cell pedal is commonly found in intermediate to high-end racing pedals. These use a load cell to measure the force applied rather than the distance travelled.
This allows the pedal to work much more like a real-world car pedal. You can achieve more accurate and consistent results from using a load cell pedal due to the inputs and force applied becoming muscle memory. This often leads to more consistency, especially under braking.
Load cell pedals are typically more expensive than potentiometer and hall effect sensors. However, the improvement in realism and performance often makes them worth considering as you upgrade your sim racing setup.
Sitting at the top of the performance tree are hydraulic pedals. These use a hydraulic system to measure braking force as you compress the pedal. Much like a load cell, hydraulic pedals can measure the forces applied extremely accurately. And they are typically the closest you can get to replicating a real-world car pedal.
Sim racing rigs
A sim racing rig is a name given to the product that you mount your wheel and pedals to. Rigs can vary widely in price and quality.
At a beginner level, you will find wheel stands that are completely independent of your seat. These allow you to attach your racing wheel and often pedals which prevents them from moving during use.
This, along with a simple desk or table mount is generally considered a beginner set-up. Higher-powered wheels and pedals will require a sturdier support structure to avoid flexing during use.
One of the benefits of using an independent wheel stand is that they often fold away allowing for easy storage. If you are looking for a temporary solution to mounting a racing wheel without requiring a lot of space, a wheel stand is a great solution.
Stepping up from a wheel stand you will find all-in-one sim rigs. These come in a variety of forms and span a wide price range. At the more budget-friendly end you will find models such as the PlaySeat Evolution and GT Omega ART.
These feature an in-built racing seat, as well as mounts for your pedals and wheels. You can move up in budget to relatively expensive all-in-one sim rigs which feature heavier construction methods as well as a variety of attachments.
Aluminium profile rigs
Aluminium profile sim rigs offer the highest amount of flexibility and strength when designing and building a sim rig. They feature lengths of aluminium profile which can be combined and attached in a wide variety of designs.
The construction in an aluminium profile rig will be extremely sturdy, allowing you to attach the strongest direct drive wheel bases without the worry of flexing during use.
What games should I play?
When it comes to choosing your sim racing game of choice the options are vast. There is a wide range of racing simulators and games available for a selection of different platforms.
The majority of realistic sim racing games can only be found on PC, however, there are an increasing number of simulator games that are making their way to Xbox and PlayStation consoles.
PC Sim racing games
PC will be most sim racers platform of choice due to its huge game library. This is where the most competitive sim racing games live and is where most esports take place.
One of the most popular sim racing games ever is iRacing which is only accessible on PC. iRacing offers a subscription-based model where you subscribe monthly to gain access to the game. You can take part in full seasons of online competitive racing in iRacing and purchase more cars as you progress.
There are also extremely realistic games such as Automobilista 2 and Assetto Corsa Competizione. These games offer extremely realistic racing across a multiplayer and single-player experience.
rFactor 2 and Race Room offer similar experiences to iRacing providing a very realistic platform to race on. These two aren’t as popular as iRacing and utilise a different payment model, but both feature their own passionate community.
Xbox Series X|S games
When sim racing on Xbox consoles, your main go-to simulators will be those which are available on all consoles. These include the F1 series of games from Codemasters which offer the most realistic licensed Formula 1 experience.
Then there are staple sim games such as Assetto Corsa Competizione and DIRT Rally 2.0 which offer some of the best GT and rally racing experiences.
On Xbox consoles, you will also get access to Forza Motorsport which is Xbox exclusive. This is much like Gran Turismo in that it offers relatively realistic racing across a wide range of cars.
PlayStation 5/4 games
The main perk of sim racing on PS5 or PS4 is access to the Gran Turismo games. Gran Turismo 7 is out in 2022, and GT Sport has been one of the most popular simulator games across the past few years.
You can also get access to sim games such as Assetto Corsa Competizione and Dirt Rally 2.0 as well as the F1 series of games, as these are all available across all platforms.
What type of PC is required
Much like other games, a decent gaming PC is required to run most racing simulators at higher settings.
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
Some simulators such as iRacing and Automobilista 2 aren’t overly demanding on graphics despite looking quite good. These games can be run on mid-level gaming PC’s. Your GPU is the most important element when looking to build a gaming PC, as this is what will be taking the most load during gameplay.
You can pick up gaming PC’s and gaming laptops for under $/£1,000 that are capable of running racing sims at relatively high settings.
If you want to check whether your current PC can run a certain simulator you can do so by using a website such as www.pcgamebenchmark.com.
Can I sim race on console?
As mentioned above in the sim racing games section, there are a variety of sim racing titles that are available on Xbox and PlayStation consoles. These include Assetto Corsa Competizione, DIRT Rally 2.0, F1 2021 and more.
There is no real disadvantage to sim racing on a console, other than higher performance can be extracted from a PC with good enough specs.
When purchasing hardware to sim race on a console, you should certainly ensure the racing wheels, pedals etc are compatible with your console. Brands such as Fanatec, Thrustmaster and Logitech all make console-specific products that are only compatible on specific platforms.
Competitive sim racing
Competitive sim racing and esports have grown massively in the past few years. Many real-world racing teams now have their own esports team and drivers, and competitive sim racing is becoming a large part of the motorsport community.
During the pandemic, Formula 1 put on an online esports competition between real Formula 1 drivers, esports drivers and celebrities. And other communities did the same. Drivers such as George Russell, Lando Norris and Max Verstappen all raced in various esports events during this period.
In 2021, the GT World Challenge series, which features some of the best GT drivers in the world incorporated a selection of esports events that counted for real points in the championship. This marked a huge landmark for competitive sim racing and is the first time it has ever been incorporated into a real-world championship.
Moving forwards, there is a wide range of competitive sim racing leagues. Some of these are publicly accessible allowing anyone to enter, while some are held for the best esports racers to compete in.
Popular sim racing brands & manufacturers
Below are a selection of popular sim racing brands along with a short description of the types of products each one manufactures.
Logitech produces extremely popular entry-level racing wheels. These wheels are often competitively priced and are a good beginner racing wheel. View Logitech products here
Fanatec produces higher-end consumer sim racing hardware. They are most famous for producing a wide range of racing wheels and steering wheels, including the first console direct drive wheel base.
Fanatec also produce pedals, shifters, handbrakes and sim rigs. View Fanatec products here
Read our complete guide to the Fanatec ecosystem.
Thrustmaster is a manufacturer of racing wheels and pedals. They often sit in the middle ground between Fanatec and Logitech in terms of price and performance. View Thrustmaster products here
SimuCube produces high-end direct drive wheel bases. These rival the direct drive wheel bases that Fanatec produce as well as offering more premium wheel bases. View SimuCube products here
Cube Controls manufacture some of the most high-end steering wheels. These often include large screens similar to Formula 1 wheels as well as other high-end technology. These are widely compatible with a range of third party wheel bases. View Cube Controls products here
Heusinkveld is renowned for making some of the best professional-level racing pedals. They offer a selection of pedals that can be used with other sim racing equipment.
GT Omega produces sim rigs, wheel stands and racing chairs as well as other gaming peripherals. They are a great place to look if looking for your first all-in-one sim rig or wheel stand. View GT Omega products here
Next Level Racing
Next Level Racing offer sim rigs and wheel stands much like GT Omega. Again, a great place to look for your sim rig, from beginner rigs to more professional aluminium profile rigs. View Next Level Racing products here
SIMLABS produce higher-end sim rigs including a range of aluminium profile rigs. The SIMLABS P1-X is often regarded as one of the best sim rigs you can buy. View Sim Labs products here
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Sim racing terminology glossary
Below are a wide selection of sim racing terms and their explanation as to what each term means within sim racing.
ABS – Anti-lock braking system
Direct drive – Direct drive technology is used in wheel bases. It refers to the motor being directly attached to the motor shaft.
Force feedback – The forces that are generated by a sim racing wheel base to emulate the sensations that are felt on the car.
Hall effect sensor – A hall effect sensor uses magnets to measure how far you press a racing pedal.
Load cell – A load cell is a form of pedal technology used to measure the force applied to a pedal.
Motion platform – A motion platform sits underneath a sim rig and will move the driver around based on the G-forces that the virtual car is experiencing. Often used in extremely high-end sim rigs.
Racing simulator – The name given to a racing game that is extremely realistic.
Sim rig – Short for simulation rig, this describes the platform to which you mount your sim racing hardware. Often includes racing wheel mounts, pedal mounts and a race seat.
Potentiometer – A type of technology used in racing pedals. This measures how far you press the pedal.
QR (Quick-release) – A quick-release attaches a steering wheel to a wheel base and allows the user to detach the steering wheel quickly.
VR (Virtual reality) – A headset that is worn allowing you to experience more dynamic and realistic gameplay.
Wheel base – The name given to the part of a racing wheel that produces the force feedback.