How To Start Sim Racing Part 2 – Controller vs Wheel

Controller vs Racing Wheel
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Welcome to the second part of our “Getting started sim racing” series. Where we bring you our complete guide on how to start sim racing, along with some tips on how to progress quickly.

If you haven’t read our first part of this guide, I’d suggest heading over and reading that now. It’s all about which game to start with when starting sim racing. In that guide, I run through the best options for first games to check out, and which sim racing games are the most forgiving, progressing through to the hardcore simulators.

Our previous guide, and all future guides can be found in our “How to start sim racing” hub, which can be found here. Check back regularly as I’m, going to be adding new guides weekly.

Should I Start With A Controller Or A Racing Wheel?

Many gamers first experience with a racing game will come at the hands of a controller. This first experience is often with an easy to pickup game such as Forza or Need For Speed, or something a little more arcade orientated such as Mario Kart.

Racing with a controller

My first ever experience was back in the day with Gran Turismo on the original PlayStation. And in some ways, this was the game which ignited my passion for motorsport.

For years after playing the first Gran Turismo, I played and enjoyed racing games with a simple controller. It wasn’t until I raced on a simulator at a motorsport show that I truly discovered the enjoyment and immersion that introducing a racing wheel to the mix could bring.

And it is true. Racing with a racing wheel is a much more immersive experience. You can start to truly feel the car interacting with the track, and you can start to push harder towards the edge of your car’s grip. And this is all because of the force feedback from the racing wheel itself.

When using a controller, you can still feel some more limited feedback, which the controller gives you via haptics and vibrations. However it is never truly to the same level as a racing wheel.

So with all of that in mind, let’s look at some of the benefits of starting sim racing with a controller vs a wheel.

Racing With A Controller – A More Relaxing Way To Race

As mentioned, most sim racers and casual racing fans will start racing with a controller, and that comes down to their accessibility. Everyone who owns a games console will also have a controller and every single racing game will support controllers.

The true beauty of racing with a controller is that its so easy to pick up and start playing. This is especially true with the extremely fast loading times of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Within a matter of seconds you can be in your favourite car racing around the Nurburgring with a controller.

Xbox Controller vs racing wheel

And you can do all this while sitting (or laying), comfortably on your couch or bed. This certainly isn’t the case when it comes to a racing wheel setup.

With a racing wheel, unless you’re lucky enough to own a racing rig and have your racing wheel always setup and ready to race with.

Getting your wheel ready for a racing session is a much more arduous affair. You have to setup your wheel stand, or move your equipment in to position. This takes a lot more preparation, aswell as needing somewhere to store your wheel and gear.

But let’s forget about the practicality of racing with a controller compared to a wheel. And let’s focus more on the enjoyment and immersion.

Is A Racing Wheel More Fun Than A Controller?

One of the main reasons for wanting to buy a racing wheel is for the immersion factor, and to avoid hand cramp during controller endurance racing… But mainly immersion!

Fanatec Formula V2 Steering Wheel

By introducing a peripheral which replicates a real steering wheel gives you the sensation that you are actually one step closer to driving the car in reality. You make the same inputs that real racing drivers do. And you even feel the car on the road, and how it’s behaving.

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All of these realistic driving elements aren’t portrayed when racing with a controller. However, there are still times, especially when playing a game such as Forza Horizon, where kicking back on the sofa with a controller in hand is much more enjoyable.

But in a nutshell, I certainly believe that you can have much more fun with a racing wheel than a controller!

Is It Easier To Drive With a Racing Wheel Or Controller?

When you first jump on to a racing wheel after racing hours and hours with a controller, everything suddenly feels completely different. That car which you had perfected how to drive is now a completely different beast to handle.

You will almost certainly find yourself in a wall or gravel trap on your first outing, and you may become instantly disheartened by this. But don’t.

Getting used to driving with a racing wheel is hard at first, and its much harder than racing with a controller initially. This is especially true in arcade games or arcade orientated simulations such as Need For Speed and Forza Horizon.

Need for speed heat

In both of these games, you can pick up a controller and with a few minutes practice be able to have reasonably good control over your car. This isn’t the case when it comes to driving with a wheel.

Racing wheels typically have a 900 degree rotation, meaning just like with a real road car, to turn full lock left or right you have to turn the wheel mutliple times. This alone, along with the added co-ordination requirements of having to simultaniously operate a wheel and pedals make a racing wheel much harder to drive with initially.

However, once over that learning curve, is a controller or a racing wheel easier to drive with?

We would still lean towards a controller being the easier platform to drive with.

When it comes to reactions and being able to a control a car, I do still believe it’s easier to do so with a controller. It’s much easier to flick a thumbstick to change your car’s direction compared to the much larger inputs you need to make with a wheel.

And that also applies to throttle and brake control. You can make much quicker decisions with a controller as all inputs are much smaller. And those who are experienced with a gamepad, can much easier modulate a car’s throttle and brake pressure. It can be much harder to understand how much braking force you’re inputting with a wheel and pedal setup.

Despite my argument above, that it’s easier to drive with a controller. I certainly don’t believe that you have more overall control of a car with a controller. That win will always go to a racing wheel.

A Racing Wheel Will Always Give You More Overall Control

There is a good analogy that racing drivers use. They say that it’s easy to jump in to a car and within a few laps get to 90% of your maximum performance level. But it’s finding that last 10% of speed where the hours, months and years of practice come in to play.

And this is very similar when it comes to the amount of control you get with a controller comapred to a racing wheel.

With a controller, its much easier to pick up almost any racing and and get comfortable with it quite quickly. But due to the limitations of force feedback of a controller, finding that last 10% of performance is a real struggle.

The controller’s small inputs may be beneficial when it comes to adaptability and reactions. However they are every sim racers enemy when it comes to precision.

One of the most compelling reasons to drive with a racing wheel comes in the form of force feedback and precision. With a good quality wheel, you can feel almost every bump in the road, and you can feel when your car has and doesn’t have grip.

This extra level of feedback allows you as a driver to learn tracks and cars to a much more detailed degree. And with that knowledge you can turn it into speed.

Following on from this point, due to the inputs with a wheel being much larger than a controller. You also have much more control over the size of those inputs. You can brake with more precision and steer with much more precision.

And due to these reasons combined, we can comfortably say that a racing wheel will give you much more overall control over a controller.

Will You Be Faster With A Racing Wheel Compared To A Controller?

But does the extra level of control and force feedback make you a faster driver? Well, in a word yes… Potentially.

With all of the extra feedback that you get, you can make much more accurate decisions on how to drive your car, where to place it on track, and exactly how much steering lock to hold through a corner.

That’s not to say that you personally may be quicker with a controller, many racers are. And you will sometimes find the online leaderboards full of controller players.

But a racing wheel will present you with much more information, allowing you to become a quicker, more precise driver overall.

The Best Racing Wheel To Start With

If you are looking for the best quality entry level racing wheel, then the Logitech G923 has you covered. This is a complete wheel and pedal bundle which is compatible across almost every racing game. It will give you a good first outing in to the world of sim racing.

Buy the Logitech G923 wheel from your region below;

A Higher Quality Racing Wheel

If you want to buy in to a racing wheel platform with more customisation, and higher quality force feedback, look no further than Fanatec. The Fanatec CSL Elite wheel below is a great platform, allowing you to add almost any steering wheel you fancy, while offering much improved force feedback compared to the Logitech G923.

Buy the Fanatec CSL Elite F1 Esports from your region below;

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