Beginners Guide To Sim Racing: Which Game to Start With

In this beginner's guide to sim racing, I'm going to look at the best games to learn sim racing. I'll run through our game recommendations and tips on how to approach them.

Assetto Corsa Competizione MOZA Wheel Settings

Disclaimer: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links. We earn a commission from any sale after clicking an affiliate link. Find out more.

Get the latest sim racing guides and car setups each week by subscribing to our newsletter.

This sim racing beginner’s guide is part of our larger series of guides designed to help you get started. You can view any of the other beginner’s sim racing guides below.

You can follow these beginner’s guides in any order, however, we have made things easy by listing them out in an order that we would recommend following. They are designed to walk you through the world of sim racing, starting with the games we’d recommend, through to hardware recommendations and more advanced driving techniques.

Below is a quick overview of the content and tips you can find in this guide. Use the quick links below to navigate this beginner’s guide and jump between our recommendations for the best game to learn sim racing.

What makes a good sim racing game?

There is a big difference between a sim racing game and a more arcade-focused racing game. Driving games such as Need For Speed and The Crew fall into the arcade category and are great games if you like racing, drifting, or modifying cars.

Arcade driving games

You can play games like Need For Speed using a racing wheel, however, they are much better suited to a controller and promote high-speed driving, drifting and fast-paced racing action. This style of racing game relies more on loose physics that lets you throw your car about without worrying too much about the car’s weight, grip or tyre physics.

Sim-cade titles

Moving more towards realism, you’ll find racing games that include the Forza series, Gran Turismo and the EA Sports F1 series. This style of racing games bridges the gap between arcade and simulation by incorporating elements from both categories.

You will often find complex physics engines underpinning these games that let you measure tyre temperatures, grip levels and complex car physics. However, they are often built to accommodate a slightly looser style of driving compared to driving a car on a real-world track.

This genre of sim-cade racing titles offers fantastic fun and can give motorsport enthusiasts and sim racers a great taste of more realistic driving compared to Need For Speed or The Crew. Most of these titles allow for car customisation and car setups which underpin more complex physics and real-world driving behaviour.

Sim racing games

If you want more realism than a game such as Gran Turismo or Forza can offer, there is a category of racing titles that are firmly designed to be simulations of real-world conditions and physics. These more hardcore-focused simulation titles include iRacing, Assetto Corsa Competizione and Automobilista 2 to name a few.

Much like sim-cade games, these racing simulations utilise complex physics that dictate every part of the sim. The physics engine will be in control of tyre behaviour, and weight changes as you turn into corners, and other complex areas of your car and the track.

It is this category of sim racing games that I’d recommend you try to get a feel for how differently the cars behave in comparison to a sim-cade or arcade game. Sim racing titles can be daunting when you first jump into them, however, like most racing games, they usually offer a host of driving assists to help make the first few laps that bit easier.

As with most elements of sim racing, I’d recommend starting slowly in whichever sim racing game you choose, and try to learn each area of the sim and how your car behaves at your own pace. The best game to learn sim racing is possibly Assetto Corsa Competizione. This is a game that is available on all consoles and includes a range of cars from slower GT4 cars to immensely fast GT2 machines.


Which racing game to try first to learn sim racing

To answer the question of which sim racing game to try first when you are learning to sim race, I want to quickly reminisce on my experience. Like many, I started playing racing games way back with the original Gran Turismo games on PlayStation.

At the time, these racing games felt incredibly realistic, and the access to dream cars was incredible. I played through these games with a controller, before progression up to using a racing wheel with more recent Forza and Gran Turismo games.

Using a racing wheel with these sim-cade games is a great experience. This style of game isn’t too unforgiving or punishing and the semi-realistic physics lets you feel how the car is behaving.

I would therefore recommend a similar approach if you are looking to start sim racing for the first time. Whether you have a budget racing wheel or are using a controller, you can jump into a game like Forza or Gran Turismo and have fun.

Choosing the right car

The real beauty of Gran Turismo and Forza is that both of these games include a wide variety of cars to try. You can start out racing slower road cars, before progressing up to faster race-spec cars and supercars.

Gran Turismo 7 Best Credit Grind

And I’d highly recommend starting with slower cars. When I first jumped into the latest Forza Motorsport game, I attempted a few laps using the Aston Martin Valkyrie. This is a hypercar capable of hitting 250mph with a 0-60 time of just 2.5 seconds. It is fair to say I crashed a lot, and this was after I had been sim racing for over 10 years.

Jumping into a car such as the Mazda MX-5 or even a relatively fast road car such as an Audi RS3 or BMW M2 is a much more accessible option. These cars let you build up pace and confidence over time without feeling uncontrollable.

The importance of driving assists

Even though Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport look to combine realism and arcade gameplay, at times they can still be challenging. Rear-wheeled drive cars can be a handful when accelerating and wet tracks provide less grip that can result in more mistakes.

I would highly recommend utilising driving assists in whichever racing game you choose. Most racing games include assists that automate elements such as traction control, ABS, automatic gears and more. These make driving any car more accessible as the game will prevent your wheels from spinning or locking.

F1 22 How to turn off assists

Enabling these when you first jump into a racing game is advisable. Then over time, as you build confidence and feel you can push the car harder, you can start to disable driving assists.

One assist I would highly recommend using is the driving line. This overlays the best driving line on the track and even tells you when to brake and accelerate by changing colour from red to green. You won’t get any extra driving assistance like you would by enabling traction control or ABS, however, the driving line is a great way to learn where to position your car on track.


The best entry-level sim racing games

While sim-cade racing games such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport are fantastic ways of learning fundamentals, and getting your first experience of simulation style of racing. Moving over to a true sim racing game will represent a pretty big step.

Sim racing games focus on creating the most realistic physics whilst trying to be as accurate and authentic to real-world racing as possible. Much like other racing games, sim racing titles do always have a range of driving aids and assists which can make them easier to pick up and play.

When it comes to choosing which sim racing game to play first, there are a good number of options. In the past, we only really had a few niche titles such as iRacing or Assetto Corsa to choose from. In recent years, however, we have had a lot more dedicated sim racing titles released across all consoles giving much more choice.

Assetto Corsa Competizione

Assetto Corsa Competizione (ACC) is one of those sim racing titles that offers a realistic sim racing experience across all consoles including Xbox, PlayStation and PC.

ACC provides an authentic GT racing experience and represents a few real-world GT2, GT3 and GT4 championship series. Originally released in 2018, ACC was the official game of the Blancpain GT Series, now known as the GT World Challenge.


Subscribe To Our Newsletter!

Get the latest sim racing guides and car setups each week by signing up to our newsletter.



It is a sim racing game that replicates the official GT World Challenge Series, in a similar way that the EA Sports and Codemasters F1 games only include Formula 1 and Formula 2 racing series. This means the car selection is limited to real-world cars that compete across the GT2, GT3 and GT4 series, and the ACC track list also reflects this.

The GT World Challenge Series features a wide selection of GT2, GT3, GT4 and spec series cars. These are typically faster more race-focused variants of regular sports cars and supercars you can drive on the road. You’ll find cars such as the Ferrari 296, the Mercedes-AMG GT and Porsche 911 in the GT World Challenge Series.

By focusing entirely on the GT platforms, Assetto Corsa Competizione gives itself the chance to really nail the GT simulation physics. It also gives aspiring sim racers a good platform to drive one of the most popular types of motorsport, the GT3 car.

Realistic driving physics

Assetto Corsa Competizione does a lot of things right, and first and foremost is driving physics. This sim racing game offers some of the most realistic driving physics around. These expand from the tyre physics due to how the cars behave during different scenarios.

ACC driving assists

Real-world GT cars are built with electronic systems in place that include traction control and ABS, and this is replicated in game. This gives sim racers the option of tuning these systems to provide more or less input as required.

If you are new to ACC, you may want to set the traction control higher to ensure you don’t spin your tyres when accelerating. Unlike games from the F1 series, using traction control and ABS is authentic to the real-world motorsport. This makes it feel much less like cheating or using an artificial aid.

As you progress and learn how the cars behave, you can lower the traction control and ABS settings to give you more control over the car. In the real-world GT series, drivers adjust their TC and ABS settings during a race as conditions change. Racing in the wet or as the tyres wear can lead to drivers increasing the TC setting to provide more stability. You can mimic this approach in ACC as you improve.

This ease of accessibility gives gamers with either an Xbox, PS4, PS5 or PC the chance to try out ACC, and try sim racing. ACC provides one of the most accessible platforms to use as your first true sim racing game.

Game – Assetto Corsa Competizione
Platform – PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation
Release date – September 2018
Where to buy – Buy from Amazon / Buy from Steam


Project Cars 2 (Not Project Cars 3)

Another game which tries to replicate a close-to-realistic motorsport simulation is Project Cars 2. This is a game which was developed entirely around console platforms, with the goal of bringing sim racing to the masses.

Project Cars 2 Pit stop
Wide car selection

Unlike ACC above, Project Cars 2 features a wide variety of cars, more akin to Forza Motorsport. You’ll find your regular road cars, meaning you can jump into a stock BMW M2 and blast it around a track such as Brands Hatch, just like you would on a track day.

But you’ll also find a wide variety of track-only cars. These include some of the GT3 cars that can be found in ACC, along with open-wheel cars, all the way up to the fastest prototype endurance cars.

This variety of cars gives sim racers a distinctly different experience when compared to ACC. You can choose to hone your driving ability across a wide range of car styles, which can in some cases be better than sticking entirely to GT3 cars.

The wider array of cars in Project Cars 2 lets you find your own place within the sim racing world. It could be that you prefer open-wheeled cars over traditional GT cars, or maybe even the beastly prototype cars.

Physics

Stepping away from the car roster for a moment. Project Cars 2 also does a fantastic job of providing a simulation physics platform for you to race one. However, it will feel different to the physics engine in ACC.

The developers at Slightly Mad Studio, who created PCars 2, went for an ever so slightly toned-down physics engine. This means it isn’t completely sim-focused, although it is more simulation-focused than both Forza and Gran Turismo.

There are a few aspects to how each car behaves, which take away from the full simulation approach. This decision goes back to the fact that this game was developed with console gamers heavily in mind.

To cater for gamers who would be playing with a controller, Slightly Mad Studios decided to make the game a little more forgiving. This is designed to make controller gameplay a little easier.

This decision in my opinion is a good one. It allows console gamers a nice stepping stone, from arcade racing games into an almost complete simulation environment. And for that reason, Project Cars 2 makes a fantastic first sim racing game.

Don’t play Project Cars 3

The reason I’m not recommending Project Cars 3 is down to a change in direction between PCars 2 and 3. While the original Project Cars and PCars 2 were heavily focused towards simulation gameplay and making racing sims more accessible. Project Cars 3 took the decision to be a complete arcade racing game.

The third game in the series is much closer to a game like Need For Speed or GRID than it is to Project Cars 2. There are almost no areas of the simulation title that remained, making the third game a big disappointment for many who enjoyed the first two titles.

Game – Project Cars 2
Platform – PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation
Release date – September 2017
Where to buy – Buy from Amazon


EA Sports F1 Series

If you’re a big motorsport fan and a fan of open-wheel racing such as Formula 1 and IndyCar, then the EA Sports F1 game series offers a great racing experience. The F1 game series is created by developers Codemasters, which was bought out by EA Sports a few years ago. However, the fantastic pedigree that Codemasters were known for has carried over, making the current generation of F1 games a great choice for Formula 1 fans.

Instead of being a hardcore simulation, it balances between simulation and arcade in a similar way to Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. It is a game that can be raced with a controller or a racing wheel with relative ease.

This allows the F1 games to be great options for those who are dipping their toe into sim racing for the first time. You can start by using a controller and as you improve, or if you want to progress to a racing wheel, you can seamlessly add a wheel to the mix.

There is a good range of driving assists in the F1 games to allow players of all skill levels to race. Once you turn the assists off, the car does have a rather simulation-esque feel to it. It can be easy to lose control of your car if you overstep the grip level, allowing racers to dial in a good feel for where the grip is.

The EA Sports F1 games are widely played across the sim racing community, and you will always be able to find an online race or league to test your skill levels. There are even competitive Esports leagues that race solely using the F1 games, meaning you can find good competition as you get faster yourself.

Game – EA Sports F1
Platform – PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation
Release date – Every June
Where to buy – Buy from Amazon


Best advanced sim racing games

When it comes to more advanced racing sims, a couple of racing simulators have really carved out their niche as hardcore competitive racing platforms. These are titles where competing against other drivers is the main test of your skills.


iRacing

We’ll start with iRacing, which is without a doubt the most popular online racing sim. It allows for some of the most competitive online racing you can find, and it boasts one of the most realistic physics engines.

iRacing is less of a game, and more of an actual hobby, where its users pay a monthly subscription to compete in online racing competition. Every racer participates in pre-arranged series and seasons across a selection of tracks.

View the most recent iRacing promos for a cheaper membership.

Drivers can progress their skill level by earning licenses and increasing their iRating which can be looked at as a global skill level. You can also be awarded points for competing in events just like in a real motorsport event.

Everything that happens on the road stays with you in iRacing in the form of a license. As you battle for race wins and podiums, you’ll move up the license system, from D and C, through to A and Pro levels. And as you progress and improve, you’ll find yourself moving up through into higher tier seasons, up against better opposition.

Learn the best way to progress out of the Rookie license in iRacing.

If you have dabbled with other racing sims that we’ve spoken about, and you are in need of some serious competition. Then iRacing may be the right platform for you. You can find out about the true cost of iRacing in our guide where we break down the cost of membership and owning all content in iRacing.

Game – iRacing
Platform – PC
Release date – August 2008
Where to buy – Buy iRacing


rFactor 2

rFactor 2 is a sim in a very similar vein to iRacing. And it’s a game which has become renowned for its large modding community. It is a simulation which isn’t membership-based like iRacing is, but features some of the most advanced racing physics around. This makes it many sim racers’ favourite race sim.

rFactor 2 Racing Game PC

Where rFactor 2 differs from almost every game on this list is modding. Its developers have been very open about how easy they have made it for the community to install mods.

And this has led to rFactor 2 being one of the most complete racing sims. You don’t necessarily need to pay for extra cars, tracks or content, as you can find a lot of it modded in by its avid fan base.

If you ever fancy trying a mod of a new car or a new track, rFactor 2 is without a doubt the best place to try it out.

Game – rFactor 2
Platform – PC
Release date – March 2013
Where to buy – Buy rFactor 2


Overview

Continue reading our beginner’s guide to sim racing series with our other guides. Each of these guides runs through a specific part of sim racing and will help you learn each aspect of sim racing. The guides can be read in any order, however, we do have a suggested order if you prefer.


Grab Your Sim Racing Gear Here

You can use the links below to shop for your favourite sim racing products, or for any products that we may have recommended. These links are affiliate links, and will earn us a small commission, with no additional cost for you.

Author Profile Picture

Article written by Mjolnir

Mjolnir is one of the main setup creators and content writers for SimRacingSetups. He has had years of experience in sim racing, both competitively and casually. After a decade of sim racing experience, he co-founded SimRacingSetup.com to share his passion and knowledge of sim racing and Formula 1 with other sim racers.
Disclaimer: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links. We may earn commission from any sale after clicking a link. Read our affiliate policy.