What better way to start a new blog with an ultimate Sim Racing Starter Guide? I cover the equipment needed to start sim racing, the available sims, and some basic introductory tips to help get you started in the world of sim racing in this Sim Racing Starter Guide. Put your racing gloves on, tighter your seatbelts, and prepare to start your drive.
Starting equipment really boils down to a wheel, pedals, and a sim of your choice. This section of the Sim Racing Starter Guide will focus on the wheel and pedals, as these will be universal to your sim of choice. It is important to know that there are three main types of wheels: gear-driven, belt-driven, and direct-drive. Each one provides its own experience and represents a specific price point. Gear-driven wheels are less expensive, while direct drive represents the most expensive category. Each category is explained below, along with links to websites where you can check them out. Please note that when purchasing a wheel, it is important to ensure it at least comes with a set of paddle shifters.
A gear-driven wheel, as it sounds, uses internal gears to provide feedback to the wheel. The upside to these types of wheels is the entry-level cost and the abundance of bundle deals, meaning the pedals and the wheels are sold together as one package. The downside to this type of wheel is the lack of finesse regarding force feedback. The feedback comes off as grainy, meaning you can feel the gears clicking as they slip and grind. This type of wheel is often the first type of wheel newcomers go for, and it certainly gets the job done. The more popular examples of this wheel are Logitech’s G920 and Thrustmaster’s T300RS.
A belt-driven wheel, as it sounds, uses a pully system to control force feedback. The belt system provides two main benefits over a gear-driven system. The first benefit is the smooth transition of the wheel. As we mentioned, gear-driven wheels provide a clicking sensation while feedback is being applied; the belt system avoids this. The second benefit is silence. Gear-driven wheels make a clicking sound as the gears slip and turn. Belt-driven wheels provide a smoother experience while also being silent. The downside is cost. Belt-driven provides a medium between gear-driven and direct-drive wheels. This also means the cost is between as well. One example of this is The TMX from Thrustmaster. Remember, the pedals do not always come with this wheel level, which is an added cost.
Direct-drive refers to the shaft of the wheel directly attached to the wheel’s motor. The benefit of this is higher force amounts, measured in newtons, providing a 1:1 feel in a sim. This type of wheel also has granular settings to allow for customizable experiences. The downside to this wheel is the price. While some companies are working to make smaller and cheaper direct-drive wheels, the current market is saturated with bases (not including the wheel rim) that run into thousands of dollars. Note that the price does not include pedals, which may run well over $500 for the pedals alone. Two major companies right now are Fanatec and Sim Cube.
A lot of newcomers do not think about the pedals while sim racing. After all, the throttle just makes you go faster, and the brake just makes you go slower, right? Well, it’s complicated. There are two main functions of pedals that separate the beginner level from the professional level. The first feature is a load cell brake. The second feature is force feedback in the pedal itself. Sound crazy? Let’s talk about it.
Load Cell Brake: A load cell is an adjustable spring-loaded mechanism that lets you adjust the resistance you feel in the brake. The stock pedals that come with the Logitech G920 have a static resistance, which isn’t really much. This means it can be easier to lock the brakes up in the sim, especially in a car without ABS. A load cell can provide resistance to prevent a racer from reaching max braking too quickly and change how the pressure is interpreted.
Pedal Feedback: More advanced pedals can provide feedback, in the form of vibrations, to both the brake and throttle pedal. One might ask, why would I want that? The brake vibration is more straightforward. Vibration in the brake can be set as a threshold to help achieve consistent braking until the muscle memory is achieved. The throttle seems a be less obvious. Have you driven a real car on a slippery road and had traction control kick one? Electronically controlled throttles provide a feeling of power difference where we feel the wheel reactions in both the brake and throttle. Most sims will also translate this to pedals with this feature. This allows you to find the limit of a car more easily and react more quickly than a racer who is operating on visual cues alone.
What pedals do you need?
It largely depends on how much you want from the sim on day one. Generally speaking, the pedals that come with wheel combos will suffice for entry-level driving. It is more important to focus on getting a feel for the wheel and honing your racecraft than putting the focus on pedals from day one.
We are at the point where you understand you need a wheel with paddle shifters and a set of pedals. What sim do you use them in? Well, all of them, really. Every sim tailors to different race styles. The current top three sims are iRacing, Assetto Corsa Competizioneone (ACC), and Rfactor 2. iRacing may be the most universal as it has all flavors of racing such as Nascar, IMSA, Rally, and more. ACC tailors toward GT racing, and Rfactor 2 is a community-driven sim with all flavors of racing. Some of the key points of these sims are listed below:
- iRacing: Monthly subscription fee, must by each individual car and track to participate in a race, works with VR, provides license classes for official races, and is considered eSport ready.
- ACC: One-time payment for the base game, requires payment for DLCs, fewest tracks of all compared sims, based on Unreal Engine, supports GT racing only, has trouble with VR, has a safety rating system, and has the second largest userbase, with iRacing being first.
- Rfactor 2: One-time payment for the base game and requires DLCs to race some mods, a lot of free content available in the Steam workshop, all types of racing available, works well with VR, and is often seen as buggy as community content is unstandardized.
In this Sim Racing Starter Guide, we discussed types of racing wheels, price points, pedals, and the top sims to jump into with your new gear. Remember that when getting started, the equipment can be upgraded later. It is more important to get a feel for racecraft and get comfortable with force feedback. This guide did not cover sim cockpits, external shifters, or button boxes. These devices can overwhelm newcomers and distract them from the importance of practice. Once an understanding of racecraft has been achieved, the next step is making your sim environment more immersive, which allows the driver to make more precise inputs and shave time off their laps. What’s next? Check out the first lesson on sim racing! Learning a new track.