The Ultimate Guide To Your Own Racing Simulator
From Simracer For Simracers
As a newbie in the world of simracing, there is no denying that getting an overview about all things simracing is tough, almost impossible. What do I actually want? What do I actually need? What to pay heed to?
This guide is your overview of the world of simulation racing.
page history: originally published May 6, 2016 | updated Oct 13, 2016
Steering Wheel and Pedals
You can get hardware for your future simulation racing rig in every pricing category. Starting far below 100 bucks (be it Euro or Dollar), you already get a big variety of steering wheels and pedals – but generally, I shy away of recommending such low priced hardware. Typically, you get cheaply sticked together plastic housings, bad force feedback – if at all. The steering wheel grip is basically garbage – especially if during an exciting race your hands become sweaty. And finally, the pedals are often fragile and do not provide your feet with the feel you need for the podium.
Steering wheels below 100,- are more like a party joke and are not well suited to compete in serious simulation racing.
You should start your virtual racing career at least with a Logitech steering wheel. On the market at the moment is the Logitech G29 for Playstation 3, Playstation 4 and PC. Its sister, Logitech G920, is available for PC and Xbox One.
Should it be possible for you to grab its predecessor, the famous Logitech G27, preferrably unused, then you can also start racing on Playstation 2, Playstation 3 and PC. I myself have won my first wins and certificates in iRacing on a Logitech G 27. In case you actually get a G27, make sure to buy a Nixim-Brake-Mod sooner or later. The Nixim-Mod makes the feel of the brake more realistic and your driving more consistent, as it empowers the use of your feet’s and leg’s muscle memory (which, as you guess, is good).
The Logitech G27/G29/G920 setup is simple when it comes to mounting it to your desk or any other table. The pedals mount well on carpet; on flat ground, it may be necessary to use Velcro® or some other strong tape.
Also, most rigs (for example Playseat’s) support the Logitech line up.
Last, not least: The G27 was the last to include an H-Pattern Shifter with additional buttons. The shifter hast to be bought separately for the G29/G920.
Thrustmaster is a tad more expensive with the Thrustmaster T500RS. Other than Logitech, Thrustmaster offers pedals fully made of metal (including the housing). The package includes a progressive brake mod, which makes braking more realistic and which supports you while learning braking points on track. A really nice feature is that you can mount the pedals upside down. Fixing the pedals is, counterintuively, easier, since they weigh a lot more and have big rubber lashes underside. The back wall further helps stabilizing against a wall.
The Thrustmaster T500RS shifter paddles are fixed to the wheel base, not to the wheel. What you prefer is just a matter of taste: Some race cars in the real world have them fixed to the base (e.g. some Ferraris), some to the wheel (e.g. modern Formula 1 or IndyCar), some don’t have paddles at all (e.g. NASCAR, where you have a conservative H-Pattern shifter).
If you have big hands like me, and if you’re looking into fast pace downforce-monoposto racing, having paddles fixed to the base may be a disadvantage. If you are unlike me, than not.
The crown on the mass market is, without any doubt, Fanatec with their Fanatec ClubSport line. The ClubSport pedals does not include a progressive brake mod: It doesn’t need one, because it has a load cell. The ClubSports V2 come builtin with a real hydraulic cylinder, for the V3, you will have to buy them separately (for maximum quality, order two hydraulic damper kits: one for your brake, one for your throttle). The load cell measures force instead of travel distance, other than Thrustmaster’s or Logitech’s potentiometers. If you want, the ClubSport pedals are real (servo) brakes. This is as realistic as it gets.
The clutch pedal is degressive, with a clearly noticeable bitepoint. The mechanics behind it are fascinating, being a multipart metal construction.
The pedals come with spare springs for individual configuration, as well as pedal plates of narrow and D-shape, and with extensions to change the plates’ positions.
The wheel base, currently version 2, is heavy. It has active cooling so that the force feedback does not fade during long race sessions. Fanatec themselves sell a big variety of steering wheels, from F1- or Indy-like Formula CSW (check out the carbon version of that wheel), to a Lotus 49-like classic wheel without any buttons. Furthermore, Fanatec offers Universal Hub and Universal Hub for Xbox One, which enable you to mount real steering wheels, e.g. from Sparco or Momo. One of my wishes is to build a 90s Formula 1 simulator, like you can spot in old onboard videos: Make sure to watch Senna or Schumacher at Monza or Interlagos in the 90s.
While the pedals are heavy, your feet will push them even heavier (especially on the throttle and clutch), so a fixed mounting may be necessary. For that, read on Rigs in the next paragraph. Of course a rig is even more bang into your buck, but in the end the racer in you will be as thankful as a dog who just received a portion of its favourite snack.
Within the simracing community, people often talk about “the rig”. We mean a kind of cockpit, into which we fix our steering wheel, pedals, shifter and possibly (multiple) screens. Friends of dirt and a good drift often find an additional mounting for their handbrake.
The main advantage of an additional rig is, that you don’t need to frequently assemble and disassemble your racing setup. Especially in relationships and flat shares this can be very relevant, as you often cannot just let your machinery installed on the office room desk. Und finally, there is nothing better than to do a couple hotlaps when coming home from work, right?
Are you technically apt? If yes, do you have access to a good set of tools? Do you prefer wood or metal? Or do you know someone who can make some pipes? Then go ahead and build the cockpit of your dreams. There are many manuals, blueprints and pictures of like minded people all over the internet.
Personally, I would like something of wood in the long term: It’s stable and easy to work with. Should I become really, really rich, something of carbon would be awesome (though I first would have to find a carbon baker); but back to reality. Right now, I race on a Speedmaster V2, which was made to fit Logitech G27. To permanently install my ClubSport-furniture, I needed to drill additional holes, though.
All in all, the Speedmaster is pretty stable and looks sportive. But unfortunately, it looks as if the manufacturer has closed shop or is currently under a major, long term revamp.
Fortunately, there are many alternatives. One of the most popular manufactures is Playseat. Pleaseat has gaming optimized office chairs, to foldable, dedicated rigs for almost every amount of bucks. And if you are an open wheeler enthusiast, they have a “real” Formula 1 rig, in which you lie more than you sit.
Other high quality rig manufactures include GT Omega or Obutto, which have some really heavy and extremely stable pipe assemblies.
Fanatec offers the Rennsport Cockpit, which is not only made for ClubSport, but for Logitech G25/G27/G29, as well as Thrustmaster T500RS. Fair move by Fanatec, if you ask me; on the other hand I expect that at such fair, yet expensive, pricing.
Here’s a small checklist, never mind if building or buying a rig:
- Space Requirements
- Wheel/Pedal Compatibility
Stability. Sadly, this is hard to see in images. Look out for user reviews (of course on PerfectSimracer.com) and listen to your common sense.
Also, take into account your own physic: Are you a Go-Kart or a Racing-Truck? And don’t forget the weight of your wheel and pedals, as well as the power of its force feedback. For example, a Logitech G920 may just be fixed onto a cheap IKEA-table. With a ClubSport configuration, however, I would terrorize my neighbours all the time, when the table take’s off all the time.
The only, general recommendation I can give to you: The heavier and more table, the better. Look out for reviews.
Space Requirements. There is no denying that a rig for simracing needs some space. Some are completely static, once assembled, others can be folded (some Playseat rigs, for example). Look out for appropriate dimensions, and start thinking about where you will place your rig. They are bulky! Typically, you do want to keep your rig in the room where you will race it.
Compatibility. Manufactures of racing rigs usually tell you, for which wheels and pedals their rig is designed. Some rigs can be fitted with metal saw or drilling machines. For the short term, you can also use duct tape and screw clamps.
Extensibility. Think about whether you want to try out an H-pattern shifter in the future. Are you looking forward to fixing a screen onto the rig? Multi-Screen? Possibly you can also use a simple monitor desk mount; I am doing this on my Speedmaster.
If you are going to drifting, think about the possibilites to mount your handbrake. Some wheel bases allow the fixation of additional devices directly on the base, e.g. the Fanatec ClubSport Wheel Base.
Also worth considering is the supply of drinking water. To me, it’s okay to have one or two open bottles of water on the floor to my left. But I must admit that on some tracks, drinking becomes impossible with that solution (think of Formula 1 at Monaco, or a short oval race in IndyCar or NASCAR). A real drinking system might be preferable on such tracks, with a hose and a mouth piece, and the bottle accordingly fixed in order to not knock over the water all over your floor. I once knocked a cup of hot coffee over my legs when I underestimated the force feedback in its ability to vibrate cups of hot coffee over the table; I think I still won the race, but I also won a few blisters, ouch.
As a beginner, it should be okay to shift your rig under your desk and to pull your monitor nearer to your head. But make sure to always place the monitor to the same position relative to your rig; otherwise, you will have an unecessary harder time to learn tracks and braking points.
The next step is to reserve a monitor just for racing, and preferrably fix it to the rig. This enables you to dedicate a place in your room to racing: Hop on and race, win race, hop of, go to bed.
A general hint for configuring field of view (FOV): The field of view should be configured such that the perspective projection becomes equivalent to what you would see if your monitor would be a window instead. People love to race with high FOVs, going 90° or more. Some games even raise the FOV further at high speeds and drip in psychedelic motion blur effects. Ditch that. Your FOV should probably be way lower than you have it now. For a 22″ screen at a distance of about 40 cm, the FOV will be around 40°-50°. This is low, mainly because you are not used to. But try it out, you will see that racing somehow feels more natural. And you support your track learning with it. Just imagine you are Nico Hülkenberg at Le Mans, who did not have a really high FOV in his LMP1 either.
iRacing has a FOV-calculator builtin, but there are also calculators in the internet.
Yes, you lose a bit of overview in the acute situation, but it’s more than out balanced by increased driving consistency.
And this is where multi screen setups come to the rescue. Having multiple monitors dedicated to the game, you can increase the field of view (FOV) again, after we have just reduced it to reality in the previous paragraph. As a rule of thumb, you can tell that you reach 100° to 120° with three screens. With five screens, you can go beyond 180° FOV.
Within the community, single screen and triple screen are common. Five screen does exist, but is sighted rarely.
But before your shrug “I need 3 screens?!”: iRacing does have a pretty good spotter, and for rFactor there exist spotter plugins. Your spotter keeps you up to date regarding your peripherals. And if you reserve to buttons on your wheel for looking left and looking right (which you should do), you get a usually good enough overview of your position in the racing pack.
In my opinion, a realistic field of view more than leverages the disadvantages that come with it. Never mind if single, double, triple or five screen.
Below in the Track IR paragraph, you can see a three monitor setup live.
Track IR is a small device that keeps track of your head movement. It functions as an additional input device that controls your driver avatar’s head. It works really well, but needs a few days to get used to.
My own experience is that you can get simulator sick with it, but that does not apply to the majority of racers. Try it out.
Here’s a video review of Track IR by RTA Motorsports:
iRacing has been supporting the Oculus Rift years before the end consumer version was released. Live for Speed set their focus on Virtual Reality in their early 2016 release.
Despite of total immersion into the race, which you correctly guess is freaking awesome, there are some practial advantages and a few disadvantages with VR devices like Gear VR or Oculus Rift DK 2.
Here’s a neat YouTube video by Jamie Rushworth to get a peek:
Advantages of VR. Now that you have a 360° view (or more mathematically, 2π), you only need your screen to command your Windows desktop. In theory, you could dispose of your screen altogether. Furthermore, your racing now gets an additional dimension of depth. TV manufactures market this as “3D”, but correctly, it’s just good old Stereoscopy. Having a stereoscopic view, you will be able to reason better about distances. You can try this out yourself: Try to grab a certain branch of some hedge, once with both eyes open, once with one eye closed. With one eye closed, it will be harder to grab that branch if it is visually noised between other branches. That’s huge advantage in both track learning, as well as exciting wheel to wheel duels.
Disadvantages of VR. You no longer see your input devices (but development won’t stop), so you need to know your steering wheel, keyboard and mouse well enough to operate them blindly. Also, your head may not like the disconnection between what it sees and what your body feels: With virtal reality, expectation and centrifugal force are far away from each other, and some people are sensible to this, producing simulator sickness. Most people are not affected by this, some are unaffected if they take a break every now and then. And a chosen few make no 5 laps on track before their lunch decides to leave the body as soon as possible.
Another clear disadvantage is cost. But consider that your virtual reality helmet may still cost only half of your other simracing hardware. Also, VR implies good graphics hardware. Oculus has a free compatibility checker, called “compat checker”, for you to test if your hardware is good enough.
I for myself look forward to trying out a virtual reality device for racing. Only thing missing, apart from G-Forces, is a good kick in the butt when driving on bumpy tracks, but buttkickers shall be the topic of another review. Just rest assured they exist!
Some articles you may be interested in:
- For knowledge to build the perfect racing simulator, read Simracer vs. Reality
- Looking for an Xbox One or PC Wheel? The best wheels for Xbox One and PC
- Premium hardware, there’s hardly anything better than Fanatec ClubSport and ClubSport Pedals
- Start cheap but well: Logitech G27 and G27 vs. G29 / G920
- A step up from Logitech: Thrustmaster T500RS
Image Credits: Canva.com, Pixabay.com, Amazon.com, Fanatec.com
Typically Top 2%-5% racer. Tries to not be slow.