Is Simracing for you?
First and foremost: The ultimate test if it’s for you is to try it out. Don’t quit after your first few spins, give yourself a few hours or days, until you can drive at least a few laps without spinning or crashing.
It’s easy to get frustrated early if you jump straight into a top-notch Formula 1 car, believing all the hype that they drive like on rails nowadays, and enter Monte Carlo, just to realize you don’t even make it out of the pit stall, either because of the clutch or cold, spinning tires. I could give you the advice to use a normal streetcar like Mazda MX5 or a beginner open wheeler like the Skippy, but you wouldn’t follow it anyways, would you?
But it could also be that you’re searching for new challenges all your life anyways, and then find Simracing immediately thrilling you as The Next Task. Go ahead, have fun!
In any case, Simracing is not like your favourite Codemasters racer. Just like in Real Life, it’s not a matter of hours to master a car, but a process of hours to keep it just on track (and not only while going 30 mph), a process of days to keep it on track for a whole race and not being in the way of seasoned racers, and a process of weeks and months to become halfway competitive.
Simracing in itself is a hobby. Over time, you could even declare your favourite Simracing- & Car-Combo your hobby (like “my hobby is racing the iRacing Indy Car Road Series”).
Bored with yet another racing game?
Having played Mario Kart, Gran Turismo and many officially licensed F1 games since 1992, I found myself being more and more bored by yet another, unrealistic arcade racer. In about 2010 (what, almost 5 years already?? wtf time goes by), I researched if there’s nothing else, and stumbled over rFactor. Again and again.
My personal Initiation
And despite the crappy graphics (being spoiled by big game corps), I got myself a copy of rFactor to give it a try, together with a Playstation 2 Joypad-to-USB adapter. And of course I had to drive the included Sauber F1 car, thinking that nowadays F1 cars drive like on rails (see also above).
Many spins and crashes later, I did my first complete lap in Montreal (I think it was a 2:05). What a thrill and joy!
I soon realised the crappiness of two small thumb sticks for simracing, so I dedusted my good old NeGCon controller of 1995 Playstation 1 Ridge Racer fame. While lacking rumble effects, it was simpler to drive as for the increased steering “wheel” travel.
Few months later, I got my Logitech G27 (review including some race results here). And just like my thrill after my first F1 lap without crashing, it was a thrill and joy to try the G27 out in every sim and game I used at the time. Man, I could barely keep my Pescarolo LMP straight, in Le Mans, in Gran Turismo 4. For the first time in my virtual racing career, I was sweating not only because of thrill, but especially because of the required strength and muscle input, which I was not used to while “gaming”. To Just Keep It Straight!
Where to start
In any case, you’d need a Simulation Racer. iRacing often has coupon codes to start cheap and/or with extra content included. Never mind if you intend to stay on iRacing or not, this may be a cheap starting point. A 3-5 year old graphics card should be saturating to get it running at low settings.
rFactor 2 has a Try/Buy-option, and is available (at the time of this writing) for $43.99 initial 1-year-subscription, and $12 follow-ups. A lifetime sub is available for $84.99. I found that rFactor 2 is a graphics hog last time I looked (which is unfortunately a year ago). It might have changed; just try it out before subscribing.
Assetto Corsa is available from 44,99€ at Steam. I haven’t tested it myself, through.
Older sims, like rFactor 1, netKar-Pro or everything Simbin should be available pretty cheap and still give you a good impression of Simracing, but the graphics are typically pretty outdated.
Budget < $30
If you are used to Joypad racing, well, this is what I used to try rFactor in the beginning. Get a cheap adapter for your console Joypad (Have a spare NeGCon, by the way? Dedust and plug in; it’s better than a Dual Shock), if required at all, and give yourself some hours of Simracing.
Budget < $100
This is the domain of wheels made mostly made of plastic. I don’t usually recommend wheels in that category, yet if you just want to get a very first impression of having a wheel, without or without good force feedback, you may buy one of those.
Budget < $200
Note 2015, Nov. 13: I had to ditch that category, for I don’t find a recommendable wheel between $100 and $200 at the moment.
Budget < $250: Podium Playground
This is podium and champaign playground already. Logitech G27 (Logitech G27 test here) would be considered the gold-standard by many hobbyists, and I’ve won my first races with it. You are not doing anything wrong with it; get it on Amazon or read my review.
Budget < $500: Back from Plastic – to Metal Ago
I would say that the $400-$500 domain is Thrustmaster’s kingdom, with it’s premium wheel, the Thrustmaster T500 RS (see my review, in summary, it’s recommendable, especially to sports car fans). The Logitech G29 nominally falls into this category, but see my stance on the latter.
If you are looking for an Xbox One wheel, have a look at our Best Xbox One Steering Wheel Review.
If you want to invest the bucks, or if you come from the G27 or T500, go ahead and give yourself the gift of Fanatec Clubsport Pedals, a Fanatec Wheel Base, and a Wheel of your choice. The Fanatec system is pretty modular and the wheels can be exchanged easily; mount your Formula Rim for Open Wheel Racing, or use a big and round 60s style wheel for when you drive Lotus 49 and feel like Jim Clark or Jochen Rindt.
Here are my reviews:
See also our Xbox One Steering wheel review:
Budget > $1,500
The bigger the budget, the smaller the companies you can buy from. The < $1,500 budget can be considered the limit of mass market and niche market. If not even individual market.
There is no real limit upwards. If you’re a millionaire, you may want to consider something like a $60,000 F1 simulator; as a rich dude, you should have the right contacts to get one. Or how about buying an original F1 or IndyCar on ebay (available from a few $100k), mounting it on huge hydraulic apparatus (few $10k), and pay someone for making it the simulator of your dreams?
Depending on your room inventory, you may also need a Racing Rig (called in awe “The Rig” or “My Rig” by simracers worldwide). I used my Logitech G27 without a rig for some years. After a relocation, having a bigger room, there was no way around it.
A very robust rig is about $250 and more, or you can DIY. There are also cheaper ones that will do, too.
Personally, I am using a Speedmaster V2, but the following are very popular, too:
“I am afraid I won’t be competitive unless I invest $1000’s.”
No, that’s not right. There are a lot of winners who use a G27 or Thrustmaster stuff. The gold-standard of aliens like Greger Huttu seems to be Fanatec Hardware. If you have the talent and/or willingness to keep improving, a < $800 or even < $400 budget will do.
Summary & Checklist
Software: You need a simracer. Personally, I went race happy with rFactor and iRacing. rFactor has try/buy, iRacing often spreads Coupon Codes (have a google search).
Hardware: You need an input device. A wheel is recommended, preferrably in the $200-300 (or higher) range; but you can start cheaper with just a joypad or a cheap wheel.
Metalware: Depending on your room situation, your wheel may require proper fixation in a rig. This is no hard requirement (as said, depends on room), but recommended.
Welcome to Simracing!
Typically Top 2%-5% racer. Tries to not be slow.