Featured image: triple screen (Reddit)
Thanks to a huge spike in mainstream sim racing coverage, you’ve discovered the wonderful world of sim racing and now you’d like to build your own rig. If that’s the case, you’ve arrived in the right place. We’ve put this guide together to give you an in-depth introduction into the world of sim racing. If you’re new to simracingcockpit.com, our site is full of detailed guides to every aspect of sim racing gear, from the PC all the way to the pedals.
Sim Racing: Beginner’s Guide Contents
- Sim racing PCs
- Sim racing hardware
- Sim racing cockpits and rigs
- VR Headsets
- Settings and hardware calibration
Why build a sim rig and get into sim racing?
Perhaps you’re a complete beginner new to the sim world. You might have already sampled sim racing on your console and now you’re looking for advice on how to upgrade your set-up.
You might, like me, be an amateur racer in the real world looking for ways to hone your race craft and get more experience in driving technique and circuit driving.
Whatever your reason for wanting to build a sim rig, the chances are you’re as passionate about Motorsport as I am. And believe me, it’s hard to match the enjoyment of racing in a competitive sim environment with a well set up simulator that you can drive properly.
It’s great to be able to jump behind the wheel of one of your favorite cars and experiencing the feeling of pushing its limits around a racing circuit without the travel, time and incredible expense associated with Motorsport in real life.
TL;DR – “Just buy this one”
If you’re into the details, read on. If you just want our prebuilt sim racing rig recommendations, here are some of the best items you could buy (in our humble opinion!). If you want more information though, do read on.
|Gaming PC||ASUS ROG Strix GA15DH||Dell G5||Skytech Chronos NVIDIA 3080 RTX|
|Cockpit||Playseat Evolution||RSeat RS1||Trak Racer TR160|
|Wheel||Thrustmaster T-300||Fanatec CSL Elite||Fanatec DD2|
|Pedals||Comes with T-300||Fanatec CSL Elite|
Or ClubSport V3
|Monitors||AOC C27G1||Samsung LC27 triples||Samsung Odyssey G9|
Sim racing is just as competitive and difficult as Motorsport in real life
A good sim racing setup means you can quickly and easily go and participate in a life-like racing environment, with little more than the initial setup cost to bare.
Unlike real Motorsport, sim racing is vastly inexpensive by comparison. It’s also a far more efficient way to spend your time. You may stand around almost all day waiting for your race at a real Motorsport weekend. In iRacing (for example) some championships run a new race on the hour, every hour for 24 hours a day.
In a sim you can amass a season’s worth of racing experience in just a few days, and for the fraction of the cost. And, believe me, competition is fierce. In many respects you’re more likely to experience real competition in the simulator as the vehicle setup is usually fixed in the bigger championships. This means it’s driver vs driver in a fair but fiercely competitive environment. Winning, is far from easy.
This is why professional Motorsports have embraced the sim world with stunning enthusiasm.
As the lockdown caused by covid-19 has acted as a catalyst, we’re now looking at a situation where almost every professional driver (with the notable exception of Lewis Hamilton) has a sim rig setup at home:
Sim racing: big business and growing fast
The recent surge in popularity of sim racing has led to an explosion of merchandise becoming available to buy. In this guide, we are going to explain how to build the ultimate sim-racing rig that can be customized to suit your budget, skill and commitment level.
It’s important to note that some gamers will want to play on PC, while others will be using a console, so in this article, we’ll try to cover both options by showing you some of the best products in each class, without too much technical jargon. Due to my experience, and the preference of most people like myself who want to race in iRacing, I’ll always lean more towards a preference for the PC simulation market. Much of the equipment I’ve listed is compatible with XBox, PS4 and PS5.
These days, sim racing is big business, and it has come a long way from the arcade games of the 80s and 90s. Sim racing rigs are now utilized by professionals who use them to help refine their skills and apply them on the track in real life.
Out of the rising acclaim, the world of eSports was born where online racing championships are held with substantial cash prizes for winners, making it possible for the best sim racers to make a living from playing racing games.
While that’s certainly not how it all started, it’s very possible that a few years down the road from now, eSports racing will have just as much TV broadcast bandwidth as its real-life counterpart.
Getting to know this new world is daunting at first but it gets easy. As well as the hardware, you’ll need to know what software is required, plus which games to play. Some games are aimed at specific racing disciplines, while other titles cover more of a broad cross-section of motorsport including Formula 1, NASCAR and oval racing, GT and Sports prototype racing, rally and rallycross and even karting.
No matter what type of Motorsport you’re into, there’s a simulation package that covers it.
How to use this guide
For each component of the complete rig, we’ll cover 3 options to choose from; Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.
Make sure to check our Summary for a quick guide to the best kit for each level of racer. You’ll notice a big difference in terms of build and quality, realism, complexity, and price for each item, so you can make an informed decision when it comes to building your own rig.
In case you already have your PC set up and ready to go or plan on using a console, you can skip to the Racing Hardware segment where we’ll explain more about the Wheel & Wheelbase, Pedals, Seat & Frame / Rig, Monitor(s), and VR.
For PC users, some of the leading gaming titles include Assetto Corsa Competizione, Automobilista, iRacing, KartKraft, RaceRoom Racing Experience, and rFactor 2.
These games all have very realistic gaming physics, making them very life-like simulations when coupled with the right wheelbase and pedals.
Assetto Corsa was the game that introduced me into the sim world when I solely used to use a simulator to learn new circuits in real life. I focus almost exclusively now in iRacing, where my goal has been to improve my rating enough to always feel like I’m in an extremely competitive environment. I like to feel challenged!
Whichever game you choose, each one offers drivers a plethora of settings and configurations to adjust and tweak, that help you tune your ride to your liking.
I can’t cover all the settings for every game in this article, but I will cover some of the essential things you should know to get you going with regards to Hardware Configuration and Tuning Setup, particularly when taking game performance and frame rate into account.
If you plan to play on a console like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, then you can pick from games such as Gran Turismo Sport, Forza 7, F1 2020, Project Cars 2, and Dirt Rally 2.0.
Personally, I’d go for F1 2020 or Project Cars 2. Console games offer almost the same level of realism as their PC contemporaries, but if you’re really looking for the ultimate simulation experience, PC is the way to go.
You simply don’t have the upgradeability compared to PC gaming, and you will always be limited by display configuration, frame rate maximums and hardware compatibility.
Your Sim Racing PC
It’s safe to say you’ve noticed that I prefer PCs for sim racing. If you’re reading this segment, you’re using a PC, and it’s essential to know some of the technical specifications you should consider when you buy a PC or build one yourself from scratch.
A gaming PC built to this specification is really the minimum you should be aiming for:
- 11GB EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
- Intel “Comet Lake” Core i9 10900K 10C/20T CPU
- 16GB of Corsair Vengeance RGB PRO 3000MHz DDR4
- ASUS ROG STRIX Z490-F GAMING motherboard
- 1TB Samsung 970 EVO PLUS M.2 SSD
You can easily sell a wheelbase on eBay once you’ve upgraded to a new one. But with PC’s, not so much. In my opinion, it’s better to start with a great gaming PC that won’t need much if any development for years.
The spec above is very similar to the PC I bought in May 2019. When purchased I ordered it with an upgraded Intel i9 processor. As mine came with a NVIDIA GTX 1060, I’ve since upgraded the graphics card to a NVIDIA 2080 rtx ti.
I now don’t expect any expenses to come up for another few years:
Should I buy a NVIDIA 30** Enabled gaming PC?
Since writing this guide, the new generation of GPU’s have arrived from NVIDIA. The 3070, 3080 and 3090 RTX GPU’s are more than 30% more powerful than their predecessors. The 3080 rtx is half the price of the previous generation RTX 2080 ti.
If you can find one of these cards currently stocked, grab it – most PC’s are able to accomodate one of these GPUs provided the motherboard and CPU are recent (i7 9 series or higher) and the PSU has a rating of 750 watts or higher.
For simplicity, you could order a pre-built machine that is in-stock and available now. Here are our top picks:
This Chronos desktop gaming PC from Skytech features an AMD Ryzen 9 3900 3.1GHz CPU, a NVIDIA RTX 3080 10GB, 16GB of DDR4 memory, a super fast Seagate Firecuda 520 1TB PCIe Gen4 NVMe on an X570 Motherboard:
MSI Aegis RS Desktop Gaming PC RTX 3080
This offering from MSI comes with an i7-10700K Intel CPU, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD with a 1TB SATA SSD and a 2TB backup HDD. Of course it comes with the all important NVIDIA RTX 3080 10GB GPU:
What’s the best CPU for sim racing?
While entry-level CPUs are suitable for single screen monitor users or racers who don’t mind turning down graphics quality and the number of opponents that are visible on the track at the same time, most mid-level CPUs offer much more bang for your buck, being able to handle VR as well as triple-screen monitor configurations.
Intermediate CPUs can also handle recording and some video editing for casual users, but professionals and enthusiasts should consider looking at higher-end products.
|Product:||AMD Ryzen™ 3 1200||AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Processor||Intel Core i9-9900KF processor (16M cache, up to 5.00 GHz)|
Naturally, all the CPU power in the world means nothing without the right choice of graphics card.
What’s the best GPU for sim racing?
In sim racing, the GPU is one of the most important factors to consider when trying to improve your ability to race.
What GPU you select should be based on your desired screen resolution, refresh rate, and quality settings, as well as the number of monitors you plan to use. If you’re planning to run a VR headset, the load on the GPU is even higher.
There are many options to choose from. If you asked, what’s the best graphics card I can buy for my sim rig, I’d immediately recommend an NVIDIA, because of course, that’s what I use!
|Product:||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070||GeForce RTX 3070||NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080|
Starting with a “beginner GPU”, if you’re happy to run a single monitor setup at a reasonable frame rate (say around 80fps), then a price range of £199 will buy you a highly competent card.
If you want to be able to comfortably run VR or 1080p triple-monitor setups, an “intermediate” GPU can do what most racers are likely to need.
Advanced GPUs can support 1440p triple-monitor setups or VR at 90fps and higher. These GPUs are what you need if you want to have a perfectly smooth VR experience, and want to be able to achieve the ultimate sim-racing experience
iRacing, for example, has lots of detail settings in the graphics config. Having grandstands and crowds on, clouds at high res, competitor cars rendered at high resolution are all settings that are a walk in the park for a higher end machine but have to be compromised to save frame rate in lower performance machines.
How much RAM do I need for sim racing?
When considering RAM, you need to check two things; capacity and speed.
If you’re on a very tight budget, 8GB will allow you to play some racing games with very low settings, while investing in 16GB will enable you to play almost every game on the market right now, and allow for some video recording at the same time. Upgrading to 32gb isn’t all that necessary but if you’ve got the budget, it’s a nice way to future proof your hardware.
Do consider the speed of the memory you’re buying. The clock speed of your memory is just as important as the amount of RAM you own.
Try to stick with two DDR4 ram modules with 3,000MHz or higher clock speeds. Assuming your motherboard supports up to four sticks of RAM, you can always purchase additional modules later.
|Product:||HyperX Fury 2400mhz||Corsair CMK16GX4M2B3200C16 Vengeance LPX 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4 3200 MHz||Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4 3200 MHz|
What’s the best motherboard for my sim rig?
Making the right choice of motherboard to add to your cockpit build can have a long-lasting impact on your PC build. Motherboard choice is obviously influenced by your preferred processor first and foremost. Are you buying an Intel or AMD CPU? Obviously case size and PSU (power supply unit) play a key role, too. You need enough spare PCI slots for the graphics card, and several graphics cards need 2 PCI express cables to be powered properly.
If you’re planning on buying Intel’s 10th gen chips, such as the Core i9 10900K and Core i5 10600K, you will need a whole new Z490 or B460 motherboard.
Motherboard choice comes down to how far you’re planning to go with overclocking, cooling and case features (such as interior lighting). If you want to build an insanely high end games machine, take a look at the Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme:
Chipset: Intel Z490
Memory: 4x DIMM, up to 128GB, DDR4-4700
Expansion slots: 2x PCIe 3.0 x16 (or x8/x8), 1x PCIe 3.0 x4)
Video ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3 ports on extension card (DP1.4)
USB ports: 12x rear I/O, 10x internal
Storage: 2x M.2, 2x M.2 (DIMM.2 board), 8x SATA 6Gbps
Network: 1x 10Gb Marvell ethernet, 1x Intel ethernet, Intel WiFi 6 wireless
If, like me, you don’t want to do anything particularly radical, then lookout for something more reasonably priced, the MSI MPG Z490 GAMING EDGE motherboard is more than adequate for an i9 build:
Ready built PCs
I’d rather buy a pre-built machine than build from scratch. As satisfying as it is, it does take time. And the economics are such that, if you add up the individual component prices you’ll find you’re paying a premium in time to end up with a machine that isn’t (as a whole) covered by a warranty.
Clearly it’s good to have some PC building skill at your disposal for the occasional upgrade, but that doesn’t mean you have to build your own!
Choosing your sim racing hardware
There is a vast choice of equipment available for sim racing. It’s taken me over a year to get to a system that I’m really comfortable in and absolutely love driving:
My kit list:
- RS1 Race Frame
- Clubsport Sq 1.5 Shifter (see our guide to shifters here)
- Clubsport (Xbox) wheel (for manual)
- Fanatec Formula Wheel (for paddles)
- Heuskinveld Sprint pedals
- Fanatec DD2 Podium wheelbase
- Valve index VR
- Intel i9 pc with 16gb ram / Nvidia RTX 2080 ti
- Sparco karting boots
There have been several upgrades in this list. I started with Fanatec Clubsport pedals and a CSL Elite wheelbase with a SQ 1.5 Shifter. As Fanatec wheels all use the same quick release connector, upgrading the wheelbase was a relatively trivial task. And, the CSL sold on eBay for £300! I also did very well in the sale of the Fanatec Clubsport pedals, replacing them with the Heuskinveld Sprint pedals.
A lot of this equipment holds value if you sell at the right time, so don’t panic about buying the best gear on day 1.
When buying new hardware, its good practice to invest in the future, so don’t automatically choose the cheapest part, as after a few years you might need to replace it again. If you buy with a strategy in mind, you’ll be able to upgrade economically in the future. With a few exceptions, of course. A cheaper sim rig might flex or be too lightweight to handle the torque from a Clubsport wheelbase, for example.
Consider your upgrade path
Think about your upgrade path carefully.
My friend Geoff is a very capable F1 2019 competitor currently using Logitech wheels and pedals with a PS4. While he intends to switch to PC racing in the future, he could either buy the PC now and use the same pedals and wheel that he’s been using with the PS4 or, buy a PS4 compatible CSL Elite wheelbase and Fanatec Clubsport pedals.
Acquiring a better wheelbase will enhance his PS4 experience, and the equipment will be portable to his PC when that is finally acquired.
Another key aspect to consider in the upgrade path is your safety. The DD2 wheelbase has a peak torque of 25nm. This is many times more powerful than an entry-level wheelbase. I’ve hurt myself twice now, simply by not letting go of the wheel fast enough in a crash. The sudden rotation can twist your hand like it isn’t there. A direct drive wheelbase is not a good starting point for a beginner. For some reason, they’re just that more difficult to install with a PC, too.
Know the products
Sim racing has become extremely popular in recent years, so there are a lot of products available on the market. It’s very easy to get confused and not know which product is best for you, but as with all topics, you’ll build experience and expertise through first-hand practice.
Sim racing hardware choices
That’s why I’ve put together this checklist of all the components you need to think about when building your own rig.
Researching sim racing hardware takes time and patience. A lot of the products are expensive, so make sure you’re ready to commit to buying some of these items, as they not only take up a considerable amount of space in your room, they will also make a considerable dent in your bank balance.
We’ll also give a sample product for each budget, but please note that these are only a handful of the choices available, but hopefully, it will give you an idea of the types of products available at each price point.
So, let’s take a look at the first and probably most essential piece of kit you’ll need to get started – the wheel and wheelbase.
Wheel and Wheelbase
|Product:||Thrustmaster TMX Pro||Fanatec Clubsport Wheelbase V2.5||Fanatec Podium Wheel Base DD2|
It’s important to note that while most wheels and wheelbases are sold together as a unit, it is also possible to buy each piece individually. Many companies dedicated to selling sim racing hardware offer the choice to build customized packages via their websites.
This way, you can choose the best wheel and base to suit your gaming level and budget at the time. Make sure to check the wheel compatibility depending on whether you’re using PC, Xbox One, or PS4.
All Fanatec “Clubsport” wheels are compatible with the CSL Elite, Clubsport, DD1 and DD2 wheelbases. So the wheel you had when you bought your first CSL Elite wheelbase will be absolutely fine for your DD2.
To set up a wheel, you need to install the software and drivers provided by the manufacturer on your PC, which will detect if you are running the latest firmware and download any required updates. When you connect Thrustmaster or Logitech wheels to your Xbox One or PS4, it’s pretty much plug and play, the only settings that affect feel are available in-game.
PC gamers have the advantage of the game controllers dialogue, which is commandeered by all wheel manufacturers:
Fanatec configuration is equally accessible through a Windows game controller dialogue. Here’s mine:
Opening FANATEC Podium Wheel Base DD2 opens this window:
And critically, the tuning menu:
The versatility of the best direct drive wheelbases now allows for a clean and user-friendly experience and peripherals can be plugged directly into the back of the wheelbase.
For example, if you buy Fanatec Clubsport pedals, they can be connected to a Fanatec wheelbase via the RJ45 data cable which is normally supplied with the unit.
This means you only need one USB connection to your PC or console and one single power source.
Belt-driven wheels also offer relatively realistic force feedback, but at noticeably lower torque levels than their DD counterparts.
Of course, they are also priced lower and therefore a really good choice if you’re just dipping your toe into sim racing but intend to pursue a serious regime of driver development.
I was very pleased with the entry-level CSL Elite wheelbase for a long time. Over time though, I did find myself wanting more in terms of force feedback detail and realism, but this was after almost a year of regular use.
As the saying goes, don’t run before you’ve learned to walk.
The wheel/wheelbase market offers a large variety in terms of budget, selling anywhere in the range of £150 – £1,400 for a decent wheelbase. But don’t feel pressured into spending big money, lower-priced wheels will still give you good force feedback, allowing you to feel what the car is doing through the movement of the wheel. And a lot of very, very quick sim racers still have their first budget wheel and a single monitor.
Check out our wheelbase buyer’s guide here if you’re keen to get updated on the latest sim racing wheels and wheelbases.
Pedals are probably the most important component in your sim rig, as so much car control comes from the careful and accurate throttle and brake application.
I absolutely love my Heuskinveld Sprint pedals, but they were not my first set. I upgraded from Fanatec Clubsport pedals:
As with all sim racing gear, there’s a range of pricing. You can buy standalone pedals or pedals that are bundled with your wheelbase.
The Logitech G29 and G920 both come bundled with pressure-sensitive pedals that include an accelerator, brake, and clutch, so this combo package would easily suit a Beginner.
However, if you want something with a bit more bite, you might find the standard budget pedals leave you wanting for much more feel. If you’re still on a slightly higher but still a tight budget, though, try something like these T-LCM Pedals from Thrustmaster:
They incorporate load-cell force sensor technology, which allows for ultra-precise braking in racing games. The strength and build quality of these pedals.
Taking it to what I would consider an advanced level, we have the Ultimate Sim Pedals from Heusinkveld.
When mounted on an aluminum frame for maximum rigidity and strength, you’d be excused for not being able to tell the difference between these pedals and the ones you’d find mounted in the cockpit of a real-life racing car!
Heusinkveld Engineering Ultimate products are suitable for high-end professional motorsport simulators, and their strong, stiff, compact, and durable design allows for an instant and accurate response. Just be warned that they can be quite fiddly to set up (there are many steps in the build process, including the need in my case to drill my rig base plate to mount them properly).
If you’re keen to simulating the pedal forces you might expect in Formula cars, these are the items to have. The Sprint variant are very popular at the moment:
For more, check out our pedal buyers guide here.
Most pedals come with calibration options. Here is the PC calibration software for the Sprint pedals, Smartcontrol.
|Beginner||Intermediate||Advanced to Pro|
|Product:||Logitech G29/G920||Fanatec Clubsport Pedals V3||Heusinkveld Sprint or Heusinkveld Ultimate|
|Price:||£ Free with wheel||£359.00||£699.00 – £1329.00|
Sim Racing Cockpit
As with the wheel and wheelbase, it is possible to buy a seat and/or frame separately or as a combo.
Sometimes the frame is labelled as a rig, essentially meaning a wheel stand attached to a seat with a metal frame.
The term rig can also mean the seat plus the frame, plus all the racing hardware. Therefore, ‘the rig’ is fundamentally the name given to the complete unit. The more expensive the seat and the frame, the sturdier they will be, allowing for more powerful wheels and pedals.
When you pick your seat and frame, keep in mind the available space you have, how powerful your equipment is, and how much you want to spend.
Wheel stands are the cheapest option, with entries such as the Trak Racer FS3 being available for £170 and would be suitable for a wheel like the Logitech G29/G920.
The advantage of wheel stands is their small size and foldability means they can be easily put away in storage when not being used, which is ideal for sim racers with limited space in their homes.
Still, if you want to get a fully immersive racing experience, you’ll want to go with a full rig. Obviously, a full rig is going to cost more than a wheel stand, but you’ll enjoy a much more satisfying feeling when racing.
When deciding which rig to buy, you need to consider the strength, adjustability, flexibility, comfort, and aesthetics of the full set-up.
Normally these rigs are partnered with a bucket seat and allow for all the racing hardware to be attached to match a real-life cockpit. Again, companies offer all sorts of combinations in this area. You can buy the frame and seat individually and piece them together yourself to suit your situation, or you can buy a ready-to-go rig that just requires you to bolt on the wheels, pedals, etc.
The Next Level Racing GT Ultimate Cockpit at £499 is an intermediate class rig and is a good example of a frame and seat combination, that would be suitable to get you started with a reasonable force feedback wheelbase, and would also last for many years, or until you decide to upgrade.
If you want an authentic sim-racing experience, the fewer distractions you have from racing, the better. So, if you have just bought yourself an extremely powerful DD racing wheel then a wheel stand won’t be strong enough. You’ll want an aluminum frame for maximum rigidity and strength, able to withstand the forces of the wheel and pedals with little or no flex.
Top-end frames like the Sim-Lab P1-X are able to withstand these forces; however, most of the rigs in this class do not come complete with a seat, and the chassis is sold on its own, so you’ll have to buy one separately.
If you’ve gone this far, you’ll probably want a replica racing seat from Sparco or Corbeau, and of course, there are many other brands with attached seats to choose from as well. This just comes down to preference. Plus, make sure to get a seat that fits you properly by checking your measurements before you buy.
For more, check out our sim rig buyer’s guide.
When it comes to monitors, generally there are 2 pathways people choose from; a single monitor, or a triple-monitor setup. As well as the screen, or screens, you will need something to mount it, or them, onto. In some cases, sim racing frames will include a monitor attachment point, but if not, you’ll need a monitor stand.
It’s important to make sure you have the appropriate CPU and GPU to match the monitor(s) you use. What monitor(s) you select should be based on your desired screen resolution, refresh rate, and quality settings, as well as the number of monitors you want.
Plus you can now pick between flat or curved screens. If you’re looking to run 3 monitors at 1440p, make sure your GPU has the punch to do that at a decent frame rate without juddering. Xiaomi are in the process of launching a 165Hz 1440p gaming monitor, so with a great graphics card a genuine visible 165 frames per second could be on the cards.
Due to the nature of this segment, instead of covering Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced options, we’ll cover the best Overall, Budget, Luxury Triple-Screen, and Ultrawide monitors on the market right now. For deeper insight into your gaming monitor options, check out our in-depth guide.
|Best Overall||Triple AOC C27G1 27″ 1080p||£280 (per screen)|
|Best Budget||Dell S2719DGF 27″ 1440p||£250|
|Best Luxury Triple-Screen||Triple LG 32GK650F-B 32″ 1440p||£500 (per screen)|
|Best Ultrawide||MSI MPG341CQR 34″ 1440p||£800|
VR Headsets for sim racing
I’m a keen VR enthusiast. Much of a driver’s pace in the real world comes from their vision (see this explainer on Driver61.com).
A VR headset allows the driver to fully utilise their vision by changing perspective with head motion. In the real world, you would look to the apex under braking and the exit slightly before you arrive at the exit. The motion inside the VR world really allows a driver to get their line absolutely right.
It seems that drivers who have real-world experience are more likely to take to VR than a sim only driver. Very few professional sim drivers use VR, but many of my friends who also drive on track absolutely love VR.
The technology is moving at a rapid pace and at the moment, costs are not for the faint-hearted. The current flagship from Valve, the Index is considered by many to be the best headset owing to support for a high framerate and a vastly improved reduction in typical headset issues such as the screen door effect. Here’s how I set up my Valve Index for iRacing and here’s our buyer’s guide to VR for sim racing.
Much lower down the cost spectrum, the two “classic” market leading virtual reality headsets, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, both have fairly wide-ranging support for sim racing games. In our testing, the HTC Vive fares very, very well in sim racing.
However, technology moves quickly. The HP Reverb has a very high resolution in comparison to anything else on the market, and as I write this we’re waiting for their new flagship, the HP Reverb G2 to arrive on British shores. Judging from the reviews, the clarity offered by this headset is unbeatable, even by the standards set by Valve’s Index.
I use my sim on the basis that everything I’m learning to do must have a positive real-world impact on my track driving. So, naturally, I chose to have a manual shifter with my sim rig. Obviously, if you’re keen to just do Formula racing, sports prototypes and modern GT cars then really, don’t worry about it. But I’m a Mazda racer and those MX5’s shift terribly with paddles.
In my opinion, the separate shifter has to be the most important input device after your wheel and pedals. My weapon of choice is the Clubsport SQ 1.5. It’s tried and tested and can’t really be beaten unless you’re willing to part with £1000.
The Driving Force Shifter from Logitech is the most basic option priced at £45, designed to connect directly to their G29/G920 wheels. At the top end of the scale, the Pro-Sim H Pattern Shifter offers an ultra-realistic feeling shifter for an astounding £1,195.
Some shifters offer a sequential mode, but those serious about sequential-shift cars may opt for a dedicated shifter. A sequential shifter can double as a handbrake too, which is great for rally driving, although handbrakes are also available as separate devices.
For a full guide to sim racing shifters, take a look at our complete guide.
For each component of your rig that connects to your gaming platform, you’ll need to get the right calibration settings to enjoy the best driving performance. For example, here’s how I setup my rig for iRacing.
If the calibration of any device is off by just a little, this can make a massive difference to your steering accuracy and overall driving experience. I learned this the hard way by not fully understanding the wheel setup. Setting up your hardware correctly gives you at least a fighting chance to enjoy driving your sim.
Beginners often get frustrated and believe their lack of success is down to poor driving ability when, in truth, their struggles are often being caused by hardware issues unbeknownst to them. However, sim setup and driving technique are two different things. For assistance with your technique, get in the queue for Scott Mansell’s Driver61 sim training course.
For hardware setup, a simple online search of the brand and model name of your device, the game you’re using, plus the words ‘setup’ or ‘configuration’ will yield plenty of articles and videos explaining how to best adjust that specific combination.
To give a tangible example, let’s say you have the Logitech G29 wheel or you’re considering an upgrade to Fanatec hardware and you’re playing on iRacing, then a YouTube tutorial such as this video will give you some tips on how to improve the setup for this exact situation. The 900 degree calibration applies to literally every steering wheel yet this seems to catch most beginners (including myself) out.
This is a thorough explainer of how far wheel setup and calibration can go in iRacing. I just calibrate to 900 degrees and drive.
Your wheel tuning settings are important, too. These are the settings I use for my Fanatec DD2:
I’ve written about the process I use to setup force feedback on my Fanatec DD2 and a Simplicity SW20 direct drive wheel here. The Fanatec forum has this settings page for those of you with a Fanatec wheel. If you have a Thrustmaster TX wheel, try this guide.
Naturally, iRacing can be quite GPU intensive and it’s the details settings (shadows, dynamic track features, crowds, pit lane features, number of cars and their resolution settings) that can really drag your frame rate down.
Obviously everything depends on the PC you bought, and the best approach is to learn what everything means so you can make an informed decision about where you think the most significant performance improvements will come.
This is the setup I use for a Valve Index running on a Nvidia 2080 rtx ti:
This tech guide to iRacing graphics settings is really in-depth and explains just about every detail you’ll come across in the software.
I found this guide specifically for the Valve Index really helpful:
But beware – performance hogging apps can slow your PC down, and no settings in iRacing will ever help. A good example is the ASUS Aura app, which for some reason started to slow my machine down. I uninstalled it.
Your PC should be considered a shrine. Don’t tolerate unnecessary applications, think carefully if you need a 3rd party anti-virus (when Windows 10’s own measures are absolutely good enough in my opinion – just don’t go anywhere weird on the Internet!)
I hope this introduction to building a sim rig has been useful and (with a bit of luck) has served to give you a kickstart into sim racing.
Ultimately, there’s no other way to gain experience other than getting your first sim rig going.
For me, getting a pedal and wheel upgrade and learning how to configure a good base setup made the biggest difference to my sim driving. But, the upgrades came after a year of just getting used to the equipment I had. Slowly but surely you learn to get the most out of everything you own until you honestly feel that it can’t be improved further. This is a good way to make sure you’re learning at every step, without wasting your money by progressing too quickly.
At every new step, always do some research. The sub reddit r/simracing can be helpful, and there are lots of YouTube channels and blogs to discover. If you’re stuck, Google it!
Co-author: Ryan Finn – thanks for all the research contributions!
References / Further Reading
Driver61 Sim Racing Channel – Youtube / Driver61