Last updated: April 20th, 2023
Read our expert advice and guidance for beginners looking to build a sim racing cockpit, get it setup properly, find support, join communities and be ready to race.
When I first found sim racing, I intended to use my new simulator as a tool to improve my “real world” track driving. At the time, I was racing a Radical SR3 rsx and a Mazda MX5 (Miata) here in the UK. With my new sim racing cockpit installed and set up, I was ready to race.
Little did I realize at the time just how huge the sport of sim racing is.
It might surprise you to hear that sim racing as an industry is a huge consumer market, with the market-leading equipment manufacturer, Fanatec, turning over £40m annually. When you add up the numbers, the participants, the different software platforms, the number of PC and Playstation owners running a racing simulator – you realize that sim racing is here to stay and to the trained eye it’s just as real as “real” motorsport.
“The global gaming simulator market size was estimated at USD 4.04 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach USD 4.49 billion in 2020.”Grand View Research
Table of contents
Use our quick links below, or keep reading!
- What do you get out of sim racing?
- The anatomy of a sim racing cockpit
- Ready-Built Simulators
Sim racing is a big business, it’s attracting large numbers of very talented drivers and, at the top of their game, participants are sponsored and paid competitive salaries to compete. It’s expanding into the world of professional motorsport by becoming a virtual support race in the racing paddock, and most importantly, it’s here to stay.
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 bear.
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 a 15 minute race at a club racing weekend. In iRacing (for example) some championships run a new race on the hour, every hour for 24 hours a day.
In the simulator, 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. Sim racing is a pure driver vs driver championship in a fair but fiercely competitive environment. Winning is far from easy thanks to the lower barriers to entry for this sport.
Naturally, talent always rises to the top which is what we’ve been seeing – there are top teams and drivers who in terms of pace, are virtually untouchable.
The competition and growing media interest is why professional Motorsports have embraced the sim world with stunning enthusiasm. I myself have raced Fernando Alonso (yes, really!) in a Mazda MX5 in iRacing. He was faster than me, and won.
It can be hard to compete in the top echelons of the sport.
Since global Covid-19 related lockdowns (which have definitely acted as a catalyst to the growth of sim racing) we’re now looking at a situation where almost every professional driver has a sim rig setup at home.
If the sound of that appeals to you too, you’re in the right place.
What do you get out of sim racing?
As a sim racer, you’d be surprised by just how much you get to learn.
There’s the technical assembly discipline of constructing your new sim racing cockpit, your gaming PC, and so on, then there’s the software aspect; you’ll need to set up and calibrate your equipment, install drivers, and inevitably, tackle a few technical issues down the road.
Something you’ll be pleased to hear: there are manuals and clear instructions available with every item of equipment you buy. I’ve seen some very, very good manuals and rarely a bad one. You’re lucky that many sim racers before you have helped to refine these products to the point where special expertise is not needed.
If you’ve ever assembled flatpack furniture, your assembly skills will be fine. Most of what we work on requires only a good Allen key set in the toolbox. If you’ve ever installed software in Windows, you’ll be fine of the PC side too.
Personally, I enjoy the opportunity to practice the discipline of driving and pushing myself to drive smoothly, hitting every apex and controlling the car well. But I also really like working with new equipment (hence this website!) and helping others get an introduction to the sport (again, this website!).
Something that has surprised me is the social aspect of sim racing. There are lots of friendly Discord communities with helpful and supportive people. There are a number of Facebook groups and there’s always Reddit serving up a healthy dose of fun and “whose fault was this” video. I’ve made a lot of friends through sim racing; and I can tell you – during quarantine, having people to meet up with and race is a really good thing to have.
If you’re a beginner – don’t be put off. Support is everywhere, including on this site. And to anyone that might think learning all this might be a waste of time, think differently. I personally believe that finding an interest that teaches computer literacy and assembly skills is a fantastic hobby to have, particularly for young people who might not have started their careers just yet.
The confidence earned from an interest that develops expertise in computing is immeasurably valuable and will pay dividends for the rest of their lives.
The anatomy of a sim racing cockpit
Your sim racing rig or cockpit consists of the following components:
- Rig (read our guide to sim racing rigs here)
- Seat (read our guide to seats for sim racers here)
- Monitor Stand
- Pedal Base
- Wheeldeck or wheelmount
- Sim racing wheelbase (read our guide to direct drive wheelbases here)
- Sim racing wheel (read our guide to wheels here)
- QR hub (read our guide to QR hubs here)
- Pedal set (read our guide to sim racing pedals here)
- Gaming PC (read our guide to sim racing PCs here)
- Nuts, Bolts and Cables
We’ve covered every aspect of the equipment categories above in detail in the article links featured above, however, as a beginner, I’ll break down the meaning and purpose of each of these items:
Sim Racing Cockpit or Rig
Almost every item of your sim racing equipment is mounted to the chassis of your cockpit. There are many manufacturers and two different manufacturing styles. Most of the best cockpits are manufactured from Aluminium profile, although customised Aluminium tube rigs are also reasonably common. My personal preference is the “8020” profile rig.
The reason for my preference towards Aluminium profile cockpits is that it’s just easier to eliminate flex. Flex is the unintended movement of parts of the cockpit under large loads, like braking. So, a good rig is one that is easy to assemble, easy to modify and add accessories and one that doesn’t flex.
The benefit of being a sim racer is you can save a bit of cash on the seat because it won’t need FIA approval. With that said you’d be amazed how many sim racers want a real motorsport seat installed in their cockpit.
From an authenticity point of view, having a proper bucket seat to climb in and out of before and after a sim racing session is a very nice thing to have. There are lots of seats available (we’ll cover a few in our recommended rigs list later on) or you can read more of our recommendations in this article.
Monitor stands, wheeldecks or wheelmounts and pedal bases
Monitor stands can either be standalone or an accessory to the sim rig you’ve bought. Sim-Lab (a very well-respected sim racing cockpit manufacturer) produce both standalone options and stands that will mount to your chassis.
It’s usually easiest to check whether a stand is included in your purchase. Sometimes, monitor stands are an optional extra. I prefer a monitor stand that is mounted to my rig. It makes a great deal of sense to do it this way unless you have some reason not to, for example, if you have motion actuators!
Like the monitor stand, wheel decks (or wheel mounts) are almost always supplied with, or an optional extra for the rig you’ve chosen. Some wheelbases need a flat wheel deck as they’re mounted from underneath (like all Fanatec wheelbases), but some wheelbases need a front mounting wheel mount. Check the compatibility section of the sim racing cockpit product you’re interested in as there’s always a list of compatible accessories.
You can mount your pedals straight onto the 8020 profile or a pedal base plate. My chassis uses an arrangement of aluminium profile section and t-nuts to mount the pedals, but some rigs come supplied with the pedal base included. Like the wheel deck, a pedal base is probably compatible with your pedals but always check first if you want to avoid drilling.
Sim racing wheelbase
The wheelbase is the device that translates the simulated forces in the simulator software to Force Feedback (FFB).
If you’re buying brand new, there are two budget options from Logitech and Thrustmaster, but a little extra money buys you a lot more torque. And, more torque roughly translates to more detail. There are only a small number of wheelbase manufacturers which include Fanatec, Simucube, VRS, Ricmotech, Simagic and Leo Bodnar. All of these devices are priced differently and require varying levels of setup work (“tuning”) depending on the software platform you’re keen to race on.
If you’d just like to go racing without too much hassle, I recommend Fanatec at the beginner / lower budget level (the CSL DD is the latest budget direct drive wheel) or Simucube at the slightly more intermediate to advanced levels, like the Simucube 2 Pro pictured above.
Sim racing wheels and QR hubs
If you’re anything like me, it’s probably inevitable that during your sim racing career, you’ll build a collection of sim racing wheels!
If you’re new to sim racing, it’s very easy to buy a wheel that comes bundled with your wheelbase. Fanatec, for example, is very good at this. All of their wheels are compatible with all of their wheelbases, so there’s little potential for confusion. Here’s the wheel side hub on a Fanatec DD2 direct drive unit:
And here’s the hub connector on the back of a Fanatec wheel. As you can see, they very clearly connect with each other – if you stay in the Fanatec universe, everything is very simple – which makes Fanatec an ideal beginner’s manufacturer:
With more advanced options, such as wheelbases from Simucube, VRS and others, you’ll need to find a compatible QR hub.
Simucube have a system called SQR, which has a wheel side and wheelbase mount. Fitting a wheel to the wheelbase then is as simple as tightening a few bolts. Personally, I prefer the Simucube and SQR hub, but there are lots of happy Fanatec customers out there too!
Sim racing pedal sets
Like all sim racing gear, Pedals can be priced cheaply and cost in the thousands for high-end equipment. I’ve owned several different pedal sets over the years, and there’s definitely a benefit to splashing out in this area.
Good pedals don’t make you faster, but they’re useful for consistency, minimising mistakes and fine control. Most sets come as a clutch, brake and throttle either as a single unit (for instance, Fanatec’s Clubsport V3 pedals) or as separate units (as Heusinkveld’s Sprints and Ultimate+ pedals are supplied).
What matters with pedals is feel and control. You’re looking for a pedal set that allows you to learn to finely control the car by modulating your brake pressure as you enter a corner and by steering with the throttle in the corner exits; ideally, the pedals will “feel” consistent and will be sensitive to your inputs. It’s pretty important to at least have a load cell brake, but most modern sets have either load cells, high-quality potentiometers and a combination of elastomer or hydraulic damping.
Sim Racing PC
Some simulation platforms are more power-hungry than others. Assetto Corsa, for example, will work a GPU far harder than iRacing. But regardless of your intended use, a good gaming PC is the backbone of an enjoyable racing experience. Unfortunately, high-end gaming PCs are slightly harder to come by at the moment because of the GPU supply shortages thanks to bitcoin mining.
With this said, there are always good pre-built solutions which I regularly recommend as the best option to take. CPU choice is less important than GPU in terms of bang-for-your-buck gaming – but as a rule of thumb, any modern pre-built gaming PC with a GPU higher than an NVIDIA RTX 2080 will be able to run a racing simulator easily.
When I first got into sim racing, I bought a ready-built rig consisting of an RSEAT RS1, Fanatec CSL Elite wheelbase, Fanatec Clubsport LC pedals and a Fanatec XBOX ONE GT Alcantara wheel. As a “just buy this one” recommendation, I must say there are a lot of benefits to buying a fully built and configured sim racing rig.
The reason why I feel, for me pre-built was the right thing to do today was simple: pre-built sims come set up more or less ready for you to go racing. Over time, I started to make changes to my setup and learned at a gradual pace. Looking back, I know that it would have taken me far longer to really learn the technical details of sim setup if I’d have bought all the component parts myself.
So, if you don’t have a huge amount of spare time (kids, work – whatever), then it might pay to buy something that has already been set up for you. Pre-built simulators tend to come with support, too – and I’ve needed support in the past; there’s no shame whatsoever in needing a hand from time to time. All of the software you need is installed on the PC supplied.
What budget should I set for a good racing simulator?
I recently put a guide together to answer exactly this question. I think there’s a false economy in buying the cheapest gear to start with – if you can possibly avoid this, you must. Let me explain:
You could buy a Thrustmaster wheel and pedals and a Next Level sim rig for around £1000. But if you wanted to upgrade any of that equipment, you’d be starting again. There would be a good chance that the cockpit you’d bought wouldn’t be able to handle a larger brake force from upgraded pedals or the rotational force from a direct drive wheelbase. The moral of the story is, if you’re serious, avoid cheap sim racing gear!
So to get started on a proper footing with equipment that will last and won’t disappoint once you start to build your experience, I think a budget of £3,994.38 / €4,639.35 / $5,650 will build you an exceptional sim racing rig.
Here’s the kit list I came up with in my guide to building a high-end racing simulator on a budget:
- Sim Lab GT1 Evo cockpit: £285
- Direct Drive wheel mounting bracket: £33
- Simlab GT1 Evo Single Monitor Mount: £51.00
- OMP Racing Champ Seat: £280
- Bucket seat bracket set: £38
- Heusinkveld Sprint Pedals: £501.40
- Simucube 2 Sport: £884.59
- Cube Controls Formula Sport Wheel: £572
- LG UltraWide 34WN750-B 34 Inch QHD monitor: £399.94
- ADMI Gaming PC: i5 9400F 4.1Ghz SIX Core CPU/NVIDIA RTX 2060 6GB / 16GB: £949.95
- iRacing $20 one-year membership (for new users) enter code PR-2022NEXTGEN
Total: £3,994.38 / €4,639.35 / $5,650
For some other suggestions, check out the table below. I’ve classified each recommendation by “beginner”, “intermediate” and “advanced”.
Sim Racing Communities, Channels and Useful links
There are so many places to meet, discuss and get help it’s difficult to know where to start. Firstly, you’re going to need to get Discord!
Discord is an app that runs on your mobile, tablet, and gaming PC. It allows you to talk over voice, video, and text inside channels. You join via an invite link, and that’s about it:
Discord is useful for connecting to other sim racers and team communications during a race. Here are some good Discord servers:
- Community Sim Racing
- Dan Suzuki
- Apex Online Racing
- VRS community
- Reddit: r/simracing
Sim racing is obviously huge on Youtube. I mostly use Youtube content for reviews and track guides. Here are my favourite channels:
- Daveyskills – best circuit guides, in my opinion!
- Sim Racing Garage – best product reviews
- Formula Sim Racing
- Driver61 – for driving techniques, this is the channel to watch
- Dave Cam – an all round good bloke and very helpful to watch
- Dan Suzuki’s Youtube
There are many more YouTubers, but those are some of the channels I find myself watching on a regular basis!
Sim Racing Teams
Obviously, there are many, many teams out there. Here are a few I like to follow:
Training / Coaching
Some of the biggest steps forward I’ve made as a driver are thanks to Scott and the team at Driver61. Driver61 offers courses for the beginner to advanced sim racer – starting with their sim racing fundamentals masterclass.
I’m also a member of the VRS community, and as a more advanced toolset, I use their data analysis package, which comes with different setups for whatever car I’m racing:
To get started with VRS, head here.
I hope this introduction to getting started 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 built and going racing!
The secret to being a good sim racer is testing and seat time. Make sure you know your car, and try to focus on one championship. 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 ensure you’re learning at every step without wasting your money by progressing too quickly.