I’ve been Sim Racing for years, without even knowing it.
My earliest memory is sneaking into my brother’s room, loading up the Playstation and free-roaming on Gran Turismo 3. I think I may have been five or six years old. The thrill of speed didn’t end there, and I have been addicted to cars ever since.
It wasn’t a fantastic setup, but it was the Williams F1 Team Steering wheel. I’ll never forget that!
Throughout my life I’ve played racing games, and like myself, there will become a time that you decide it’s time to consider sim racing. There might be a few questions that you’re asking at this time, such as the common ‘What is Sim Racing?’ that often pops up.
My Sim Racing beginners guide will cater for all potential sim racers, that are considering their next steps. Let’s face it, at some point you lose the thrill from playing on a game controller.
Once you’ve completed the below post, I’d advise you take a look at my Top Tips for Sim Racing, which will help you to iron out any mistakes!
What is Sim Racing?
Sim Racing stands for Simulation Racing, which is where individuals race online in co-ordinated, simulated events. It’s called Simulated due to the fact that the games attempt to replicate real cars, in addition to track conditions and more.
Sim Racers are typically more difficult to play than arcade racers such as Need for Speed, The Crew, or even Forza Motorsport. My one exemption for Forza, is that the attention to detail is really impressive.
On a Sim Racing game, you won’t be able to join every lobby immediately. Games such as iRacing or Assetto Corsa will require you to gain a certain Safety Rating before you can join certain lobbies. Their beginner lobbies are open to join, which is where you should be looking to hone your craft of becoming a sim racing driver.
When sim racing, the smallest things make the biggest difference. If your tyre loses pressure or you get your braking a second late, you’re going to pay the price and run wide. It can be frustrating, but it can equally be entertaining and rewarding when you realise your potential.
As I’ll explain further in this beginners guide, there really aren’t any limits to Sim Racing and you’ll see just how many opportunities you have.
Finding Your Chosen Game
You are spoilt for choice when deciding which game to play, as there’s many different options. Over the past few years, Sim Racing games have become much more popular and game developers have been hard at work. From Project Cars to Gran Turismo Sport, you don’t have to be a PC gamer.
You can ask yourself just a few questions and you’ll be able to narrow down the selection of games. The key questions are:
- Are you going to be playing on a Games Console, or on PC?
- Are you happy to pay a monthly subscription?
- What is your preferred type of car to drive? Is it F1? Touring Cars? Rally or Street Racing?
- What is your budget for Sim Racing? Do you already have your racing wheel & pedals?
What Sim Racing Equipment do I need?
I have a mantra; you buy cheap, you buy twice. However, I don’t always follow this myself, and I love a good bargain. The truth is, it’s quite hard to build the perfect balance on your sim racing setup. Instead of building a sim racing cockpit to your budget, I would look at finding the components and equipment that you need, but amassing it on a slower scale.
From my experience, I know that it’s incredibly easy to purchase a used sim racing cockpit, already built and ready to go. However, you do need to exercise caution with this, as you can easily buy something that’s not as good as it seems on the surface.
Without warranty, you could be left with a great job on your hands, repair work! Below, I’ll outline the basics that you’ll need to get started. In addition to this, I’ll attempt at building a sim racing setup which will be applicable for your budget, exactly what you need!
There’s often some confusion for beginners when they’re researching the best direct drive wheels. I’ll be honest, it can be quite difficult to understand. There’s a lot of discussion around Wheelbase, wheel rims and more.
To avoid confusion, think of the wheelbase as the power unit which drives the steering wheel and supplies the force feedback. If you buy a higher spec direct drive wheel, it’s likely that will won’t include an actual racing wheel.
My friend purchased a direct drive wheel and when he noticed that there was no wheel attached, he realised that sim rigs were going to be quite an investment for his future racing career.
Racing Wheel (Rim)
Your racing wheel, or rim, is the physical part that you hold in your hands. Manufacturers are doing a great job of building wheels that vary for the type of car that you’re racing. We have some truly remarkable wheels on the market now such as the Thrustmaster SF1000, McLaren Gt3 and the Cube Controls Formula Pro. There’s so many more, which I haven’t had the time to mention too.
These wheels do vary in price, and some of them are pretty expensive. On the one hand, if you have a fancy direct drive wheelbase, why wouldn’t you want to set it off with the perfect racing wheel? On the other hand, the direct drive wheelbase has already set you back enough, so a budget rim may suffice.
These wheels are really cool though, and I think it’s important to match the steering wheel with the game you’re playing. You don’t want to be using an F1 wheel when drifting or playing a rally game… and vice versa!
Cockpit or Rig
It’s quite easy to get intimidated when building your sim racing rig, but the truth is, you don’t need to worry too much. I know racers out there that are much faster than me, and they’re using a foldable wheel stand. Remember, not everyone has the ability to have a fixed triple screen setup, but due to the love of sim racing, they are happy enough with a foldable system. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s something that I’d advise beginners do when starting out.
If you buy a full sim rig, but decide sim racing isn’t for you, or you don’t have time to use it enough, you’ve taken up space in your room with a clothes-horse!
What is important, is having wheel mounts. Otherwise, you could just mount this on a desk. I’ve tried a manual approach like this, but the force feedback from the direct drive wheels physically sounded like I was drilling a hole through the floor!
In addition to this, the pedals would slip around the floor and I was stuck re-aligning myself on the straights. It’s not the best driver technique to adopt and can easily lead to a brushing with the wall.
A pedal set might not be at the top of your wishlist, as you look to focus towards a top-tier steering wheel. However, I would definitely re-consider this, as the pedals are where you can maximise your efficiency on the brakes and throttle, which will gain you vital half-seconds around various corners of the track. These add up, and will get you set towards your personal best lap!
Operating System (PC, Playstation or Xbox)
When I discuss operating system, I don’t mean MacOS or Ubuntu! Typically, there are two paths that you can follow for your operating system. This would be a Gaming PC running Windows, or a Games Console such as Xbox Series X or Sony Playstation 5.
Advancements have been made in the last few years with MacOS, but I still wouldn’t advise building a sim racing cockpit around one of these. You will really struggle with Steam, and this will require the use of SteamLink, which essentially links your Mac to your Windows PC and streams from it.
When a Mac will cost you over £1,500 for a race-spec build, I’m sure you’ll agree this seems rather pointless.
Gaming Monitor / Screen
No sim rig is complete without a gaming monitor. Fortunately, there are lots of options available now, so you can find something that suits you with ease. If you don’t have a huge budget, you can get a great quality 27″ IPS monitor.
If you don’t have too much space, you can get a 21″ version. If you’re a fortunate sim racer and have a good amount of both, you can set a triple screen monitor setup, which is the pinnacle end result many aspire to with their sim racing gear. I’ve also seen some great results from widescreen monitors recently, which I do tend to prefer as there’s no bezel.
Handbrake, Shifter & Button Boxes
Just to finish off the sim rig build, I thought I would include some of the compatible accessories that can partner your steering wheel. There’s no immediate need for these, and in the real world you don’t actually need them, but they do assist with adding the immersion.
Things such as the Handbrake addon would be necessary if you plan to play drifting games, as the handbrake is at the centre of what you do. However, in touring cars and other track racers, this isn’t used all that much, if at all.
The Gear Shifter is also a welcome addition, and you can have the option of the real world ‘H’ shifter, or a simple up/down sequential shifter mechanism. Again, if you get yourself a decent racing wheel, you can utilise the flappy paddle gearbox for manual transmission, without even needing a shifter.
The last addon that I’ll mention here will be a button box. Initially, I wouldn’t have this at the top of your ‘must-haves’, but it’s definitely a useful addition. There’s a couple of occasions that you’ll be thankful for buying one.
Whether it’s to quickly flash your lights and warn the car in front that you’re flying up behind and about to pass, or you need to whack the pit limiter on to save you from a Stop and Go Penalty… they are things that will save your race.
As you advance, you can even add further button maps such as window wipers, ABS and Traction Control options and more.
You can even get accessories for your racing wheels, such as a load cell brake pedal which can help improve the natural feel under braking.
Games Console or PC: Which is better for Sim Racing?
Let’s start off with the choice of console. You have Xbox Series X, PS4 & PS5. They have some exclusive titles, so you’re going to have to make some decisions if you’re picking between Sony and Microsoft. Both consoles manufacturers will have access to Project Cars, Formula 1 and Dirt Rally games… but there’s one concern.
Forza Motorsport is exclusive to Xbox, whereas Gran Turismo Sport can only be played on the Playstation. Forza Horizon vs Gran Turismo is a debate that’s held, often!
However, if you’re looking for a little more realistic sim racer, you’ll probably be best suited to Project Cars 2. Here’s a little update; Assetto Corsa Competizione is coming to PS5 and Xbox Series X in February 2022!
If you’re a PC gamer, or looking at buying or building a sim racing rig, you’ll have a few more options available to you. Sim Racing games tend to be more suited towards PC, I think it’s because there are many racers that use mods and other downloads to get access to new tracks, new cars and more.
Without doubt, Assetto Corsa Competizione is one of the most popular games. It has a wide variety of tracks, such as Monza and the Nurburgring, in addition to Licensed cars such as the Audi R8, BMW M4 and my favourite, the Lamborghini Huracan.
I’ll let you in on another little hint here, don’t get Assetto Corsa confused with AC Competizione. They’re miles apart, completely different games.
ACC is a fully fledged GT3 Racing Simulator, and it’s one of the most competitive sim racers out there. It’s updated regularly with cars and tracks, and it was actually developed with the assistance of some of the top teams in GT3. It can be quite intimidating at first, but it’s honestly one of the best games out there. The graphics are out of this world, too!
Assetto Corsa, or AC, is more of a casual racing game. I obviously bought the wrong game when I started out, as I didn’t know. I thought ‘Competizione’ was a DLC for Assetto. I was wrong. It’s quite funny looking back, as I loaded into a lobby expecting to be racing in a 180 mph GT3 car, but instead I was met with a Fiat 500 that struggled to enter triple figures!
iRacing is available, for those that don’t mind paying a monthly fee for access to the sim game. Most professionals use iRacing, and in the Sim World, iRacing sits at the top of the pile for racers. However, it comes at a cost.
You don’t get access to all cars and tracks, which I suppose is fair enough, as they’re constantly scanning new track and developing and adding new cars. For example, they’ve added the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Car, so how long will it be until they add the Red Bull WDC 2021 livery?
RFactor 2 and Raceroom are good alternatives too, and you can also get Forza on the Xbox Game Pass for PC. I’m sure you’ll agree, there’s a lot of options out there.
Rules & Regulations
Now you’ve seen the types of games on offer, it’s time to focus on the type of cars and the rules and regulations that stipulate each game. If you know which cars or racing series that you want to join, it will also makes things easier when picking your game.
The Options we have here, are:
Real Race Quality Regulations: If you want to get started in sim racing under the most strict regulations, you’d ideally be looking at something like iRacing or Assetto Corsa Competizione. On these games, if you leave the racing line and exceed track limits, you can be punished just like in real life.
You won’t get any second chances. Whilst this is difficult, this would replicate the real world and get you up to speed pretty quickly.
A Good middle ground: Games such as Formula 1 offer a good middle ground. Whilst it can be harder to find and join sim racing teams, you can have a great time playing with an F1 Fanatec wheel and not be punished too badly by the rules and regulations.
On F1, you can actually configure the leniency yourself, which might be something that you need to do if you’re just starting out and getting used to the force feedback wheel.
No Rules: If you’re looking for a game with no rules whatsoever, that’s perfectly fine, but I would be suggesting that you aren’t yet ready for a full sim racing setup, but you want to have fun with a sim racing wheel.
We make no assumptions here at Total Sim Racing, before I started sim racing I used to play Need for Speed… and back in the older days Test Drive Unlimited!
You might want to take a look at the Need for Speed titles, or if you’re just going to be putting a few hours in on a weekend… Wreckfest. That game is great, especially if you wan’t to worry about the speed of impact, more than driving technique!
What cars do you want to drive or race in?
The good news is that you don’t have to tie yourself down to one type of car class. Although it’s good for consistency to use a similar car, variety is the spice of life, man!
Your favourite car (luckily) doesn’t matter too much, with many games now adopting eachothers classes as a ‘bid’ to become your favourite game. There’s a few such as Nascar, Dirt Rally and KraftKart which cater for a single specific type of car… but you can always pick up a few games to satisfy the urge to play multiple sim racers.
What Tracks do you want to Race on?
Tracks is another big one. Without a doubt, the most popular tracks are all on the Formula 1 series, but you’re a little bit restricted on that one in terms of cars!
In more recent days, I’m really enjoying Monza online, in the GT3 class on Assetto Corsa Competizione. I’ve outlined the games and the ‘best tracks’ available below:
- Assetto Corsa Competizione: Monza, Paul Ricard, Spa
- Forza 7: Brands Hatch, Catalunya, Nurburgring
- Gran Turismo: Autopolis, Red Bull Ring, Willow Springs
This is entirely opinion based, and you might like other tracks on the above. In addition to this, some of the above games have the same tracks, for example Spa is on every single game listed above.
Most racers have the same tracks on the database, but Gran Turismo 7 also has a few fictional ones which will make even the most advanced racer return to the drawing board.
Are you happy to pay a Sim Racing Subscription?
If you’re just starting out with your sim racing gear, you might be a little surprised to see that iRacing charges a monthly fee for playing their games. However, for that fee you actually do get quite a lot of convenience.
If you want to race in organised events, with super-flexible schedules, you’ll immediately justify the cost. With the subscription, you will get access to rookie leagues. This means that you won’t get access to the faster cars, but you don’t have to move into those leagues if you don’t want to. Keep an eye out for an in-depth post on my iRacing Review.
Is PC Gaming better than Console Gaming?
At the risk of alienating a whole community, I will gladly sit on the fence on this one! However, I will highlight my findings with both console and PC gaming.
Overall, I think Sim Racing is better suited for PC Gaming, due to the games available, mods that are available and the level of racers that are in the online lobbies. Let me explain.
A games console does have it’s advantages…
Advantages of Console Gaming over Playing on PC
The first thing I should advise you here, is that not all sim racing equipment is cross-compatible. If you’re thinking of playing Sim Racers on PC, but then moving over to the PS5 for another game, I’m afraid that won’t be possible with all equipment. It’s worth researching and checking the equipment is compatible with both, if that’s your thing.
Sometimes, you just might not want to sit in your sim rig. Yes, it may be comfortable and yes, racing with sim racing wheels adds a lot more entertainment, but sometimes we just ‘meh’. Maybe you’re having a beer on a Friday night, and you don’t want to risk any motion sickness. You might just want a recreational race, and you can do that quite a bit easier with a games console.
The final advantage I’ll mention in this post, without going too much off topic, is the financial benefits. You pay £449.99 for a PS5, and it will happily run your favourite games until it’s time for the next-gen console to come out. As we’ve seen with PS4, that can still happily run games now, although the PS5 is leaving it’s infancy.
You couldn’t spend just £449.99 on a gaming pc and hope for the same outcome. Many sim racers would eat the resources immediately, yet alone any new racers that get released on new physics engines. In the last 3-4 years, we’ve seen Sim Racing really trying to replicate real motorsport, even to the point where racing drivers are using them for practice on their off days.
With each release, there’s a higher strain on the resources of your computer, and you would be expected to upgrade your pc along that point. Either that, or spend much more in the first place, and wait for the gaming world to catch up with your PC!
It’s not all rosey, though!
Sim Racing Advantages of PC Gaming over Console
It’s much easier to find a respected lobby, where you won’t get crashed out every 4 or 5 laps. This is one massive issue I have, especially on F1 2021. The amount of times that I’ve charged my battery and deployed, ready to overtake, only to be brake checked or the other person to whack my wheel off… disheartens me to say the least. Whilst PC gaming isn’t free of this, it’s much less prevalent.
In many ways, this is down to certain games having a safety rating system. You can choose specific public lobbies that have a minimum safety rating. The higher the SR (Safety Rating), the less chance there is of someone ‘forgetting’ to hit the brake pedal, demolishing your car.
Games consoles do appear more locked down when it comes to modding, which is something that can be achieved with ease on PC. Certain games have reputable mods that may add more car shells, tracks or even realism mods that further enhance gameplay.
With games console, you’ll have to spend another £34.99 on the ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the racing game that you’re playing.
When it comes to building your sim racing setup, you’ll be much better placed with your PC. There’s so many peripheral options which can be mixed and matched together, whereas with PS and Xbox, you’re stuck with Thrustmaster or Logitech’s pre-built ‘eco-system’. In addition to this, there’s no annual fee for Playstation Plus or Xbox Live.
If you’re thinking of using your Ultra-wide monitor, again, it’s time to stick to PC. Games consoles don’t officially support the use of these yet, which is disappointing.
Without trying to rock you one way or the other, I’ll also add in the potential of VR Headsets / Virtual Reality. I make it no secret that I actually have a Games Console and PC, which I use the PS5 for F1 and the PC for Assetto Corsa & iRacing.
I got lucky when Virtual Reality came out, as I managed to get one on release date. That’s where the excitement ended though, as when I put the VR headset on I was met with a distinct bluriness. It felt great being at real tracks, I recall Silverstone Copse Corner physically inspecting a car, but the graphics just weren’t there. The immersion which should have been carrying me through wasn’t there, and I hated the whole experience. I ended up listing the PSVR for sale, as I couldn’t deal with the huge amount of blur or pixelation. Small win here, as I made a little profit!
Although I haven’t purchased another VR headset, I expect something like the Oculus Quest 2 to be levels ahead in regards to the actual viewing experience. This supports 3664×1920 which is over 3x higher resolution. I’m actually looking now to purchase a headset, so I’ll be sure to update with my results.
Can I use a Game Controller or do I need a Sim Rig?
Yes, you can. Steam has an inbuilt system where you can set controller mode, and whilst you have less programmable buttons, it’s definitely achievable. If I want to have a quick race but I don’t have the time to set my wheel up etc, I’ll jump into a lobby using my PS5 controller.
It’s quite convenient, but nowhere near as exciting as using a steering wheel and pedal setup, or a sim racing cockpit as it’s often called. So you don’t need a gaming pc.
Gamepad or Steering Wheel: Which is better?
This needs a whole post of it’s own! You can read this here. To be brief, A wheel and pedal will offer you really precise control of the vehicle, something which isn’t quite as responsive using a controller.
When you’re starting up, it may seem attractive to start with a controller, eventually moving onto a wheel. Whilst this is good for understanding if you like a game or would play it much, it would make the stepping stone of moving to a wheel seem a little bit harder. Once you feel force feedback, you’ll never go back!
How can I start Sim Racing?
Getting started Sim Racing couldn’t be easier. There’s no official membership, or club you need to join (That comes down the line!). You can simply start by downloading your desired game, getting into a lobby and starting racing. Although I will state, if you aren’t sure of the track, it might be better to practice first!
Before you know it, you’ll be increasing your Safety Rating and becoming a well rounded, respected driver. Gone are the days of playing recreational racers where people crash into you, for no reason at all.
Do I need a Sim Racing Setup?
You don’t need sim rigs to start racing, but it will help to give you a better racing experience. Pressing the L2 on your controller isn’t the same thing as using a brake pedal, as one is simply immersive and more controllable.
However, you can definitely get started in sim racing with just a controller. It will help you understand if you want to take things more seriously and move on to a good beginners wheel and pedal set.
What’s the Best Racing Sim for Beginners?
I think Assetto Corsa Competizione is a great base to start with. This contains some amazing tracks, Gt3 class cars which are super fun to drive and competitive lobbies which will test you against some great drivers.
From this point, you can see if you it’s worth the time for you to upgrade your setup to something which you can grab by the horns, quite literally!
Can a beginner play iRacing?
Yes, there’s no prerequisite that you need to meet to start iRacing. However, you will be limited to their rookie class cars until you advance through their other vehicles, but you do need to pay extra for these vehicles. For that reason, I would suggest that you stick to
How much does it cost to start Sim Racing?
There’s no fixed costs to start! It all depends on the equipment you aspire to have. You can get a Logitech G920 for £200 and mount this to your desk, and off you go! However, the larger figures tend to come into play when beginners gain experience, looking then for more immersion and ways to fine-tune their racing into consistent performances. You can start with as little as £150, whilst a typical home sim racer will cost around £1,000.
I have seen motion simulators which cost over £25,000. They’re the real deal though, rigs you would expect Max Verstappen to practice in.
Do Sim Racers get paid?
There are sim racers that get paid. However, I wouldn’t be looking at buying a racing simulator with the sole intention of making a professional career out of it. A small percentage of people will be very successful, and the skills are transferrable to a real track, but its by no means a sure-fire way to get paid for your efforts. I won’t rule out a Twitch partnership, though!
How competitive is Sim Racing?
Certain lobbies can be very competitive, that’s for sure! You need to remember that Sim Racing is where individuals such as ourself want to challenge ourself against some of the best racers out there. I’ve been in plenty of lobbies where the difference in the top 3 cars is less than 1.5 seconds, which is really fine margins for a 30 minute race.
In some lobbies you will find highly consistent racers. The worst thing that anyone wants when sim racing, is a racer to join a lobby and just aim to cause chaos. Whether it’s not yielding under Blue Flag Rules, purposely crashing or ruining your race in another way, you can tell the difference between online trols and new sim racers.
Whilst many professional sim racers will understand that a small bump might occur now and again, the vast majority of the time, incidents are avoidable. If you’re new to sim racing, I’d probably avoid getting too competitive and defending a corner like Max Verstappen would, as it might end with a bit of negativity on the chat box!
Sim Racing is competitive, but it’s also great fun and you shouldn’t be deterred from starting, just because you haven’t beforehand. Just take it easy, like when you passed your driving test!
What is the Sim Racing Community like?
The community is great, exactly what we need when you’re looking to gain racing experience. Whilst they might put you in your place if you give them a love-tap or drive too aggressively and against regulations, they’ll also let you know when you’ve done well.
It could be Yielding and letting the faster racer past, or winning the race. You’ll be congratulated with a solid ‘GG’ in the race chat, which is short for Good Game. They might say great race etc, which doesn’t physically mean a lot, but it makes you feel good!