Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve become interested in sim racing, and you’ve decided to commit to getting into competitive racing online. You’re looking to jump in feet first and commit yourself, but don’t want to blow the budget. You might be shopping around for a younger member of the family and want to put them in a serious bit of kit that they can become competitive in.
Learn real-world skills
Whatever the reason, sim racing is a fantastic sport to get involved in. It’s just as competitive (in many cases, more so) than the real thing, it’s cheaper and far safer. And there’s a huge amount of scope to take what you learn during the assembly, technical setup and actually racing in the simulator and apply those new skills in the real world.
Social involvement is great
One of the things I enjoy most about sim racing is gathering with my friends in Sim Dynamics Esports (the sim racing team I race with) on Discord and practising together. Sim racing is a very social thing, with lots of small communities on Discord who are usually very friendly and helpful. I also appreciate very much how my own driving has improved along with my technical knowledge, especially in the gaming PC universe.
Very few negatives compared to Motorsport
So, getting started in sim racing offers a bunch of benefits with very few drawbacks. But, we do need to discuss those too. Sim racing takes time to really master, you really need to be able to commit a fair bit of time, in the beginning, to come to terms with your new surrounding and learn all of the sim gear and software.
The only other drawback that I can think of is the upfront cost. If you want to do things properly, but on a reasonable budget then expect to set aside anything between €2000 and €5000 to get started.
High-end sim racing gear on a lower budget
Being on a budget doesn’t mean you’re too willing to compromise as you’d like the best equipment possible for the money. That’s where finding good advice comes in!
One of the major hurdles, when you’re getting into sim racing, is getting the right advice on what equipment to buy. There are lots of Youtube channels to take advice from and review websites too. Although always be cautious, with affiliate programs emerging abound in this industry you need to be clear that the information you’re receiving is not too biased towards the highest commission paying affiliate to the channel.
On that note, it’s worth pointing out that G-Performance is an online sim equipment retailer that sells sim racing equipment! But we would rather have a happy, confident customer (see our reviews here) who we can support and help move through their sim racing journey, so if you have any questions please get in touch to ask us anything.
Skills you’ll learn: Assembly, Technical and Racecraft
There are three key disciplines in sim racing which at a basic level are all extremely simple. If you’ve ever built a piece of furniture or plugged in a PC before then you’ve got all the basic skills already. For more technically advanced customers – if you’ve ever installed upgrade parts on your PC or assembled things made in aluminium profile, you’ll feel like this is really simple stuff.
Assembly for almost all sim racing equipment usually only needs a good set of Allen keys and whatever tools are usually included with the sim racing gear. Almost every bolt you use to mount a Simucube or Fanatec wheelbase are M6 (6mm Allen / Hex key), most bolts you use to secure aluminium profile using slide nuts and bolts are M5 (5mm Allen / Hex Key) and the bolts you use to secure a set of pedals are usually M4 (4mm Allen / Hex key). So get a good Allen key set (like this one).
A good quality, well-rated set of tools from a known manufacturer will mean you won’t be let down by an Allen key slipping in the bolt. This can happen when the tool steel used isn’t up to the job – the tool has been cheaply manufactured and isn’t reliable at the higher torque levels you need to tighten these bolts correctly.
One other huge tip for assembling the larger items, like the cockpits: assemble everything without fully tightening every bolt until you’re sure everything is in the right place. Once you’re happy with the layout, including your seating and pedal position, you can go ahead and tighten everything up.
As we’ve seen in a few posts on this blog before, there is some technical assembly (mounting a wheel on a QR hub and pairing with TrueDrive, for example). If you’re comfortable working in Windows then the technical side of things isn’t at all difficult.
The technical actions you’ll be taking at the beginning (and then rarely after depending on the frequency of firmware updates) are usually as follows:
Know how to install the drivers for your wheelbase. You’ll need to download them from the manufacturer website. Simucube drivers can be found here and Fanatec drivers can be found on the product page for the item or from this downloads page. Naturally, the instructions are always found in the guide included in the boxes, which are all very clear. How to install and update drivers and firmware for any Simucube is included in our Simucube 2 review, and here’s a helpful guide to updating Fanatec drivers and firmware here.
Once you have your wheelbase and pedals installed and assuming you have a working gaming PC, it helps to know how to calibrate the devices in your simulation software of choice.
Here’s a short animation of the calibration process in iRacing:
Learning your racecraft
Thankfully there are lots of support channels for those new to sim racing looking for help with their racecraft. As a really good first step, I recommend signing up for Driver61’s sim racing masterclass, which gives you all the understanding you need to start developing your driving technique correctly. Using this course will give you clarity on driving techniques for different types of corners and will help you get up to speed pretty quickly.
From there I recommend you follow some of the youtube channels that share circuit guides – I’ve recommended DaveySkills as a really good first port of call because he teaches the circuits in iRacing that you’ll need for the “free” series such as Mazda MX5 and Formula Vee.
Check out the “Developing your skills as a sim driver” in this article on getting started with a Simucube wheel for more resources to help you get going.
There are also various Discord communities to join, including VRS (where you can get one to one coaching) and of course, the Driver61 channel. I also like to follow Dan Suzuki whose balance of pure pace and technical prowess can achieve in the sim racing community!
Choosing the right sim racing equipment
I’m a firm believer in building the best and most upgradeable sim racing rig your money can achieve at the time. Put simply, if you can’t stretch to a set of Heusinkveld Sprint pedals just yet, do make sure that your sim racing cockpit is compatible for them when they finally arrive and, in the meantime can easily accommodate some Thrustmaster pedals for now.
Your sim racing rig
On that note, the most important purchase is, in my opinion, the cockpit. If you own a good, stiff sim racing cockpit then there little chance that equipment upgrades, with their higher torque levels, will cause a “flex” issue. It’s the base upon which almost all of your other gear can be replaced.
This for me makes the decision easier – you should buy a cockpit constructed from aluminium extrusion because it’s incredibly stiff and it’s an inexpensive raw material to build a cockpit out of. The tried and tested setup: base frame with mount points or a pedal deck for pedals, a mount for the seat and an upright section with mountings for the wheelbase (pictured above).
On the basis that you don’t want to spend a huge amount on a cockpit but would like some upgrade options further down the line, I think the Sim-Lab GT1-Evo is the best sim racing cockpit to start with. What’s great is there’s an update kit available for the GT1-Evo to upgrade it to a P1-X, Sim-Lab’s flagship sim racing cockpit. If you’re running a front mounting, MiGE style motor like a Simucube, you’ll need a Direct Drive wheel mounting bracket and to mount a good single monitor, the Simlab GT1 Evo Single Monitor Mount is ideal.
Sim racing pedals
For the pedals, if you can possibly stretch to them, the Heusinkveld Sprint pedal is the best intermediate pedal there is. They’re quite pricey but are worth every penny in feel and control. You’ll learn faster in the sim with a set of high-end sim racing pedals, and I’m still running the Sprints I bought several years ago.
They’re that good. If you can’t stretch to this budget just yet, I recommend the Fanatec Clubsport V3 pedals or a set of Thrustmaster T-LCm pedals.
Remember to buy mounting brackets and a sliding seat rail (if you want your seat to be adjustable, I don’t bother as I’m happy with the positioning in my sim).
Wheelbase and steering wheel
For the wheelbase; there are now a number of good options to choose from. Firstly, you could just wait for the Fanatec CSL DD wheelbase due for release at the end of the year (likely, in time for Christmas delivery). These are priced in the region of $400 for the high torque version. If you’re on a low budget they’re definitely worth considering but are really unlikely to be comparable to anything considered high-end.
Personally, I would choose the Simucube 2 Sport, a 17nm high-end direct drive wheelbase. It’s virtually indistinguishable from the higher-priced Simucube 2 Pro, the only main difference being the lower maximum torque level offered by the Sport version. As a Simucube 2 Pro owner, I can tell you with authority, I run mine at a lower maximum torque level than the Sport anyway, so I’m pretty convinced I should have bought the Sport!
Finally, the sim steering wheel: my weapon of choice is the Formula Sport from Cube Controls, either in wireless or the cheaper USB. If you do go ahead and buy the Simucube 2 Sport then you have wireless wheel support, but USB is perfectly fine and does work out a tiny bit cheaper.