Over the last few weeks, I’ve been very lucky to have a set of Heusinkveld Ultimate sim pedals on my rig as I practice for this year’s Daytona 24.
Do I love them? Oh yes. Why are they good? Read on.
Image: Hydraulic damper on Heusinkveld Ultimate brake pedal
Heusinkveld needs little introduction as one of the best-known pedal manufacturers in sim racing. Heusinkveld is located in the city of Groningen, in the Netherlands where they design and assemble high-end, off-the-shelf hardware suitable for pro racing simulators and high-end home simulators.
Developing a sim pedal obviously isn’t a simple affair, you don’t just put these things together and hope for the best. Heusinkveld have invested significantly into R&D over the years, giving them an enviable knowledgebase upon which to design their products.
Developing realistic sim pedal feel
The challenge for any pedal manufacturer is to create a pedal that can convincingly simulate the feel of a real pedal in a racing car.
If you can drive a road car, you know what a pedal should feel like. In racing those sensations are similar. While the brake pedal will feel harder, have less travel and will likely slow you down better than road car brakes, the principle is the same. Pedals have a certain feel under compression and very importantly, release.
It is the sensation of compression and release that excites me most about Heusinkveld Ultimates. They feel very real.
It perhaps isn’t well known by those new to Heusinkveld products that the Sim Pedals Ultimate are a full-hydraulic pedal set. All 3 pedals feature a hydraulic damper.
In a real car, there’s a big hydraulic system, servos, reservoirs and hoses. Sim pedals don’t have the luxury of space for full hydraulic plumbing, which is why little dampers make so much sense in the design. Heusinkveld’s specialism is in the design and tuning of their hydraulic dampers.
When you tune a damper, you modify the damping effect: the compression or bump, and the rebound (the way the pedal returns). The dampers on the brakes and clutch add resistance depending on how fast the pedals are pressed or released, and the throttle damper adds resistance on the compression.
What you end up with is a pedal set designed to help you smooth your inputs by behaving in much the same way a real vehicle’s brake, throttle or clutch feels. This is not just to add realism, the design adds feedback that helps you to drive well because it makes more sense as a driver.
Image: earlier Ultimate pedal set from a test a few montsh ago with the wired USB controller. The newer version uses RJ sockets.
The complete Heusinkveld Ultimate sim pedals set consists of a clutch, throttle and brake. For me, it’s the brake that adds the most excitement into my driving. On the brake, there’s a coil spring that is intended to simulate the gap between the pad and the disc, there’s a rubber stack, and of course the hydraulic damper. The mechanical movement manipulates the load cell but it’s all controlled by the hydraulics and rubber.
Out of the box, the brake pedal is set quite soft. I recommend this is how you first try the brake, as the softness in the rubber really demonstrates the work the hydraulic damper is doing. If you want to adjust, you can move the damper (moving the damper up or down changes the leverage your foot has on the damper, which then of course changes the resistance). Moving it up increases the resistance, moving it down decreases it. You can adjust the pre-load above the rubber stack, and you can change the rubber for stiffer packers too.
That brake pedal can handle a load of 136kg. If you’re strong enough to exert 136kg of load on a pedal, over a race distance, then you’ll need a proper aluminium profile rig to mount the pedals correctly. If you’re looking for a chassis upgrade, would recommend the Sim-Lab P1-X chassis or the Trak Racer TR160.
The clutch pedal simulates a diaphragm spring clutch movement, in that it gets lighter as the pedal travels further. I drove manual with the clutch a few months ago and found the weight of it and the smoothness of it really helped me to heel/toe on the downshifts with a very smooth release of the clutch.
I found the throttle was smooth and accurate and gave just the right resistance as I pressed on. Just enough resistance to remind me to drive smoothly!
How to setup your Heusinkveld Ultimates
Each of the pedals has 4 mounting slots which will accommodate M6 (6 millimeter) bolts. I mounted these to the Ultimate baseplate which was mounted with M6 bolts to the aluminium crossbars on my 8020 profile chassis.
The Ultimate baseplate (sold separately) is a monster of a thing – 10mm thick and pre-drilled for the HE Ultimates. It was really handy to have a base plate because mounting each pedal individually in 8020 profile is fiddly. It’s much nicer to space everything out on the bench. That way I know the pedal alignment will be right and the whole thing becomes a modular installation. The baseplate comes with all the bolts you’ll need for installation, too.
The Ultimates come with a separate controller with 3 x RJ sockets, a USB port and some handy pins for additional rotary controls and buttons (handy for a button box if you’re able to build your own kit). This controller box installs neatly on the base plate with the screws provided.
How to calibrate the HE Ultimates
When you plug in the USB cable, Windows will detect the device and install the driver. You can open the USB game controllers dialogue to check the device is properly installed:
Image: the Ultimate driver has installed in Windows and we’re ready to calibrate in DiView.
Calibration is done through DiView. Firstly, download and install the software from the Leo Bodnar website.
Once the software is installed, open DiView. When you open the software the default view is to display the IO for every game controller driver running on the PC. To make the view simpler, head to “Edit” and click settings. Select only the device you want to work with.
When you have the windows open for the Heusinkveld Ultimate pedals, you’ll see a window for the brake, throttle and clutch. Right-click in each window to view the “raw” data. You will notice that the raw number is quite a low value with no pressure on the pedal, and a maximum value with full pressure added.
You can see the raw values in red below:
To calibrate each pedal in DiView, you need to establish the minimum, centre, and maximum values.
Take a note of the minimum value and the maximum, then open a calculator and add the minimum value to the maximum value. Divide this by 2. This will give you an average – the “centre” value in DiView’s calibration dialogue.
The HE pedals are very sensitive, so this calibration step is important or the sim might interpret an uncalibrated pedal as constantly pressing the throttle or brake. By moving the centre value in calibration you can adjust the curve of the brake or throttle trace. A very steep curve, for example, would be to centre the throttle very high.
You can also add “deadzone” to the top and bottom of the pedals by adding to the minimum, and subtracting from the maximum.
I’m a committed iRacer, and in iRacing you need to go through the setup procedure to calibrate your steering, pedals and gear shift. Most of you will be very familiar with this procedure but I’ve recorded it for you here, just in case:
How do the Ultimates feel?
What surprised me the last time I drove with these pedals is the same now; they have a very convincing compression and rebound. There is a softness and fluidity to the movement of the pedal that you can only get with a hydraulic damper. This is just a fact – there isn’t rubber or a spring combination in the world that can get close to the feeling you get with an Ultimate pedal.
Trying to describe the feeling is very difficult, though. The pedals feel so smooth. As an experiment, I went out to my car and pressed the brake pedal. You get the same sense of compression on a real brake pedal as you do with the Ultimate. It’s not precisely the same (the Ultimate is stiffer and has less travel as you might expect from a racing car pedal) but the principle of it is very much the same.
Eventually I removed the Ultimates and reinstalled my my Sprint pedals. I wanted to try to get closer to the feeling of the Ultimates by softening the rubbers. It made the pedal feel softer, but in the end, there’s a clear difference between the sensation of rubber compressing in comparison to fluid compression.
While all 3 pedals in the Ultimate package are quite different to the Sprints, my view is that it’s the brake pedal that brings the biggest differentiator between them. The compression and return on the Ultimate brake pedal is so much more convincing.
Somewhat frustratingly I did my fastest time at Daytona in the Porsche 911 rsr with the Ultimates. Frustrating, because I’m giving these pedals back!
Should you buy the Sprints or the Ultimates?
I’ve looked at the issue of high-end sim pedals recently on the G-Performance blog. And, my answer is still the same. Buy the Ultimates if you have the cash, they are indisputably the better pedal. However; if you’re upgrading from say, Thrustmaster, Logitech or Fanatec gear; the Heusinkveld Sprints will feel like an entirely new universe. I’d almost recommend that you own a set of Sprints before upgrading to the Ultimates, just so you can appreciate what “good” feels like.
To Sprint owners: these pedals are better. There’s no way of getting around that point. Installation is mildly more involved, and you must own an 8020 style aluminium profile rig. The ultimates are physically bigger by quite a huge margin and need proper physical support to deal with the higher forces involved. At the moment the setup process is different, because of DiView, but it’s still very easy to get going as I hope my article has demonstrated.
Whether you’re going to buy the Ultimate pedals or you’re still not certain, remember this when you’re trying to decide: When something feels real, it’s easier to drive properly. Good luck with your decision!