Have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually race a car? For many, unfortunately, it is an unfeasible and - far - too expensive hobby. A good alternative is sim racing. Sim racing is the closest thing to the real thing without actually getting behind the wheel.
With a combination of realistic graphics, detailed physics, hardware and intense competition, sim racing offers an unprecedented adrenaline-pumping experience that will keep you coming back for more! Are you new to the world of sim racing? Then hold on tight! Because in this article, we will explain everything you need to know about sim racing, what you need and how to get started!
What is sim racing?
Before we delve deeper into what we need, let's explain exactly what sim racing is. Sim racing is a form of motorsport where virtual cars race on virtual tracks. It is an increasingly popular form of motorsport with an ever-growing community of enthusiastic fans. Whether for fun or considering yourself an esports racer, sim racing is an enjoyable hobby that anyone can get into!
Sim racing is immensely popular
It has become so popular partly thanks to F1 drivers like Verstappen and Leclerc, but also (former) Indycar drivers Grosjean and Tony Kanaan. Almost every real driver also races virtually these days. And the great thing is, you can too! You too can compete against the big boys. Who doesn't want that?
How does it work?
Racing is mainly done on a computer or console (xbox or Playstation 4/5). The possibilities on a PC are endless, especially in terms of hardware and downloading mods created by enthusiastic sim racers. With laser-scanned cars and tracks in games like Automobilista 2, Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione and iRacing, the virtual racing experience is tremendously close to racing in real life. This makes this experience unique and extremely intense. With the right equipment and setup, anyone can become a sim racer, this makes it relatively accessible to start with.
Sim racing is a great way to have fun while also honing your driving skills. In fact, I would venture to say that sim racing has helped me develop better driving skills for the real road.
What do you need for sim racing?
Up front; you can make sim racing as expensive as you want. How much it costs to start sim racing depends entirely on your budget and your own requirements for your setup. A sim racing setup ranges from several hundred to several tens of thousands of euros! ?
Are you a beginner? Then get in at this level also in terms of hardware and see and experience if this is for you. You can always expand and upgrade ? Take into account an amount of around ? 1,000. For this you have a great wheel and pedals to start with and a PC or console.
In the end, technology is just as, or maybe even more important, than an expensive sim racing setup. So don't forget to develop in that too! Indeed, start there would be my advice. There are plenty of examples of professional esport drivers who have a low-budget setup ? So it's not like the more expensive your setup the faster you are on the track.
Sim racing hardware
The list below is compiled based on my experience and path to my dream simulator myself. Feel free to decide for yourself what you need or don't need.
1. A gaming PC or console
If you want a system for the long term, choose a PC anyway. The possibilities on a PC are endless in terms of hardware and (graphics) performance. The range of racing games is the greatest, but third-party programmes such as SimHub and Racelab are indispensable and only available for PC. Do you like mods? Then you'll be fine on a PC. Note: a good gaming PC is quite pricey. Keep in mind prices between ? 1,200 and ? 2,500. Putting it together yourself will save you money and is fun too!
Unfortunately, the options on a console are limited in terms of the range of games and possibilities. Are you more of a casual gamer who likes racing games but doesn't have or want an extensive simulator (yet)? Then opt for a Playstation 5 or an xbox. A new console costs around ? 500 a ? 700. The advantage of a console is that it is a plug-and-play system that will last you several years in terms of hardware.
Already have an (older) console? Then grab it and start playing racing games to gain experience and to see if this is really for you. I myself, after several years of not gaming, also started sim racing on a console again before switching to a powerful gaming PC for the long haul!
2. Gaming monitor(s) or VR
One of the most important choices you have to make as a sim racer is the choice between gaming monitor(s) or a VR headset. Will you opt for a single screen setup or go for a triple or even a quad monitor setup? Of course, this depends entirely on your personal preference and budget.
If you are new to the world of sim racing and don't have much to spend, opt for a single screen setup. You then have the choice of an ultrawide monitor or single flat or curved display. For most games, a resolution of 1440p is more than enough.
If you go for a curved triple monitor setup, then also opt for the ASUS Bezel Free Kit. With the ASUS Bezel free kit you work away all the edges of the monitors so it looks like you have one immense screen. This ensures the most intense experience and realistic gaming experience!
3. Gaming headset or speakers
When you think of racing, you think of roaring and roaring V8 engines. You obviously want this sound to roar through your eardrums. You can do this with a speaker set or a good gaming headset. Prices vary greatly, so keep in mind prices between ? 50 and ? 500 euros. Again: for everyone's budget, there is something to suit you.
If you opt for a gaming headset then the gaming headsets from Steelseries or Logitech G Pro series recommended. The Steelseries Arctis have been tested as the best gaming headsets. With dolby surround, you are totally immersed in the game without being distracted by ambient noise. For sim racing, a good gaming headset is definitely my personal preference.
The downside if you opt for a speaker set is that you, as well as your surroundings, will be affected by ambient noise. You have a choice of a 2.1 speaker set or 5.1 dolby surround set. Again, we recommend Logitech's speaker sets. These are very good value for money! Want a more premium speaker set with fancy RGB colours? Then opt for Steelseries.
4. Race wheel
The next thing you need is a racing wheel. Prices vary widely and depends entirely on what you want to spend on this yourself. For convenience, there are three levels you can get into: beginner, intermediate and professional.
The racing wheel usually consists of a wheelbase and a steering wheel. You also have all-in-one solutions where the steering wheel and wheelbase are one unit. Are you a beginner with a lower budget? Then opt for this solution. A good example is Thrustmaster or Logitech. One of the most popular racing wheels for beginners is the Logitech G29. This wheel, including pedals, costs around ? 250. The advantage of Logitech is that it is PC and console compatible. By the way, what is super cool about this wheel is that you can fully customise it with cool Logitech mods!
Logitech products are perfect for mastering sim racing, but unfortunately is not a sustainable and long-term solution. This is partly because the force feedback driven with gears or a belt. Want to be better prepared for the future? Then opt for more professional hardware and a direct drive system. Logitech has also recently ventured into this market with the Logitech G Pro Racing Wheel.
If you have a bit more money to spend, opt for the intermediate and more professional products from Fanatec whether the new Moza Racing. Moza is a serious challenger with high-quality and innovative products. The recently launched Moza FSR Formula is a good example of this.
Fanatec is the world's largest and most popular sim racing hardware manufacturer. The big advantage of the Fanatec ecosystem is that you can fit all pedals, accessories and steering wheels on any wheelbase. This makes this choice extremely durable and a good long-term solution. With the Fanatec CSL DD Pro and the Fanatec McLaren GT3 V2 for around ? 800 a fantastic future-proof setup. Want the best of the best right away? Then opt for Fanatec's flagship the Podium DD1 or DD2. For this, you will have to dig a little deeper into your pockets. You can buy a DD1 wheelbase from ? 1,200 excluding a steering wheel.
More professional sim racers are quick to opt for Fanatec's podium series, Moza Racing, Simagic, Cube Controls, Asher, Asetek, Simucube and Grid Engineering (by Sim-Lab). For these products, you will have to pay quite a bit. Expect prices between ? 1,500 and ? 3,500. The range of sim racing steering wheels is huge and grows daily with new manufacturers entering the sim racing market.
4. Sim racing pedals
Now that we can finally steer, we still have to accelerate or brake. How convenient! For this, you need a pedal set. You can choose a setup of two or three pedals. In other words, with or without a clutch. In most cases, you won't need the clutch pedal as you have it on the handlebars. The range of pedals on offer is huge and prices vary widely from ? 300 to ? 1,500 euros. Regardless of the level you have or the type of pedals you choose: training your braking technology is just as important and ultimately the thing that wins you the most time. There are different types of pedals available. The difference is mainly in accuracy and consistency. We cover them briefly.
A potentiometer pedal set measures the force by the distance that the pedal is depressed. This means that the further you push the pedal the higher the braking force. You usually find this type of pedals in cheaper and budget-friendly pedals. In any case, they offer the least realism on the track. As far as we are concerned, these types of pedals are not recommended. There are several mods Available to convert your potentiometer pedals (Logitech) to load cell pedals.
Hall effect sensor pedals
Hall effect sensor pedals work much the same as potentiometer pedals. However, they are a little more advanced in that they use magnets to transfer the signal. In short, this means there are fewer moving parts in them. And by definition, that means they are slightly more durable and last longer. They are also slightly more precise which makes for a better and more consistent braking experience.
Load cell pedals
Load cell pedals are by far the most well-known and used pedals in the intermediate and high-end sim racing segment. They use, as the name suggests, a load cell to measure force rather than travel distance. This technique makes these pedals much closer to the real thing. As a result, you are much more accurate and consistent while braking. These types of pedals are slightly more expensive than the potentiometer and hall effect pedals, but provide an absolute improvement in realism and performance. As far as we are concerned, these are the best pedals to choose!
Want only the best performance? Then opt for a hydraulic set of pedals. Just like in a real race car, they use a hydraulic system to measure braking force. Like a load cell, these types of pedals are extremely accurate and come closest to a real race car.
One of the most popular pedal sets is the one from Dutch manufacturer Heusinkveld. The Heusinkveld Sprints (load cell) and Ultimate+ pedals (hydraulic) can be found in almost every sim and are qualitatively one of the best pedal sets available.
Other well-known manufacturers include Simagic, Meca or Asetek, of which none other than Formula 1 driver Kevin Magnussen is an ambassador. If you opt for Fanatec's ecosystem, the Clubsport V3 and the CSL Elite Pedals V2 from Fanatec. In doubt? Then opt for load cell pedals. This is definitely our preference. Pedals are perhaps the most important part of your simulator. So opt for quality. You won't regret it!
5. Racing chair or racing simulator
Now that you have a steering wheel and pedal set, you still need to attach them to something. For this, you need a racing simulator or sim rig. The cheapest way is to mount the wheel on a desk with a good racing or office chair. However, this gives the least racing experience and perception. Another, relatively cheap and compact, option is a wheelstand.
The choices for a sim rig are vast and vary widely in design, style, quality and price. A racing simulator comes in roughly two options or styles: do you choose a Formula 1 simulator, such as the Playseat F1, or do you prefer a GT or rally look where you sit on the right? Choose the style that suits you! Do you opt for a low-budget simulator, such as a Playseat Or do you go for a mid- or high-range simulator from, say:
The range of simulators available these days is huge! The above three are among the best known and highest quality. So then you know you're good ? If you're handy it's also cool to have your own build your own aluminium simulator!
Your racing simulator is the base on which you mount everything. Moreover, it is the part of your simulator that doesn't wear out much, if at all. So invest wisely and, depending on your budget, choose quality. Tip: don't save on a good racing seat, because ergonomics and comfort are hugely important and prevent back pain during a long racing session.
Think carefully beforehand about where you want to place your simulator. They can take up a lot of space, especially if you have a triple monitor setup, and moving or relocating them is not always easy ?
Depending on the type of handlebars and wheelbase you choose, a simulator should be able to withstand a lot of forces. So take into account the sturdiness of your simulator. Most high-end cockpits are made of an 8020 aluminium profile. This is very strong and solid and ensures that your simulator will not sag. To illustrate: the Fanatec DD2 has a force of as much as 25Nm which ensures that your cockpit vibrates or bends.
6. Sim racing accessories
In terms of hardware, you're pretty much set now. If you want to expand your simulator now or in the future, here are some must-have accessories that are indispensable on or for your simulator!
A button box is indispensable in every sim! Why? Because you always have too few buttons within reach and - fair is fair - it just looks super cool! ? Are you handy and up for a challenge? Then create your own button box! This is easier, cheaper and more fun than you think! For about ? 100 euros you have your own button box. Would you rather go for plug-and-play button box? Then take a look at the website of simracing4u. Genuine craftsmanship and handmade at acceptable prices around ? 150 to ? 300.
Another good alternative to a button box is the Elegato Stream Deck. It is available in 6, 15 and 32 buttons and costs between ? 79 and ? 229 euros. Definitely one of the cheaper and nicest solutions. All buttons are fully customisable with sim racing profiles. The Stream Deck is a real eye-catcher in your sim!
Are or want to become a professional sim racer? Then choose professional button boxes too. My absolute favourite are the button boxes from EPLab Sim Racing. The GTL and GTE-Pro are dazzlingly beautiful. For these, however, you have to dig deep into your pockets. They cost ? 650. Don't tell anyone, but with the discount code 'SRH2022' get 5% discount on the entire collection! ?
You probably don't need a handbrake, unless of course you play rally or drift games. Our advice is to coordinate the handbrake with other hardware on your sim. For example, choose a (cheaper) Handbrake from Fanatec, for only ? 130, or the more intermediate and professional handbrake from Simagic, Heusinkveld or Meca. For these, you will pay around ? 250 or ? 300.
Sim racing dashboard and lap timer
A Data Display Unit, or DDU, is indispensable in every sim. This digital dashboard is an intelligent interface and displays all the information you need when you are on the track. This includes: lap times, fuel, tyre temperature, oil and water pressure, live timings and much more.
For novice and intermediate sim racers, the range of intelligent dashboards is vast. My personal favourite is the DDU from SimRacingAddict. The Racelogic lap timer is a super cool add-on for your sim!
For intermediate and professional sim racers, the DDU dashboards from EPLab Sim Racing and Grid Engineering the absolute best. In particular, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Display and the D-Performante from EPlab are a true eye-catcher for your sim. Again, quality comes at a price. In fact, these displays do not come cheap.
(Sequential or H-pattern) shifter
Most steering wheels have integrated magnetic flippers that allow you to shift gears. If you race formula or gt cars a lot, an extra shifter is probably not necessary. However, using a sequential or h-pattern shifter gives an incredible extra experience. Especially the heavy clicking sound, of for instance the Simagic Q1 or Q1S, gives an insane experience and extra dimension during shifting! Prices for a shifter are on average between ? 250 and ? 350. As far as we are concerned, this is an absolute must-have on every sim.
Our absolute favourite that is indispensable in your simulator is one (or more) flag spotter(s). A flag spotter is a small LED display that gives you continuous warnings. For example, when you need to change gear, but also when there is a blue, black, green or yellow flag on the track or when your fuel is running low.
With the integrated spotter, you know exactly who is in your blind spot on the left or right. This prevents unnecessary collisions on the track. It depends on the game which signals the flag display gives you. This little device is really indispensable and gives your simulator a very cool modern look. On average, you pay around ? 50 to ? 100 each. Want to save money? Then make itself a flagspotter.
Want to add an extra dimension and even more experience to your simulator? Then create your own wind simulator! With SimHub's free software, you programme your wind simulator to react to the amount of throttle you give it. Super cool! If you make one yourself, you will spend around ? 100 to ? 150 euros.
Sim racing gloves
As soon as you start spending more time in your simulator, you start looking for more experience and comfort. In that case sim racing gloves recommended! For about ? 50 euros you 'll have a pair. Racing with gloves has many advantages. For one thing, you protect your handlebars from user marks so they last longer and stay in better condition. On the other hand, it also offers more comfort and grip. And, last but not least, it looks super cool and professional! Everything is about maximising your sim racing experience and perception so that it is as close to reality as possible ?
Sim racing software
Well, you've finally bought your hardware and got your simulator up-and-running. Now what? Time to take to the track. But which game do you choose? Again, this depends on your level: are you a novice and casual racer or are you looking for (hardcore) competition and realism and want to compete exclusively with the best?
Are you totally into sim racing and want more online competition or to progress as a professional esporter? Then consider investing in your technique with online coaching from professional drivers or the motorsport checklist.
We have compiled a list the most popular racing games right now that you can start playing right away, depending on your level! Tip: also check out our top 7 best sim racing games!
Beginner and casual
If you are new to the world of sim racing, just like in real life, it is important to gain experience. Practice, practice and more practice! You know what they say: practice makes perfect.
Are you stepping straight into the world of hardcore simulation? Then chances are you will get frustrated by the high difficulty level and lack of driving-assists like ABS and traction control. Besides, you don't want to spend endless hours in the garage tinkering with your setup. That will come later ?
If you have little or no experience, opt for a more casual racing game. Popular examples include F1 2022, F1 23, Forza Motorsport, Assetto Corsa, Gran Turismo and Automobilista 2. These games are ideally suited as a starter to start your virtual motorsport career and master the basic techniques of racing. Explore the tracks and feel how the different types of cars feel and react differently, as well as how trail braking your instantly faster.
Hardcore simulation games are the most competitive racing games out there, rubbing up against the real racing world in terms of realism. This category is dominated by three games: iRacing, Assetto Corsa Competizione and rFactor 2.
Want to beat Max Verstappen, Lando Norris or Charles Leclerc - virtually? Then choose iRacing. The game is PC-only, but is by far the most competitive and realistic hardcore simulation game out there. Despite being dated (2008), iRacing is the most popular and biggest sim racing game out there. This is partly due to its excellent match-making engine, classes and rating system. This way, you always race against people at the same skill level and there are official race series and seasons with races at set times in various classes. Whether you like GT3, Indycar, Formula 3, Endurance or Formula 1, iRacing has it all and is best-of-class!
Assetto Corsa Competizione
Another game that is certainly not inferior to iRacing is Assetto Corsa Competizione (ACC). This game focuses exclusively on GT3 racing and has a very wide range of GT3 cars. The game looks breathtakingly beautiful and is constantly being expanded with cool DLCs. The big advantage of ACC is that the game is also available on consoles. This makes it the ideal game to start with sim racing and grow into a high-class and skilled driver. The game also trains you to get the most out of yourself and your car and to continuously improve yourself.
Online, the game unfortunately cannot match iRacing's competitive system, but it nevertheless offers one of the best, most beautiful and realistic gaming experiences available. Fortunately, there are several solutions to this, including Low Fuel Motorsport and The Sim Grid. One thing is for sure, ACC is highly recommended and one of the best simulation games ever made!
The last game in this category is rFactor 2. The game is very popular and has a lot of potential, but unfortunately it does not live up to this. The game unfortunately looks a bit outdated and does not seem to be able to keep up with its main competitors. Despite some drawbacks, the game has been getting a lot of updates and new content for a few months now. As a result, the game is making some serious headway and is very interesting in terms of cars and tracks on offer. For instance, rFactor 2 is the official game of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and Formula E championship. The game is hugely popular and loved in the modding community with a huge range of cars, circuits and add-ons.
The popular sim is used by gamers and companies alike. Many real racing teams and drivers use rFactor 2 for their simulations and training sessions. And for a reason: it is a fantastic simulation game that is also wildly popular among professional esports gamers with official championships and races.
Ready to hit the track?
I hope this guide has got you started in the world of sim racing. You now know what sim racing is ánd what you need. What is (still) holding you back? Are you ready to take to the virtual track? I hope you are now as enthusiastic as me and the entire sim racing community.
Sim racing is pure passion and a lifelong addiction. Once you get into it, you can't live without it. Like any hobby, it is expensive. How expensive you decide for yourself. My advice? Dare to dream and start small. Step by step, build your simulator into the one of your dreams and grow into the absolute (online) top of virtual racing!
Are you ready to take to the track? "Lights out and away they go!" Want to keep up to date with sim racing content, news, DIY, tutorials, reviews and more? Follow us on Instagram @simracinghub.co.uk