With every major racing series delayed, more and more high-profile drivers are competing in simulated racing events. Because racecar drivers train on simulators already, it’s an easy jump to participate in events like the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series. And since 903,000 viewers watched it—a record-breaking figure for an Esports event—we figured some new-to-Esports fans are now looking to get into the world of simulated racing.
Since I’m new to this world, too, I called up Chris Considine, founder of CXC Simulations. His experience grew out of a real need: he was a racecar driver trying to climb the ladder, put off by how expensive it was to get proper on-track practice time. After gerry rigging simulators in his garage while working for the Bondurant school, his clients at the racing school encouraged him to start selling simulators. He founded CXC in 2007, turning it into one of the premier companies for serious racing simulators over the past 13 years.
“Like all good businesses, it came out of a need,” Considine told Road & Track.
And now, with tracks across the country locking down and states issuing lockdown orders, the need for good at-home driving simulation is more widespread than ever. The good news is, while intimidating, sim racing doesn’t have to be as much of a financial or lifestyle commitment as actual racing. Sure, CXC’s rigs start at $57,000, but you can get into the world for a lot less.
How much less depends on what kind of experience you want. If you’re primarily focused on entertainment over realism and want to keep the budget tighter, you can build a setup around an Xbox One or Playstation 4. The cheaper versions of each console come in around $200, though the more powerful Xbox One X and PS4 Pro both offer better graphics and performance than their standard-issue counterparts.
Then, you’re going to need an actual rig. Like with an actual track car, you need a proper driving position to get the best experience. You can try to mount a wheel to your computer desk and sit in a normal office chair, but that’ll probably leave you awkwardly positioned and—if you’re putting in serious time—sore. The cheapest option is to make your own rig, but if you’re limited on space or do-it-yourself ability you can buy pedal stands on Amazon.
Whatever you rig up, it should be sturdy. A good wheel gives serious force feedback, so it’ll torque its way out of weak mounts. As for what a good starter wheel is, Considine said the cheapest one you’d want to buy is the Logitech G29/Logitech G920 (same basic wheel, but the G29 is for PS4 whereas the G920 is set up for Xbox One). Both retail for $399.00 and include a relatively simple gas, brake, and clutch pedal set.
If you can stretch your budget, putting more money into the wheel and pedal set is usually a good idea. A midrange setup from Fanatec—like the $799.95 Xbox One Competition Pack or the $699.95 CSL Elite F1 set for PS4, Xbox, & PS4—is a good way to get some very realistic feedback. These cheaper bundles only offer two-pedal configurations and don’t come with shifters, though, so those who want to properly simulate manual gearboxes will have to pay more for three-pedal configurations with shifters.
But if you are willing to spend more than the $800-1300 required for these midrange setups, you’re probably going to want to ditch the consoles altogether.
“If your budget is higher and you want to be as accurate and realistic as possible, then PC is the direction you want to go,” Considine said.
So the first step will be a PC with a high-power graphics card and a powerful CPU. If you have to skimp anywhere, Considine says simulators aren’t super hard on RAM, but a solid GPU is a must-have. He warns that, as you get deeper into the high-tier sim builds things get much more do-it-yourself, but pre-built gaming computers in the $1500-2000 range will be enough to get immersive simulation.
No matter which peripherals you go for, the PC does tend to offer more flexibility, realism, and customization than consoles. You can use the aforementioned Logitech or Fanatec wheels with a PC setup, but the PC world offers tons of super pricey, enthusiast-oriented peripherals. If you do go that route, Considine recommends getting a wheel with Direct Drive.
Direct Drive is largely considered the best form of force feedback available, with detailed and quick reactions as a result of the wheel being directly mounted on the motor without gearing. Wheels with Direct Drive tend to cost $1000 or more, like the $1649.95 Fannatech Podium Racing Wheel F1. Considine also mentioned the SimCube 2 Sport, a Direct Drive base only that costs 1270 Euros (about $1371 at current exchange rates). You’d also need to buy a wheel to mount on it, so this option is not for the faint of heart nor wallet.
If you want to get serious about pedals, too, Considine says it’s all about the brake pedal feel. Super high end sets use hydraulics to simulate the actual braking forces that an F1 or Indycar driver would feel, like the 1098.35-Euro ($1186 at current exchange rates) Heusinkveld Sim Pedals Ultimate.
Finally, none of this matters if you’re not using the best software. For the seriously dedicated enthusiasts, there are really only two major names: iRacing—which is known mostly for its multiplayer and Esports aspects—or the perennial sim favorite Asetto Corsa series. Both Assetto Corsa and Assetto Corsa Competizione are known for their incredibly detailed physics, tire models, and large mod community. Developer tools are readily available, meaning experts like those at CXC Simulations can add in their own tracks, cars, or modifications. iRacing doesn’t have quite the same community base yet, but it’s the go-to for big events.
If you’re not going to do a lot of tinkering and want accessible fun, Considine says there are a few other big options. On the PC side, he recommends Forza Motorsport 7, Project Cars 2, and “basically any of the CodeMasters games,” which includes series like F1, Dirt, and Grid. These games are also all available on Xbox. PS4 racers can’t play Forza, but Considine says Gran Turismo Sport is another accessible, realistic option.
Regardless of which path you take, remember to keep an eye on what you’re actually trying to accomplish. For a casual enthusiast in a studio apartment, a $57,000 CXC rig seems a bit overkill while a $1200 Xbox setup makes a lot of sense. On the flip side, if you’re a serious racer trying to save money on practice, it’d be pretty silly to get a PS4 instead of a professionally built machine. Just like real with cars, the top of the ladder won’t be a cheap place to reach.
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