Getting Started in Sim Racing
There has never been a better time to Start Sim Racing...
- F1 Drivers Lando Norris and Max Verstappen are both mega sim racers, and admit that sim racing helped refine their skills
- F1 teams have eSports F1 teams, and there are online championships with prizes of up to $500,000 - so it is now possible to make a living from playing racing games 💰😁
- A sim racer actually beat an ex-F1 driver at the 2018 Race of Champions! Sim Racer Enzo Bonito beat Lucas Di Grassi (current Formula E driver) in an on-track duel!
But, we know that Starting Out in Sim Racing isn't easy. Lots of people struggle to get started, and it's because of these 3 main reasons:
1) There is A LOT of choice. Sim Racing has become extremely popular in recent years, so there are a lot of products in the market. It's very easy to get confused and not know which product is best for you.
2) Most of the products are expensive! Most racing wheels cost from £200, and Direct Drive wheels start from £800, up to well over £2,000; a decent sim rig starts from £500, and accessories cost from at least £100 each! Add it all up, and you realise you have spent a lot of money! You want to spend your money well, and not waste money on something you don't need.
3) Compatibility. The amount of different products that aren't compatible with each other is insane. Whether it's a wheel that works only on a specific console, or a rim that won't fit, shifter or a rig (we sometimes say rig, other times we say sim rig, they mean the same thing) with pre-drilled holes for specific brands - you need to consider all of this when deciding what you buy.
Ultimately, it makes choosing what you want really difficult.
This is why we made Upshift. Upshift is run By Sim Racers, For Sim Racers.
We know the problems you have, and know what is best for you. We want to share our knowledge & advice with you, in our guides (like this), our reviews, and our Live Chat.
In this guide, we're going to go through all the things you need to consider when deciding to get into sim racing. One thing's for sure, all of these products are fantastic, they all massively improve your experience - it's just about finding the right ones for you.
1) First, choose your Games
This is the first step. We are so lucky nowadays to have so many amazing racing games, that really don't cost that much either! There's games Formula 1, GT racing, rallying and rallycross, and now even games for karting and drifting too! Whatever your discipline, there's a great game out there for you!
If you're a keen sim racer, who wants the ultimate racing simulator, with true-to-life physics, then Assetto Corsa Competizione, rFactor 2, Automobilista, KartKraft, RaceRoom Racing Experience and iRacing are the best games for this. These are all PC games available on Steam (though iRacing is a membership-based game, so Steam only sells fixed-time memberships).
If you have a PS4, then Gran Turismo Sport is the king of racing simulation, but also F1 2019, Project Cars 2 and Dirt Rally 2.0 are all good games.
Likewise if you have an Xbox One, then Forza 7 is the king of racing games. But again, F1 2019, Project Cars 2 and Dirt Rally 2.0 are all good games. Forza Horizon 4 is less of a simulation racer, but is still great fun with a racing wheel and is so popular we had to include it - and it is certainly far more realistic than the likes of Need for Speed and Burnout.
The games you buy will depend on the platform(s) that you have: PC, PS4 and Xbox. Some games are available on all platforms (e.g. F1 2019) whilst others are only available on one platform (e.g. GT Sport, iRacing etc.).
Now you know what games you want and so what platforms you will be using, this lets you decide what racing wheel & accessories you will buy....
2) Racing Wheels
Wow is there a lot of choice! So to make it easy, we'll say that wheels come in 4 different categories:
1) Wheels with NO Force Feedback 😡
We think these wheels are rubbish. Cheaply built, Unreliable, Ugly, Tacky and, if you're lucky, with rumble feedback... they're really meant only for young kids. We don't sell any wheels from this category.
2) Wheels with Basic Force Feedback 😐
These wheels cost from about £150 to £250, and are a good starter set for most people. Examples include the Thrustmaster TMX/T150 and Logitech G920/G29. The Force Feedback is basic and fairly uncommunicative, but it does have some strength (some, not nearly as much as you need). The wheels still tend to be quite poorly built, with basic designs and cheap materials used. These wheels also have limited compatibility with accessories too, so they are not suitable for someone who wants to expand their setup with shifters, handbrakes etc. Also, generally the cheaper wheels tend to be slightly less reliable (NB - not unreliable, but just not as reliable as an expensive wheel).
3) Wheels with Powerful Force Feedback 🙂
This is where the fun really begins! These wheels cost from about £300 up to £600, and are the premium mass market wheels. Strong FFB, much more-premium materials and designs, and lots of compatible accessories too. If you want to start taking sim racing seriously, here is the place to start. Examples include the Fanatec CSL and the Thrustmaster TS-XW (pictured below)
4) Direct Drive Wheels (DD) 😁
Direct Drive wheels are awesome. They are totally different to mainstream racing wheels, built in an entirely different way. Direct Drive wheels are driven directly by the motor (hence the name!), and the wheel is mounted directly onto it. Unlike mainstream wheels, there is no trickery using belts to try and amplify the torque (and in doing so, losing the fidelity of the force feedback); the wheel mounts directly to the motor giving unparalleled feeling and communication, and (dependent on the strength of the motor), seriously massive power!
Direct Drive wheels are a game changer, and by a long way the best racing wheels you can buy. But, of course, if it's the best, it is also the most expensive 😭. Open Sim Wheel (OSW) is popular 'format' of buying a DD Wheel, but the cheapest OSW packages start from £800, and the most expensive DD wheels cost well over £2,000! Pictured below is Fanatec Podium Wheelbase
We recommend Direct Drive Wheels to all sim racers who want a totally realistic & authentic experience. It's no surprise that the best sim racers in the world use DD - yes, they are the most expensive...but that's because they're simply is the best, by a massive margin. Once you use a Direct Drive wheel, you will never go back - but please make sure your rig is strong enough to withstand a DD wheel!
*** A final note about DD Wheels - because they are relatively new technology, developers of games seldom ensure full compatibility of their games with some less popular DD Wheels. So, some mainstream games may work better than others with a DD Wheel - it varies upon wheel manufacturer and each game, so it is hard to definitively say. We advise you look up the wheel you are considering and see what the general feedback is.
If you have any questions about whether your rig is suitable for use with a Direct Drive Wheel, just Contact Us, we've used all our rigs and know what is and isn't suitable.
⚠️ Now you have your wheel, you MUST get something to mount it on!
3) Wheelstand or Sim Rig?
We have respect for this guy. But he is highlighting a real problem - in reality, you need something to securely mount your racing wheel on! You can't mount a racing wheel on your desk (or ironing board!) and enjoy using it, because a they aren't strong enough so they'll just wobble and distract you. If you want to start sim racing properly, and have a proper, enjoyable sim racing experience, you something to mount your racing wheel to!
...and here's the first choice:
Wheelstand or Sim Rig
Deciding on which is usually down to 3 factors:
2) Space in your room
3) How powerful your wheel is (and what accessories you need mounting)
Obviously, a full rig is going to cost more than a wheelstand - a rig is essentially a wheel stand attached to a seat (that's a basic way of thinking about it).
Wheelstands are cheaper, but they still aren't objectively 'cheap'. The most basic wheel stand is about £100, and the premium wheelstands like the Trak Racer FS3 and Next Level Racing Wheel Stand are between £150 - £200. For a lot of people (ourselves included), that is far too much money to spend on a product that is essentially a glorified TV tray!
Wheelstands however are the only choice for people who are short of space in their room. The great thing about Wheel Stands is that once you are done playing, you simply fold it up, and they fold into a very small and compact form, that is easy to store in a tight space. So if you are short on space in your room, but need a solid mounting solution for your wheel, a Wheel Stand is your perfect solution.
However, in our opinion, if you want an authentic sim racing experience, and have a powerful racing wheel, then wheelstands are not suitable. They are neither rig nor heavy enough, so the wheel and/or pedal decks will flex, which distracts you and will ultimately slow you down. Furthermore, you are restricted to fewer accessories (with only one mount, you couldn't have both a handbrake and a shifter for example, you would only be able to use one), which again limits the quality of your sim racing experience.
Also, as Direct Drive Wheels become evermore affordable and popular, it is likely that soon you will soon buy one. Wheelstands generally cannot mount a Direct Drive Wheel; therefore whilst you may save money in the short term by buying a wheelstand, when you come to upgrade to Direct Drive, your wheelstand will be redundant and so you'll need to buy a rig then - so why waste money on a wheel stand - forget them and go straight to a rig!
Wheelstands also miss out one of the most important parts of racing: the seating position. Anyone whose ever been in a proper racing car will know that you sit low down in a deep, bolstered bucket seat, in a perfect position to control the wheel and pedals. With a wheel stand, it's likely you'll be sitting on a sofa or an office chair. Not really the same type of experience, which is why at Upshift we choose not to sell any wheelstands, they're simply not very good.
Now...we introduce you to the Sim Rig!
Sim Rigs are fantastic: they're strong, adjustable, flexible, comfortable, customisable and to be honest, pretty cool looking! They give you a perfect driving position, hunkered in a comfortable bucket seat, with strong wheel and pedal decks, so you can use powerful Force feedback wheels. They usually are also very customisable, so you can add multiple different mounts, for anything from shifters/handbrakes to ButtKickers and button boxes. For anyone who wants to take sim racing seriously, and have a fully immersive sim racing experience, a Sim Rig is a must buy. Pictured below is the beautiful Rseat N1 Alcantara
Before you buy your rig, you need to know what type of wheel you are going to be using: standard FFB, powerful FFB or Direct Drive. If you have a mainstream Force feedback wheel, like the Logitech G920, then any rig should be fine. More powerful wheels like the Fanatec CSL and Thrustmaster T-GT will require stronger rigs like the Trak Racer RS6. For extremely powerful Direct Drive wheels, you will need the strongest (and most expensive!) rigs; specifically, alumium profile rigs like the popular Sim-Lab P1-X (pictured below). Weaker rigs would flex, and shudder/vibrate, so they would be uncomfortable and distracting.
These rigs are constructed from aluminium, for maximum rigidity and strength, so they are able to withstand extremely powerful Direct Drive wheels with minimal, if any, flex, and likewise pedal decks have minimal flex, you may can really stomp the pedals with confidence. These rigs are also extremely adjustable, so you are really able to find your perfect driving position.
However, the Sim-Lab P1-X (and similar 8020 rigs) usually do not come with a seat included, so you must buy your own. Dependent on what you want, and seat mounting options, you could go to a scrapyard and pick up a seat from an old Ford Fiesta for £30, or you could buy a Sparco bucket seat and fit that - seriously, whatever you want! As such, there's loads of potential to customise your rig, which is nice, and you won't have any sizing-issues fitting into your seat (more in the next paragraph)...but obviously it does add cost - a good bucket seat and a Sim-Lab P1-X will total to about £1,000, give or take a hundred pounds.
When buying a rig, some people may need to consider how big the seat is. Most racing drivers are pretty small, about 70kg and <5"10, so they just slide straight into bucket seats no problem. Some people though are a bit bigger round the middle! So the bucket seat supplied with a rig might actually be too small. You need to check with the manufacturer about the exact dimensions of their seats, and whip out the tape measure and measure yourself to to see if you will fit.
But it's not just if you will fit in the seat; it's if you will fit comfortably! If you're not comfortable, you won't be able to focus on your racing because you'll be distracted, and that means you'll ultimately be slower, so make sure the seat is a good fit!
Some companies, like Trak Racer, with their fantastic TR8 rig (pictured above) purposely design their seats to be larger, so that more people will fit. Alternatively, if you are a bit more savvy, you can swap the seat for one that fits you, but obviously that is extra cost, and you'll need to ensure that you've sorted out the mounting process (though most rigs use standard seat mounting brackets, so swapping seat is largely pretty easy to do.)
Here at Upshift, we know the measurements of all the rigs we sell, and collect feedback from our past customers about how they fit, and what they think the maximum size and weight is from their experience, so we know exactly whether you'll fit or not, just contact us for help!
We also urge you to look at the accessories you might want for your rig, before you buy it. Most sim racers will have a shifter, handbrake and some other accessories, and you need somewhere to mount them! Most rigs will come with several mounts and adapters (usually as additional extras) for you to attach to the rig, and then attach your accessories to.
If you want a specific Motion Platform from a different company, ensure that there is an adapter so it fits with your rig, don't just assume it will be compatible and fit. Also, check the prices of the accessories: if one rig is cheaper than another rig, but the accessories are more expensive, you need to decide which you will go for. Most rigs do come complete with a seat, but increasingly so now you may be sold the chassis on its own, and then you must supply your own seat.
It is easy to spend A LOT of money on a rig, so make sure you know exactly what you need, and want!
Upshift partners with all the leading rig brands, including Sim-Lab, Rseat, Sparco Gaming and Trak Racer. Furthermore, our Sim Racing Experts know everything about the rigs we sell, so if you have any questions, get in touch with us and we'll help. Get in touch by Live Chat, Messenger, email or phone.
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You need to check that the wheelstand / rig / wheel, and any other products will all be compatible with each other. Generally, any proper, high-quality rig (like those found on Upshift) will be compatible with nearly all wheel manufacturers, and will have with pre-drilled holes for hard mounting of products from major brands like Thrustmaster & Fanatec.
There are simply loads of accessories available for sim racing nowadays. It makes our sim racing experience so much more enjoyable, but the massive number of different manufacturers also raises a new dilemma - Compatibility.
Specific accessories work with specific wheels, on specific platforms. It's a nightmare! So you need to decide what wheel you will buy, then that dictates what accessories you can buy. So choose carefully, as if you build up a collection of products by one manufacturer, you are going to be reluctant to buy a product from a different manufacturer as you'll need to start again and change your whole setup - so don't just impulse buy, actually thinking about the whole setup.
Also, consider the warranty. How long is it, what does it cover, and so on. You should consider all of the details mentioned in this section, to be sure that you are buying the right wheel for you.
Generally, Thrustmaster accessories don't work with Logitech products, which don't work with Fanatec products...though some accessories will work with other manufacturers products when used on PC, but never on console. Also, if a wheel is compatible with an Xbox, it won't be compatible with a PS4, and vice versa. Nearly all wheels are compatible with PC. And for all you Apple fanatics out there, when we say PC, we mean Windows PC, exclusively.
The Thrustmaster & Fanatec Ecosystem are each manufacturer's way of eliminating compatibility woes between their different products, ensuring that all products within this group are compatible with each other. So when you buy a Thrustmaster wheel, you are encouraged to buy Thrustmaster accessories, likewise if you buy Fanatec wheels, you buy Fanatec accessories.
We strongly advise you to think of the full picture before you buy one of these products, as usually once you buy one product, you stick with that manufacturer for everything else.
Here, we'll highlight some of the Best Accessories for Sim Racing, including Handbrakes, Immersive Shakers, Wheel Add Ons, Shifters, Button Boxes, Pedals & Motion Platforms.
Immersive Shakers - ButtKicker Gamer2 and Pearl Throne THMP-1
The ButtKicker Gamer2 is an awesome piece of kit - it's half-way towards a motion platform with regards to immersion. It lets you feel the bumps of the track and rumble strip, and when you clout of the kerbs, and the vibrations of your engine by sending powerful vibrations through your seat/rig. Factory software isn't great, but there's loads of options, free and paid, available. Suffice to say, once you've used ButtKicker, you'll never go back.
The Pearl THMP-1 is a more powerful version of the Gamer2, designed in collaboration with ButtKicker, hence the similar appearance, but it is a lot more expensive and we feel you can get a better setup for less money using ButtKicker products instead.
Monitor Stands - Sim-Lab Triple Monitor Stand (free standing)
Monitor Stands come in 2 types: free standing and integrated. Integrated is better for people short of space, who want a convenient attachment that will mount their monitors on their rig with a smaller footprint. However, if you are planning on using a motion platform, or ButtKickers, we do not advise using an integrated, because the monitors will also vibrate/move.
Free standing are more versatile, allowing you much more adjustability (you can move it wherever you want), so tend to be the most popular, and when properly setup their footprint can be very small, so they too are space efficient if necessary.
The Sim-Lab Triple Monitor Stand is the best monitor stand available - very strong, adjustable, and customisable (with a quad monitor mount if desired) - does everything you could ask of a monitor stand.
If you are going to spend thousands on a top sim racing setup, then you need good monitor(s)! There are a number of key factors in choosing a suitable gaming monitor, the most important being a high refresh rate (ideally 144Hz or higher) and minimal input lag (<4ms). Resolution, so long as Full HD or higher, is really not that important.
There are 2 general pathways people choose for monitors:
1) Triple monitors: from our experience and feedeback from customers, the AOC C27G1 and Benq EX3203R are both very good monitors, either as a single (or more often) part of a triple monitor setup;
2) Single Ultrawide monitor - these monitors have a unique and striking form factor, so are favoured by many, like Samsung LC49HG90DMUXEN
A good seat is simply a necessity if you want an authentic sim racing experience - budget level seats like the Motamec GT02 are great for beginners; if your budget is higher, then the Sparco Circuit II QRT is perfect. If you are wanting a professional setup with an FIA-approved seat, then Racetech RT9119HRW is an ultra-premium handmade carbon kevlar seat, weighing only 4.5kg - epic!
Shifters - Budget: Thrustmaster TH8A ; Premium: Frex GP Hshift+ 2018
The TH8A is by no means a new product, but it has to feature in here, as we don't know of a better shifter for the money. It's both a manual H-pattern and sequential shifter: Manual is 7 forward gears + reverse, and switching to sequential shifter is as easy as changing the top plate.
There are lots of accessories, like short shift plates, and the knob is universal, so you can swap it out if you wish. The design is robust and stylish too, and price is about £150, so it's decent value. Or if you want a better Sequential Shifter, that is also able to function as a Handbrake, them check out the Thrustmaster TSS Sparco Mod +
Premium: Fanatec ClubSport Pedals V3
Ultra-premium: Heusinkveld Sim Pedals Ultimate
When it comes to authentic driving, you MUST have a good set of pedals - your speed essentially depends on your inputs of the accelerator and brake (aside from steering of course). Our favourite pedals are the Heusinkveld Sim Pedals Ultimate, a well priced and very high quality pedal set.
Handbrakes - Budget: Thrustmaster TSS Mod +
The TSS Mod + is a lovely product. Sleek, stylish and reliable, it is a dual-function Handbrake & Sequential Shifter, compatible with PC, PS4 and Xbox One. It's a Best Selling accessory, and one of the first we recommend you buy.
Motion platforms - Next Level Racing Traction+ Motion Platform
The Traction + Motion Platform by Next Level Racing was introduced in the 2018 Sim Racing Expo at the Nürburgring, and it was immediately very popular.
5) Over to you now...
So you have your setup ready - well done! 🎉🥂🎉
You're now fully prepared to enter the world of sim racing!
Along the way you'll meet some great people, no doubt have successes and failures, but who knows - it could be you who wins the big championship prize...🤩
Upshift will be here all the time to help with all your sim racing needs.
See you online!
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Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author, and do not represent the views of Upshift Store Ltd or any of its employees or contractors or other groups/individuals.