In real life, most of us will never have the chance to drive a Ferrari Enzo or take on the hairpins of a Formula One track. Thanks to the magic of racing sim video games, though, we can get pretty close at home!
If you’re a motorsport-loving gamer who’s been thinking about taking the leap to sim racing, we’ve got you covered with the key info you need. Up ahead, we’ll talk about the basics of sim racing, the gear you need to get started, and more.
Is Sim Racing for You?
Before you invest in a racing sim, it’s worth thinking about whether sim racing fits what you’re looking for. If you’ve mostly played arcade racers like the Need for Speed series, be aware that sim racing is a different experience. Little details like tire wear matter, and you won’t be bumping and sideswiping other racers (at least, if you want to make friends). Plus, many sim racers spend hours tweaking and tuning their virtual rides.
Of course, for most sim racer players, the differences are the point! If you’re ready for a realistic driving experience, sim racing will definitely scratch the itch. However, before you drop money on a racing wheel and other sim racing essentials, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Watch some videos of different sim racing titles and leagues, noting what you like and don’t like. Not only will this help you determine whether sim racing fits your interests, but it’ll also help you figure out which game you’d like to start with.
What Do You Need to Start Sim Racing?
First off, if you’re worried you’ll need to drop a whole paycheck on a full racing cockpit setup, don’t be. It’s easy to get started sim racing with only a few key components, which include:
- Gaming Platform: Sim racing lovers often prefer PC, but the PS5 and Xbox Series X are also perfectly good places to start. If you choose PC, be sure that your computer’s specs are sufficient to run the racing sim you want to play.
- Gaming Monitor: You’ll want a high-quality monitor with a good refresh rate. Anything 60Hz or higher will work, but most sim players find that 120Hz and up provides the best experience. As a general rule, the wider your monitor, the better. You don’t have to spring for an ultrawide or one of those fancy triple monitor setups out of the gate, but a wider monitor will give you a wider field of view, which is a big help in racing.
- Steering Wheel: Most racing sims aren’t optimized for standard gamepad controllers, so you’ll really want a racing wheel (and pedals) if you plan to get into sim racing. Gear drive steering wheels are the most affordable and basic type, while belt drive and direct drive wheels are pricier but provide more force feedback and a more immersive experience. You can either attach your wheel to a desk or table or purchase a racing wheel stand to hold it.
- Pedals: The other must-have controller for sim racing is a set of pedals, which usually include gas, brake, and clutch pedals. Potentiometer pedals are the most affordable, but many sim racing lovers recommend moving up to load cell-based pedals as soon as you can afford them for better force feedback and braking performance.
Of course, plenty of other elements can add to your sim racing experience — from shifter controllers to sim racing cockpits. Check out some of the racing sim builders online to see the many options available and discover the possibilities for your racing rig.
Which Sim Racing Game Is for You?
For beginners, it’s a good idea to pick one sim and spend some time learning how it works. The learning curve of sim racing means the fun often really starts once you’ve mastered a game enough to begin diving into the details of its different cars, mods, tracks, and more.
Here’s a basic list (although far from a comprehensive one!) of some of today’s most popular racing sims:
- Assetto Corsa Competizione: One of the most immersive and graphically impressive sim racers out there right now, ACC is a powerful contender for top sim racing title. It’s undeniably challenging to master, but you’ll find a rich and rewarding game once you’ve put some time in.
- Gran Turismo 7: This PS5-exclusive racer is the latest in a long and beloved line of sim racing games. It’s on the lighter end of sims as far as realism and learning curve, and the latest installment includes the series’ signature jaw-dropping graphics.
- iRacing: For the hardcore sim racer who wants the absolute most realistic experience possible, the venerable iRacing (released all the way back in 2008!) continues to dominate. It’s known for unforgiving (but realistic) physics and a strict penalty system, and it requires you to buy cars and tracks separately from your monthly subscription to the software.
- DiRT Rally 2.0: Rally and rallycross lovers swear by this title, which brings dirt track racing into your home with a surprisingly sophisticated balance of realism and accessibility.
- Forza Motorsport 7: The Xbox’s answer to Gran Turismo, the Forza series is known for its more arcade-like elements that make it a great entry point to sim racing. True arcade racing lovers should also check out its more wide-open Forza Horizon sister series.
Tips for New Sim Racing Players
Getting the gear is only part of the sim racing experience. Here are a few tips to get you off the starting line quickly:
- Start out practicing on a small number of cars and tracks to master the game’s basics.
- Take some slow solo laps on every new track to figure out braking points and racing lines before you try to race that course.
- Use the assists like driving line and auto clutch if you find them helpful, but remember that you’ll probably want to turn them off eventually and don’t get over-reliant.
- Remember that avoiding contact with other drivers is a high priority in most sim leagues, so use caution and avoid aggressive overtaking.
One final tip: Don’t be afraid to reach out to the extensive sim racing community online! Not only will you pick up tips, but you’ll also probably make some friends to race with along the way.