Did you happen to catch any Nascar races this year? If you did, you might’ve noticed something was a little… different. That’s right, thanks to the pandemic, even the greatest names in racing switched to SIM racing.
Lucky for you, you don’t need to have Bubba Wallace’s salary to be able to join in on the fun, there’s a cheap way to get on the racetrack without spending your entire life savings, and hell, maybe this is the start of your professional racing career!
Before you do anything, you need to pick your system. You don’t want to spend hundreds on a wheel just to find it doesn’t work with your system.
There are pretty much three options for a SIM racing platform: PC, Playstation, or Xbox. And if you already own one of these, then obviously the most cost effective route is just to stick with what you’ve already got, instead of droppin’ dough on something new. But if you’re new to the game and you don’t have any of these three, I’d recommend going with a PC.
I know, a console is cheap. $400 and you’re done. And that’s fair! But you’re really limiting yourself, and with the PS5 and new Xbox coming, why buy a console now?
If you already have a Playstation or an Xbox, you don’t have to spend much to start SIM racing. If you don’t, but you’re committed to the console, I’d recommend you get a Playstation, just so you can get into the world of Gran Turismo Sport.
But either way, you’ll just be delaying the inevitable! You’re going to want to go PC at some point. It may be a higher price point to begin with, but it’s worth it! There are far more options in terms of hardware and software that are compatible with PCs as compared to Xbox or Playstation. And there are far more options of which PC you can get depending on what your budget is.
If you’re building it yourself, you can build your own PC for around $500, but keep in mind you’ll still need a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, and more. Now, I won’t go into EXACTLY how to build a $500 PC, there’s plenty of other YouTubers doing that for you, but it’s realistic to expect to have everything you need for around $700 bucks. Or, if you or your family already has a desktop PC, you could probably use some of it’s parts and make yourself a decent gaming rig for much less. Bonus: building a PC is really fun!
Now if you’re afraid of building it yourself, there are sellers like SkyTech on Amazon that have pre-builts for around $650 that’ll get the job done.
Luckily, most SIM racing titles aren’t that demanding, and can run on some pretty low end gear, so try not to overspend in this area and keep that cash for where it really counts… the wheel.
What’s the deal… with the wheel? Well, I’m glad you asked. One of the first steps on your journey to becoming a SIM racing stud is buying a wheel.
Now, technically, most SIM racing games are compatible with a normal Playstation or Xbox controller. I’ve literally seen people competing in iRacing with a keyboard… but if you’re playing with one of these, it’s barely even SIM racing at all. How many cars do you know that are controlled by four little buttons and a joystick?
You want to feel your hands gripped around a real wheel and your feet pressing down on real pedals as you rip through the turns of the track. That’s why you have to get a wheel and pedal set.
If you’re expecting a wheel and pedal set to cost you a fortune, you might be pleasantly surprised. Hands down, if I were to recommend any wheel and pedal setup, out of the box, it’s got to be the Logitech G29 or G920 or even the new G923 they just announced. The Logitech is probably the best wheel and pedal set out there for people who are looking to try out SIM racing, and don’t want to commit six figures to the sport.
But it isn’t exactly cheap, they’re about $320 right now. If that’s out of your price range, and if you don’t mind something used, the G25 and G27, the predecessors to the G29, are also available used on sites like Amazon or eBay for about $150 bucks and give you nearly the same experience.
Nearly… but not quite. The other major company that makes wheels for buyers on a budget is Thrustmaster. And while their setups are a bit more expensive, it may be worth looking into one of their models if you got a little more spare change. You should expect to pay anywhere from $250 to $1,000 for a good Thrustmaster setup.
I know. I thought we were talking cheap? It takes some moolah to get into this game, but I always remind myself what I spent to race and drift cars in real life. And in that regard, this is cheap.
Now, when it comes to finding the best wheel and pedal set, the major factor to consider is what’s called force-feedback. It’s basically how much strength your wheel has to simulate road surfaces, traction, suspension and damage as you hold it in your hands.
For example, even minute track imperfections are actually programmed into race SIMs. And so, being able to feel where the track is a bit more slippery and where the dents and bumps are is going to help your lap times, and keep you out of the wall, not to mention make the experience feel all the more real. Plus, where’s the fun if you can’t feel that sweet engine rumble when you stomp on the gas?
The wheel and pedal sets we mentioned before are definitely solid when it comes to force-feedback, and essentially, the more you spend, the better it gets. But a $200 wheel will get you the same lap time as a $2000 direct drive setup in almost all cases. So for first-time SIMers, probably stick with the budget the stuff. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door, or get your foot on the gas, I should say.
I guess I should also mention that there are some options even cheaper than a Logitech or a Thrustmaster out there, like some of these $100 Amazon specials. But most of them aren’t even worth the shipping prices it takes to get them. Sure they’ll work for a day or two, but almost immediately you’ll start finding faults and just end up buying a higher-end wheel.
So you got your system, you got a sweet new SIM racing wheel, and you’re ready to login and hit the virtual road. But wait. Which SIM should you start your career on?
Well, this is where what system you chose in step one really matters. You see, there are plenty of racing SIMs out there, but they’re not all available to everyone.
If you have a PC, the world’s your oyster. There’s tons of titles from arcade games to full-on SIMs that the pros use.
But if you’re running on an Xbox or Playstation. You only have a few options. Some are console exclusive, like Gran Turismo Sport. And some are fun, but just not really SIMs, like Forza and Need for Speed.
But fret not, you can still have a ton of fun on any platform, especially with the universally available games like Assetto Corsa, Dirt Rally, F1 2020, Assetto Corsa Competizione or Project Cars. All are solid SIMs, they’re not the best in the business, but you get a huge variety of cars, tracks and things like day-night cycles and weather. Most feature pretty robust multiplayer, especially Assetto Corsa Competizione and Project Cars, with ranks and safety ratings ensuring that you get matched up with people that play fair.
Now, if you’re on PC, you can find these games going up for sale on Steam for huge discounts regularly. Yet another reason why PC is the best platform!
And if you know you’re serious about SIM racing, all roads eventually lead to iRacing, the SIM that’s so good, they televised virtual NASCAR events on TV during the pandemic rather than hold real events, and is the sim of choice for professionals.
Now iRacing isn’t cheap, and I could make an entire post on how to get into iRacing. Just know, eventually, you’ll probably be looking into it if you get bit by the SIM racing bug.
So yeah, no matter what platform you choose, there’s a fun, affordable game for you. And at this point, you don’t need to spend any more cash. A system, a wheel, and a game and you’re mostly good to go.
To kick your SIM racing experience into the next gear, having the right rig can really make you feel like you’re strapped in the driver’s seat. But do you have to shell out a ton of cash to get a fancy rig?
If you’ve looked up SIM racing on YouTube, or have a friend who’s super into it, you probably have an image in your mind of someone sitting in a super legit, super expensive racing rig. Especially the ones with all the motion simulation and 3 monitors hanging off them.
But do you really need one of these to start SIM racing? The answer, quite simply, is no. Sure, it’ll make you feel like your sitting in the cockpit of a high-powered racecar. And sure, it might impress your friends that are also into SIM racing. But you don’t need some giant aluminum monstrosity like mine to be competitive in SIM racing. And you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get your wheel in the proper position either.
Now, the cheapest way: get your G29 or G920, and just clamp it to your desk, put your pedals underneath and you’re good to go. Having a solid support will make you a more consistent racer. Nothing like having your pedals go flying when you slam on the brakes to ruin your lap time.
If you really feel the need to get a real rig, there are definitely some semi-affordable options out there. Racing wheel stands start at around $100 on Amazon, like this VEVOR stand for $98, which will work with your office chair and folds away flat when you’re not using it. They’re pretty handy. However, it’s going to feel more like you’re driving a big rig, than a formula one car with it’s seating position.
Another good budget option that can really give you that immersive experience is the Playseat Challenge, which is a chair and a rig for your wheel and pedals all built in one that folds away and fits in a closet when you’re done. I used one of these for a few years and I honestly can say it’s one of the best deals in SIM rigs ever.
Now, the rig I’m using today is a SIM-Lab Evo, and I think I spent about $700 to get it to this point, which is definitely not cheap.
But what is cheap, is building a rig from scratch yourself out of… plumbing! PVC tubing, steel pipes, and wood are all great raw materials to make a killer rig. There’s a variety of resources for finding plans and steps to do this online, and you can even use things like a seat from a car at the junkyard to keep costs low, if you have the tools and know how, you can actually build a really nice rig for around $100.
Whatever you decide to do, I hope you’ve realized that you don’t need a million bucks in the bank to get into SIM racing. And no matter how much you spend, you won’t be any faster without seat time. So get your hands on a wheel, and get lapping! With that, I hope all you aspiring SIM racers are ready to go pick up your gear and get on the track!