How to get started with sim racing?
If you've been following the latest news from the world of motorsport, you may have seen something unusual that has made its way into the headlines.
The growth of "eSports" has become a worldwide trend, with Formula 1 even launching an official eSports tournament including the majority of the teams from the real-life championship. But isn't this simply a bunch of youngsters having fun with video games? Actually, it has far deeper origins than that.
What is Sim Racing, exactly?
It's affectionately referred to as "Sim racing" (Simulated Racing) by many in the industry, and it's more relevant in the world of motorsport now than it has ever been.
The skill of developing racing simulators has been around for many years, despite the fact that it may appear to be a relatively new item. In reality, they date back to 1989, but what is the difference between a racing game and a simulation game?
Simply said, racing games were created to give entertainment in a simple, pick-up-and-play format. The sort of games where you pick your favorite automobile and race it on a track or on the road, maybe colliding with other cars, road signs, or other obstacles, and everyone has a good time. They may be played using gamepads, keyboards, or even steering wheels and pedal sets with the use of driving aids, making them accessible to people of various abilities.
A racing simulator, on the other hand, takes the concept of driving a car to a far more detailed and serious level. A simulator is designed to produce the most accurate depiction of driving dynamics possible by simulating real-world physics factors like as tyre grip, traction, suspension geometry, aerodynamics, and more.
Today's simulation software includes complex tyre models with slip angle and sidewall deflection physics, realistic suspension geometry, and tracks that are accurate to 1cm thanks to laser scanning technology. All of this adds together to offer the most accurate simulation of driving a race vehicle imaginable.
Simulators, by their very nature, demand considerably more from the user in terms of concentration, skill, and ability, making them far more specialized than their mainstream driving game counterparts. They have already progressed to the point that many prominent racing teams, from F1 to WEC and V8 Supercars, regard them as a vital tool.
This is not to suggest that simulator software is only for professional teams with large budgets and sophisticated workshops. You may also try out these cutting-edge simulators from the comfort of your own home.
Sim racing (or eSports) is what happens when you mix high-end simulation software with the ability to compete against others in an online setting. Users get the chance to compete against some of the finest drivers in the world, as well as real-life racers that can be discovered online across multiple platforms.
F1 stars Lando Norris and Max Verstappen, Aston Martin driver Nicki Thiim, and DTM driver Daniel Juncadella are all regular online competitors, and there are many more professional drivers!
Why is sim racing so popular right now?
So, while the current generation of simulators is the most realistic we've ever seen, and you may find yourself racing against a real-life driver, you might wonder why you should care when you could be out on the track for real or spectating. Why should you spend your time indoors when you might be out in the world acquiring real-world experience?
There are four important factors to consider:
Let's start with the financial aspect. Granted, acquiring all of the necessary equipment to operate your own simulator might appear to be rather costly, especially if you intend to purchase high-end gear.
However, when you consider how much it costs to attend a track test day, sim racing becomes a more tempting choice. A full day of testing at a racetrack typically costs between €300 and €600. You'll generally receive 4x 35-minute sessions for this. Then add up the quantity of gasoline you'll need for the day; depending on how thirsty your racing vehicle is, you might wind up with a bill of up to €200. Then there are consumables like tyres, brake pads/discs, and so on. This might add a couple of hundred pounds to the total.
You're quickly nearing a four-figure cost for around 90 minutes of track time. This is before you include in the cost of petrol to haul your car to the track, as well as probable overnight accommodations, meals, and other expenses. Not to mention the cost of damage repair if your automobile becomes stuck in a tyre wall while attempting to locate those final few tenths of a second!
On the other hand, after you've set up your simulator at your preferred location, the only charges you'll have are your energy bill and, if your simulator is subscription-based, your membership fee.
You may also easily get the same amount of track time in a single evening.
There is a considerable potential that anything may go wrong when testing on track, as mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Yes, this is all part of the process of "finding the boundaries," but what if you could do it before you ever get to the track?
In a secure and regulated setting, using a simulator helps you to discover your own personal boundaries as well as those of the track. Instead of the day being finished with a costly repair bill or worse, a recovery period due to injury, if you put a wheel on the grass and end up with a heavy crash into the barriers, it's just a question of reset and go again.
The ability to practice automobile control is another benefit of studying in a virtual environment. So, if an event occurs on the real racing track, you'll be better prepared to avoid a major collision or perhaps avoid the collision entirely.
Now, motorsport has always been a hazardous sport, and this inherent danger will always exist, but using a simulator allows you to learn in a safe environment and be better prepared in the event of an accident.
Most top-tier racing teams will have their own simulator or a facility where their drivers may train. This isn't just to kill time between racing weekends; having their drivers spend time on a simulator has real-world advantages.
Even the world's greatest drivers are still learning, so a simulator is an excellent way to improve technique, eyesight, locate reference points for braking or turning in, and even mental qualities like attention, endurance, and confidence. All of these elements may be worked on in a controlled setting where the outcomes are simpler to observe.
Most contemporary simulators have an in-depth data logging function in addition to the realism of their physics and car and course models. This data may be displayed graphically using MoTeC or other real-world systems, enabling you to see data such as throttle and brake position, speed, steering angle, gyro readings, and more. This allows you to analyze your driving technique and identify where you may gain lap time.
You may not only learn how to enhance your driving skills by utilizing a simulator, but you can also learn how to get the most out of your automobile by modifying the setup. You'll be able to see what influence different setup adjustments have on the overall handling of your automobile by doing so. If you come across anything that works, you may look into making a comparable adjustment on your own vehicle.
We are all aware that time is valuable. In reality, it appears like there is less time than ever in today's hectic society. When you think that you only have a few hours on the track when you go testing for a whole day, a lot of this time might be better used.
You can plan your testing around your hectic schedule with a simulator. Within 5 minutes after pushing the power button on your PC, you may be seated in the pitlane, ready to take to the track, or even less if you are already on your PC!
So, whether you have 20 minutes to spend here and there or a couple of hours in the evening, you can jump right in and start studying.
Will sim racing make you faster as a driver?
We'll simply put it out there and say, "Yes, it will."
This isn't to imply that you can turn on your computer, run a few laps, and expect your lap times to reduce by seconds. A variety of elements, such as those listed below, go into making a simulator session work for you:
It's no secret that the mental aspect of driving is just as essential as the actual driver inputs, and sim racing is no exception. Due to the lack of actual movement, it is arguably more vital in the sim racing environment to maintain control of your attention and emotions.
It's easy to think to yourself as you prepare to join the virtual racing track, "It's only a game; if I get off track or crash, I can just restart." Sure, there isn't any actual risk when you're on a simulator, but this attitude not only indicates that you're not taking it seriously enough to learn anything from it, but it may also be harmful when you're on the track for real.
If you approach a simulator session with the intention of avoiding running off the track and driving like you would on a real test day, you will be in a better position to begin learning parts of your driving that you can use in real life.
Furthermore, because there is no actual risk when driving in a simulator, it is very simple to lose concentration on the task at hand. Keeping your focus on the track is an important aspect of any kind of racing. You'll be better equipped to retain your attention behind the wheel of a real automobile if you can keep your focus on a simulator.
Planning makes perfect!
When it comes to sim racing, the old saying "failing to plan is preparing to fail" holds true. A flawless and complete racing driver does not exist. Even the world's finest race drivers are always striving to better their abilities. As a result, there will always be something to work on.
Whether you want to enhance your racing lines, braking technique, throttle application, or steering wheel smoothness, you will find it simpler to observe the effects of your different trials if you start a simulator session with the clear belief that this is what you are working on.
Start by doing a straight line braking practice at a steady speed with a consistent brake marker. Experiment with varied brake pedal applications and keep track of where you end up when you come to a complete stop.
Once you've mastered the ability to reliably reproduce the same outcomes, you may go to a more advanced level where you can experiment with brake bias to observe how it affects braking ability and characteristics. Trail braking, left or right foot braking, heel and toe, and other workouts are all conceivable.
The important thing to remember is that if you give yourself meaningful tasks to complete and then repeat them until they become second nature, you will be adding additional abilities to your repertoire and increasing your confidence. The difficulty is to apply what you've learned in the classroom to the racetrack.
What do I need to get started with sim racing?
First and foremost, the sim racing game will require some sort of hardware to run. To run the most complex simulations, you'll need a computer. While most current home PCs will be able to run the program, you will need a more powerful PC to obtain the greatest performance, as simulators are resource heavy.
Without getting into the nitty gritty of PC component specs, you'll want to be able to run the software at 60 frames per second (frames per second). This implies that the simulator's visual performance will be smooth and free of stuttering. This is critical since any stuttering or leaping will impair your driving and distract from your entire experience. In essence, stuttering is caused by your computer's inability to keep up with the software's calculations.
So, what PC hardware do you require? A PC with a decent mid-range quad core CPU, 16GBof RAM, and a good mid-range graphics card would do as a general reference. A solid state hard drive (SSD) is also recommended because it not only reduces loading times but also speeds up data processing.
It's worth noting that most simulators allow you to choose the amount of graphical detail. This enables you to tweak numerous parameters in order to achieve a greater frame rate. Obviously, a high-spec gaming PC is required to use every feature to its full potential, but it can be made to work on most PCs.
After you've straightened out your computer, you'll need a monitor to utilize it. It is entirely up to you which monitor you choose, but there are a few essential factors to consider before making your decision.
When choosing a monitor, the reaction rate is the most crucial factor to consider. This is the amount of time it takes for a picture to appear on the monitor. The shorter the response time, the less noticeable the lag will be. You'll almost certainly want a monitor with HD capability for the greatest visual quality. However, not all high-definition displays are created equal.
At the very least, you'll want to utilize a monitor that can display images at 1080p quality. You may easily boost this resolution to 4K super HD depending on your budget, but keep in mind that you'll need a PC that can produce these images at the required frame rate of at least 60 frames per second.
After you've decided on the sort of monitor you'll use, you should think about the monitor configuration you'll employ. You have three options to choose from.
To get the most out of your simulator, you'll need some additional hardware in addition to the PC and display. A steering wheel and pedals are essential, but there's much more to it than that.
Firstly, let’s take a look at the steering wheel itself. There are many different types of wheel available on the market. However, there are some distinct differences to be aware of.
The main thing to look for is a feature called force feedback. This is where the wheel base contains a motor which provides the user with a representation of the feedback which you would expect to feel through the wheel.
This implies that if you have oversteer, the wheel will instinctively try to rotate in the opposite direction of how you are steering, exactly as it would in real life. The shock from kerb hits, bumps on the road, and traction loss will all be felt.
It's worth noting that force feedback wheels come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Gear-driven force feedback systems are common on entry-level wheels, while some mid-range systems use a belt-driven motor. A direct drive servo motor is found on the most modern wheels.
But why would you choose one to the other? The cost would be the most important consideration. A basic wheel with pedals may be had for about €200, but a direct drive wheel can cost anywhere from €600 to over €2000.
Although some steering wheels come with pedals, they are frequently indistinguishable from how you would anticipate a pedal to feel. They frequently have a linear pedal curve and provide little resistance to pressing.
Separate pedal systems, on the other hand, can more closely resemble the sensation of a true pedal box. The pedal systems from DC Sim Racing Pedals, which employ load cell sensors to give exceptional pedal performance, are a superb example of this. Each pedal responds in the manner that you would anticipate. The brake pedal may also be adjusted to demand up to 100kg of braking power!
After you've sorted out all of the controller gear, you'll need a place to put it all together. The basic office desk might do for an entry-level system, since many steering wheel systems provide a table clamp installation option. If you're going to utilize a desk, make sure it doesn't have a chamfered edge, otherwise you won't be able to install the wheel base firmly.
The second alternative is to purchase one of the various sim racing cockpits on the market, which are typically built of steel tubing and include a race-style seat. These take up more area in a room, but they have the benefit of allowing you to get a more comfortable driving posture and securely installing your steering wheel and pedals so that they don't come free while driving.
An aluminium profile, or 80/20 rig, such as those from Sim-Lab, SimXPro or Trak Racer, is the way to go for more adjustability. They not only have a lot of adjustability in the way they're set up, but they're also rock solid and have no flex. This makes them suitable for use with direct drive or high-strength force feedback wheels, as well as pedals with high brake loads.
There is a GT, Formula or Rally seat option with these cockpits, but you can pick your own seat, which means you may choose a seat that best suits your body type and adds a higher level of comfort, or utilize one you currently have.
You will need to supply your own seat for these cockpits, but this means you may select a seat that best suits your body type and provides a higher level of comfort.
They're also quite customizable, and they may be updated as needed. So, if you require an extra mount to accommodate a keyboard tray or speakers, you may do so later.
Motion system or platforms are used in the top sim racing cockpits to give even more realism and driver input. To mimic forces and traction loss, these systems physically move in relation to the simulator software. However, these systems are on the more expensive side of the spectrum.
What are the best sim racing games?
Let's have a look at the simulator games/software that's currently available now that you've figured out what PC and controllers you'll need.
There are several options accessible, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. If you ask someone who is actively involved in sim racing, they will almost certainly tell you that "Simulator X" is better than "Simulator Y" because one of their friends knows someone who has driven a vehicle on track and says it is realistic.
The fact is that you won't be able to tell if what you feel through the steering wheel is true or not unless you've driven the same vehicle on the exact track and in the exact circumstances with the exact same setup.
The majority of sim racers have their own program of choice. This is generally determined by what information is accessible and what they believe would provide them with the optimum driving experience. You'll ultimately discover a simulator that meets your needs, but there are a few stumbling blocks to overcome first.
When it comes to picking the proper simulator software for you, the first piece of advise is to "don't take a genuine racing driver's word for it." Wait, what's that? Surely, a race driver's viewpoint would be the most credible, given that they are supposed to know what they're talking about. Surely, if a piece of software claims to be "the most realistic driving experience ever" or "as near to driving a real automobile as it gets," it must be quite good? Not always, to be sure.
The easiest way to tell if a simulator is excellent is to look at what drivers use in real life. On the virtual circuits of numerous simulators, many of the world's finest drivers may be discovered, but which ones?
Let's take a look at a few of the most popular simulators accessible right now.
Assetto Corsa Competizione
This simulation racing game has been playable on PC since 2019, where thanks to numerous updates, Assetto Corsa Competizione has found a nice place next to sim racing greats rFactor 2 and iRacing. Relatively small developer Kunos Simulazioni has now gone the extra mile by porting the title to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, following on from the adequate port the original got in 2016.
However, the transfer does not make a very good first impression. In terms of modeling and lighting, this version certainly does not surpass the original game and the image refresh rate - in the best case, when there are not too many other cars on the track - remains at roughly thirty frames per second. With the emphasis on say, because technical measurements point to quite a bit of inconsistency above and below that number. In addition, the game uses dynamic resolution, which sometimes results in blurry images.
In terms of graphics and clarity, Assetto Corsa Competizione is actually a mess
Even worse is the very cluttered interface, from the unclear menu structure to the inability to assign all vital functions of a race car to all buttons on a controller or racing wheel. We are clearly dealing here with a PC SIM that technically runs on current game computers (apart from a few crashes and glitches), but is far from optimized in terms of player experience.
However, this is where the good news begins: the in-depth physics of the PC version have remained intact on PS4 and Xbox One, which translates into exceptionally realistic driving behavior and possibilities to fine-tune your car. This is pre-eminently a racing game that requires you to sit down, both to train and to set up your car for the ideal lap, before you can seriously compete with others. Just like in real racing, there are many factors to take into account, especially during a long-distance race on one of the more iconic tracks (including the old Circuit Zandvoort), where the dynamic day and night cycle does not only provide light and dark as well as varying temperatures.
iRacing, which was first released in 2008, provides users with a fully detailed racing experience. Don't be deceived by the simulation's age; the development team is always striving to enhance it and add new material.
The program is based on a subscription model, with more material such as vehicles and circuits costing extra money, but it also includes regular organized races and a safety rating to try to improve driving standards.
Every piece of content in iRacing has been laser scanned and is fully licensed. This indicates that the level of precision is really high. Each track, for example, is exact to 1cm and includes every bump and gradient variation that you would encounter on the real circuit. Even reference points such as marshal posts and trees are exactly where you'd expect them to be.
The automobiles themselves are designed in conjunction with the manufacturer, and real-world data is used to guarantee that they are as realistic as possible.
The material includes a wide range of sports, with oval racing, circuit racing, rallycross, and dirt oval all being included.
When professional teams discuss their simulator systems, the rFactor platform is almost always mentioned.
The first public version of rFactor, which was built on a sophisticated physics engine, leaned largely on the sim racing community for “modded” material. As a result, rFactor's most advanced users will be able to generate their own material for use in the simulator. In terms of quality, the outcomes were uneven, but the amount of information that became available was vast and varied.
While the second installment of this simulator still allows users to generate their own material, it has taken the road of offering more legally licensed content to its users.
Not only has the content altered, but there are also new sophisticated features such as dynamic wet weather with variable circumstances, better tyre physics with sidewall deflection and flat-spotting, and chassis dynamics with chassis flex.
These characteristics, along with one of the finest force feedback systems on the market, result in a very comprehensive driving experience.
The majority of the possibilities are focused on circuit racing, but there is a broad range of alternatives to meet most individual preferences.
Are there any other sim racing games?
Of course, there are more simulators to choose from, such as Automobilista, Raceroom Racing Experience, and Assetto Corsa. These simulators each have their own unique characteristics and are exceptional in their own right.
If you're not sure which simulator software is best for you, do some research online and see what other people have to say about it. Race Department, which has a vibrant online community and hosts regular racing events, is an excellent place to start.
Alternatively, you may send an email to [email protected], and our staff of sim racing fans will be happy to provide you some tips and advise.
To sum it up
So there you have it: your whole guide to sim racing. If you want to build your own simulator, you'll discover that it's not only a wonderful way to prepare for racing weekends, but it's also a lot of fun!
You may also follow a number of popular Sim Racers on YouTube to see some of their races and get a better understanding of the sim racing scene.
If you still have concerns about what equipment you'll need or how to get started with sim racing, please contact our team at the email address shown above, and they'll be delighted to help.