A Buyer’s Guide for the Beginning Sim Racer – The Extended Version, Part Two
So you want to join the PC-based sim racing world. Perhaps you’ve dabbled in console games like Gran Turismo or Forza and are looking for improved realism. Maybe you’re a racer who wants greater access to off-season training and competition. In any case, getting started in sim racing can be incredibly overwhelming. What’s the best wheel for me? What computer specs matter? What are triple monitors? This guide will walk you through those basics and help you assess what you have, what you need, and the best solution for your budget. These recommendations are based primarily on experience with iRacing, the go-to leader in sim racing.
In Part One, we covered “non-racing-specific” equipment - your PC, monitors, and sound hardware.
In Part Two, we’ll tackle the rest of the tools needed to get on the virtual track – your cockpit, wheel, and pedals.
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Your Foundation – The Cockpit
The best wheel in the world is worthless if what it is mounted to flexes all over the place. If your seat gets uncomfortable after three laps, you won’t be very quick or have much fun for that matter. Therefore, it’s appropriate to start with the backbone of your setup, prioritizing solid construction, and comfort. The GTR Simulator GTA is a quality build offering adjustable everything. Its sister option, the GTR Simulator GTA-F with Monitor Stands, offers the same benefits as the GTA but adds stands for one or three monitors and is incredibly tough to beat as a comprehensive solution. The popular Playseat Challenge is an affordable alternative if space and/or cost are your main priorities. This foldable rig intentionally lacks the structural integrity of its competitors so that it can be tucked away when not in use.
The Touchpoints – Your Wheel and Pedals
Similar to how the only touchpoints of a car to the road are its tires, the gear we use to physically transmit inputs to the virtual world is vital. Also, like tires, our options are quite variable in cost and quality. Some wheels come with pedals. Some wheels must actually be purchased separately from their matching wheelbase.
The main consideration for wheels is whether to spring for a belt-only force feedback system or if a belt&gear hybrid force feedback system will suffice. I started with a belt&gear wheel and had no qualms…until I tried a belt-only wheel where the improved smoothness was immediately apparent. For pedals, I must recommend a setup with a load-cell brake. This means the brake pedal is pressure-sensitive just like a real car.
The best setup I can recommend starts with a Thrustmaster T300RS Servo Base. The T300RS is one of those examples that does not actually come with a wheel. It is relatively common to swap wheels based on the type of car being driven, and this wheelbase offers quick-release technology to facilitate this. If like me, you don’t feel the need for this luxury, the T300RS is still an excellent value as Thrustmaster’s top of the line belt-drive offering. I’d pair it with a Thrustmaster Sparco Rally Wheel R 383. This suede-wrapped wheel feels appropriate in most cars with its realistic diameter and traditional round shape. Thrustmaster’s new T-LCM load-cell pedals complete our set on the back of incredible reviews.
A more affordable wheel solution uses one of the Thrustmaster TMX / Thrustmaster T150RS twins. Both include the wheel and wheelbase and differ only in that the TMX was designed to be compatible with Xbox products in addition to PC, while the T150RS offers PC and Playstation compatibility. I started with the TMX and had no desire to upgrade for a long while. These wheels come with basic pedals but replacing them with T-LCMs creates a strong package.
If you can’t swing a load-cell set but still desire a clutch pedal, the Thrustmaster T150 Pro Racing Wheel is a solid solution. Future pedal upgrades are still an option with this choice too.