The next 6 days are somewhat pivotal in the history of the health of the US. We haven’t faced a pandemic in 100 years, and the exponential spread of COVID-19 is very concerning. Lots of events are being cancelled from the local schools to the NBA. During this time of social distancing, one activity that is seeing a surge in popularity is sim racing. So I thought I would do a short series of daily posts on sim racing as we buckle down and survive these next 6 days (or whatever it is).
Last post, which was just yesterday, I was talking about how you don’t have the same senses in the virtual world. Because of that you need as much information as possible from the senses that do work. The system requirements for the two most popular PC platforms, iRacing and Assetto Corsa, are pretty low. And some racing setups are around $100. But just because you can get away with a bargain, doesn’t mean you should. The minimum rig is okay for playing around, but it’s not a virtual trainer or a formula for winning a sim race. So let’s talk about 3 components that really matter.
The typical 1080p monitor isn’t that good for sim racing. When you consider your field of view (FOV) in a real car, and the fact that you can turn your head side-to-side, the FOV of a 1080p monitor is very limiting. Depending on how far the monitor is placed from your face, your FOV may be 40-50 degrees. How are you supposed to look through corners or see cars on your sides? Well, you can bind keys to look sideways, and you can use products like TrackIR to have your camera respond to head movements. But to me, that’s like being a horse with blinders on (not that I’m a horse and would actually know).
An ultra-wide monitor is one option. Myself, I have a curved 2560×1080 unit. It’s better, but honestly not that great. You get a much better sense of immersion with triple monitors or VR. I’ve tried both and I prefer triple monitors. Not only is the picture quality better, it didn’t make me want to vomit. Also, I don’t have to wear a bulky headpiece that blinds me to the real world. Triple monitors are a little cheaper and don’t require as much video processing power. They do take up a lot more space however.
Next up is the brake pedal. I think when most people go shopping for sim rigs, they first consider the wheel. But the brake pedal is really critical for training your muscle memory. Most of the pedals that come bundled with a wheel are crap because the brake force is interpreted as the distance the pedal travels. That’s not how the brake pedal in your car works. Some brake pedals have progressive resistance (e.g. G29), which is better than a simple spring, but what you really want is a load cell, preferably with hydraulics. Fanatec sets range from $200-600 and Thrustmaster has the T-LCM coming out soon for $200. If you want to get into hydraulics, you can mod a G25/G27/G29 for $250 (that’s what I do) or spend around $1000 for the boutique stuff.
The stronger the wheel motor, the more realistic the force feedback will feel. Since the wheel is the only device that is giving you any tactile feedback, it’s the #1 most important part of your rig. At the top end are the direct drive wheels. The motors on these range from $1000-$3000. That’s just the motor. You still need to attach a wheel to it. Next up are the belt drive wheels from Thrustmaster and Fanatec in the $300-600 range. Not all of the bases have the same motors. The product page usually says what the maximum torque is. Get the wheel with the strongest motor you can afford. If you can’t afford Thrustmaster or Fanatec, you can have some fun with a Logitech. But you’ll have more fun, more racing success, and more authentic training with something better.
If you’re serious about sim racing, expect to pay $1000-1500 for just these 3 components. To that you still have to add the computer, software, shifter (optional), cockpit (optional), and button boxes (optional). Altogether, you’re out $1500-3000.
Tomorrow: false laziness
4 thoughts on “Suck Less at Sim Racing (5/10) hardware matters”
Couple of follow up questions:
1) Can or have you already in a prior post tell me how to mod my G27 brake pedal?
2) I use data in “real” racing, and figured out how to view iRacing data in Track Attack, but I have yet to figure out how to see data from competitors (who are faster). Please assist.
(2) iSpeed is what I used previously, but it hasn’t been updated since 2017, so I don’t know if it’s still in use. Virtual Racing School and Pure Driving School let you download Pro lap data for a small monthly fee.
I just finished my shifter yesterday, an eight position H pattern hall effect unit. It’s pretty good and totally changes how you drive from paddle shifters.
I made my own hydraulic brake load cell to replace the G920 squish sensor. I used a $20 amazon pressure sensor, stuff I had laying around in the garage and a lathe. I might change the pressure sensor to a lower full range pressure, the pedal maxes out with around 90lbs of force and it’s a bit much.
I use a single 32″ monitor. It’s pretty close and gives me around 55* horizontal FOV.
Too bad I can’t post a picture of the whole rig, It’s reasonably sweet.
The shifter and load cell sound like fun projects. I actually bought a pack of 8 load cells at one time. I think I was going to use them on the race car, but not sure now what I was thinking.