Mario and I were talking the other day about a minimal iRacing rig: something that would let you participate in iRacing if you didn’t have the space for a dedicated rig. How small could you go? On the computing side, there’s no reason you can’t use a laptop. iRacing is actually pretty forgiving in terms of GPUs and even integrated GPUs can work. But what about controllers? Gamepad? Joystick? Keyboard and mouse?
Years ago, before I discovered World of Warcraft, I used to play a lot of WWII flight simulators (WarBirds, Aces High, Targetware, Battleground Europe, IL-2). I had this idea that I would get back to those games so I purchased a new joystick. When it comes to flight sims, I am not hard core. I don’t use pedals or a full HOTAS: just a single stick. When my eye caught the design of the VKB Gladiator Mk2, I thought it was going to be way outside my price range. I found it from a US distributor with free shipping for under $100. When I found out it was a replica of a BF109 stick, I was sold. BF109s are some of my favorite planes to fly.
To replicate the experience of a minimal rig, I installed iRacing on my backup PC, which has a GTX750 graphics card (Passmark 3249, not bad) and a 20″ 1080p TV screen monitor (horrible). This isn’t actually that low end, so I may have to try installing iRacing on my MacBook Air next.
For the joystick, I had this idea that I could use the pitch axis to control throttle, brakes, or both, but it didn’t work for me. It just felt too alien. I ended up configuring the throttle slider on the left side of the base as the car’s throttle and the thumb firing button for the brake. Yep, on/off brake switch. As long as I drive cars with ABS, that might work okay. To keep my life simple, I chose automatic transmission.
The 24 Hours of Lemons iRacing league is at Lime Rock Park this week, so I decided to test there.
- Lime Rock Park Grand Prix configuration
- Pontiac Solstice with baseline setup
- Default weather
In my first session of 20 laps, my best lap was a 1:06.851. That’s actually not that horrible. In the next session, I got down to 1:06.300. What’s more surprising is that my optimal lap time was in the mid 1:05s. That’s only a second off what I do with my full rig. However, if you look at the distribution of lap times, you would see a very different story. With my full rig, all of my laps are 1:05 or better. On an entry-level wheel, like a G29 or T150, I’d have some laps in the 1:06s. With the joystick, I’m getting darn close to 1:05, but my laps are all over the place from 1:06 to 1:08. It’s hard to make adjustments when you can’t feel what the car is doing.
I don’t have a typical game controller with thumb sticks, so I can’t test how well that works. I haven’t spent any time with console games, so I would be terrible anyway. But I’ll bet that people who have lots of hours on consoles probably could be pretty fast. I don’t think joysticks or game pads are a good way to train for driving in the real world. But force feedback steering wheels are.
So, can you do iRacing with a minimal rig? Yeah, I think you can as long as you mitigate your expectations. I’m going to try racing with a joystick in the next Lemons iRacing event. I’ll report back on how well that goes.
I barely made it into the 1:05s, but yeah, 1:05.967.