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  • What is a Sim Racing Rig and how do I build one?

    Sim Racing rig

    Sim Racing rigs come in many shapes, styles and sizes. Some use them for fun while professional race car drivers use them for training.

    Anyone who sim races will tell you there is a matter of preference in rigs. Some Sim Racers prefer gaming in virtual reality, while others prefer a triple monitor set-up.

    But there are several key components to a Sim Racing rig. New to Sim Racing? Check out our Basic Guide.

    Racing Edge spoke to Jim Hill of Classic Race Simulators, based in the United Kingdom, about what it takes to build a Sim Racing rig good enough to be competitive.

    Classic Race Simulators build beautiful, bespoke sim recreations of iconic race cars from a bygone era. 

    What is a Sim Racing Rig?

    Sim Racing rig

    A Sim Racing rig is essentially a collection of different components you need to go sim racing. They range from basic, entry-level kits for console use – on Xbox or PlayStation – to state-of-the-art, multi-component rigs for serious users.

    Some equipment works specifically with certain rig set-ups or software. So always look at what is compatible with what software you wish to use before you invest.

    Budget is important. In order to be seriously competitive, you will need to invest significantly – there will be some disparity when it comes to budget. Better equipment and technology copes with higher demands of processing information, frame rates and overheating – allowing you to be faster.

    Jim Hill of Classic Race Simulators says: “There is a sense if you have better components, you will be faster. Better computers process graphics faster. If your screen is refreshing faster, or your graphics card is performing better you’re going to get slightly more instantaneous feedback and a slightly better view of what’s happening.”

    Console rigs are usually cheaper and are great for beginners. Console games focus more on the fun and entertainment value rather than ultra-realism. If you use a console, look into manufacturers such as Logitech or Thrustmaster for great budget choices. These set-ups usually include steering wheel, pedals and maybe a shifter. Everything you need to plug in and go racing!

    In this article, we will be specifically talking about Sim Racing rigs for PC/computers. Where the focus of the Sim Racing experience is hyper-realism.

    What you need to make a Sim Racing rig

    There are several key components that make up a Sim Racing rig. Here we break down each part to give a clearer explanation.

    Sim Racing PC

    The first and arguably most important thing you need is a PC (computer). The PC is a key component for Sim Racing as it allows you to download, house and use different platform software to race online.

    The software is the heart of the whole rig, so you need a reasonable computer. Specifically, look out for a PC with a big C: Drive, preferably SSD format so it’s quicker.

    Jim Hill says: “You need a PC with enough space on it. If you buy a 128GB C: Drive, you’ll find when you start loading lots of tracks on the software that you’ll soon run out of space. So if you’re going to invest, get one with as big a C Drive (SSD) as you can afford.”

    The graphics card is equally as important. This is something you can improve on further down the line and they do range in price quite dramatically – anywhere from $400 into the thousands.

    Jim Hill says: “You get what you pay for with a graphics card. The more expensive your graphics card is, the quicker things are going to appear on screen. The sharper the image, the faster and more realistic the experience will be.”

    Sim Racing steering wheel and motor

    Sim Racing wheel

    A Sim Racing rig steering wheel is the main point of contact with the racing simulator. The key thing to note is how responsive the steering wheel is. You get the feeling of the bumps in the road. A good steering wheel is essential for your sim racing rig.

    Sim racing wheels can be bought separately, or you can purchase a complete steering set-up that includes a motor.

    Jim Hill says: “If you’re starting off, a second-hand Logitech G27 is the best option in my point of view. But there are lots available and they range in price.”

    Once you feel ready to invest in a better steering wheel, you can move up to belt-driven models such as the Fanatec Elite set-up. Belt-driven models give more feel – you’ll be able to feel more of the tires and how you connect with the road. You can adjust different elements within the steering to personalise the set-up.

    Then you get into higher budget steering wheel options with direct drive motors. These motors are similar to those used to drive pumps and other heavy mechanical equipment. 

    “You can feel everything – the inertia, the tires, the grip. These motors can range in strength from 10 Nm up to 35 Nm. Fifteen minutes on full-force feedback on a 20 Nm steering wheel will have your arms screaming in pain,” says Jim Hill. “Direct drives are very realistic. They take quite a bit of setting up and you’ve got to be a committed Sim Racer to use them.”

    Sim Racing pedals and shifter

    Pedals

    Once you’ve bought your wheelbase, steering wheel/motor – you’re going to need some pedals for your Sim Racing rig!

    There are pedals to suit all budgets – Thrustmaster and Fanatec provide excellent low-cost options to get you started.

    As you progress, you might look into upgrading pedals to give a more realistic experience. Fanatec and RicmoTech make excellent mid-range pedals. Then you start getting into high-end products. Hydraulic pedals are popular – the resistance is excellent and feels like a real race car.

    If you’re wanting to spend big bucks on pedals, look into models made by Heusinkveld or Tilton as well as Fanatec, Simucube and Bodnar.

    Another key component on a Sim Racing rig is a shifter. The market has many options, so it is important to work out what it is you want to achieve through Sim Racing. If you are looking to compete at high level, then spending more money on better equipment will make a big difference. If you are just looking to enjoy Sim Racing, then consolidating with mid-level equipment will be kinder on the budget.

    Shifters come in so many different styles, so it really is a personal preference. Work out if you prefer a traditionally-shaped H-Block style, or a slicker sequential shift. But it is worth investing in something made from stronger materials and has a better build quality. Avoid buying cheaper plastic models which might easily break with time and use. Many of the aforementioned brands make excellent shifters, so take your time and do your research before deciding on what works best for you.

    Sim Racing monitor

    Sim Racing monitor

    Another important component for your Sim Racing rig – the monitor! This is where you see everything unfolding before your eyes, so it’s important to choose something you’re comfortable with.

    There are many factors to consider when choosing a monitor. The most essential aspects are the monitor’s refresh rate, resolution and response time. There is little point in investing serious money in a monitor which struggles to handle the specifications of your chosen racing simulator.

    Look at monitors with advanced refresh rates and resolution, so you do not suffer lagging when it comes frame rate.

    If you’re a beginner, start with a single monitor to help find your feet. When you are ready to upgrade it comes down to style. Do you want multiple monitors or a Virtual Reality experience?

    Using multiple monitors – such as triple monitors or curve monitors – allows you to see both track and around the car in your peripheral vision. Multiple-monitor Sim Racing rigs give a better sensation of speed compared to single monitors, thus improving the realism.

    Brands such as Samsung, Dell, Acer, LG and AOC offer a great range of single or multiple monitor set-ups for your Sim Racing rig.

    Sim Racing software

    Sim Racing Rig

    Buying the right software for your Sim Racing rig will depend on what you wish to race. Whether that be iRacing, RFactor, Assetto Corsa, Automobilista 2 or RaceRoom – there is a good selection available.

    Focus on the realism of the sim. Being able to alter the car settings is key to picking the right software for you.

    Jim Hill of Classic Race Simulators said: “This is where I think there is a benefit for racing drivers and Sim Racing drivers to really learn about what they’re doing. If you buy the right software, you can start playing around with the settings of your car. The physics for each race car is different. The tracks are incredibly realistic. But the important thing is, if you want to be a serious Sim Racer, you have to be able to make changes to the car settings.”

    He added: “You can change the suspension settings, the gearbox ratio and ride height. Understand how making changes on your race car settings makes a difference. How to make changes and adjust for changes in temperature, changes in track surface and all sorts of things. How changes to that car affect performance.”

    Sim Racing Rig

    Sim Racing rig

    The final main component for your Sim Racing rig – the rig itself! This is the frame to attach your gearbox, pedals, shifter, steering wheel and motor.

    Sim Racing rigs can differ depending on preference, set-up and what format the user wants to race. For example, one rig might be set to mimic a Formula 1 car cockpit. Another rig might have a higher seat position to mimic sports car or rally car racing set-up.

    They also vary in price – look for frames that include a race seat. You will need a sturdy frame to hold all of the components, so stability and build quality are essential. Compatibility with monitors and other components is also something to research before you spend. Is the frame compatible with the steering wheel you need?

    Brands such as Playseat, Openwheeler, VEVOR, Next Level Racing provide excellent Sim Racing rig frames.

    Sim Racing in Virtual Reality

    Virtual Reality (VR) gives an amazing experience. But is it necessary to set your Sim Racing rig up for VR?

    It’s not essential, by any means. But VR capability is becoming increasingly popular in the Sim Racing community. It offers hyper-realism on most Sim Racing platforms. You are able to see into corners and the undulations of a racetrack in great detail. You can look at other drivers or look behind you.

    Jim Hill said: “The big paradigm shift was virtual reality. It really is an amazing experience. It makes a difference. The odd person who feels a bit sick with a VR headset, you can take it off and just use the single screen. It’s well worth the investment – then you have the option of playing other VR games on your PC.”

    What is the benefit of Sim Racing?

    Sim Racing is extremely popular – it is the fastest growing arm of motorsport in the modern era. Tens of thousands of people compete online, using platforms such as iRacing and RFactor. It attracts a huge audience of people watching in real time and appeals to a younger, more tech-savvy generation.

    It continues to have a huge impact. While real racing series are often televised behind a paywall, Sim Racing is accessible 24/7. You can watch it on your computer, laptop, television or smartphone. You can watch at home or on the go.

    One thing is for certain when it comes to Sim Racing – it’s here to stay.

    Sim set up

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