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Sim racing is a good introduction to the world of motor sports.
BMW Formula E Driver
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You can also listen to this article via Changing Lanes, the official BMW podcast. Apart from this and other narrated articles, Changing Lanes offers you fresh new episodes every week, packed with exclusive insights on tech, lifestyle, design, cars, and more – brought to you by hosts Sara and Jonathan. Find and subscribe to Changing Lanes on all major podcasting platforms.
Sim racing, or simulation racing, is virtual car racing, in which a computer simulation on a PC or games console realistically simulates car racing. The right software and hardware are key – which is what we cover in this article.
One thing sim racing is most assuredly not: mindless gaming. Virtual racing teaches players solid driving skills under hyper-realistic conditions. And you’ll have a lot of fun doing it. And nowadays the games have become so realistic that sim racing has practically become a training tool for race car drivers. And these pros have fun using it, too.
The simulator is good for practicing consistency and precision. Top drivers don't make mistakes.
BMW DTM Factory Driver
If you ask sim racers what they think the best racing games for PC or game consoles are, you will get a wide range of answers. Every racer has their favorite. The only question then is: which simulator and which equipment should you buy? Below you'll find an overview of the best-known sim racing options.
iRacing simulators for Windows PCs are most often mentioned by racing pros as the best training option. It's not surprising as iRacing provides an extremely realistic driving experience. The physics of driving, the courses, and the strictly regulated races against other drivers – it's hard to imagine them being any more realistic than they are now. What makes iRacing different from other racing simulators is its memberships. A monthly subscription fee puts you in the virtual driver's seat. For an additional one-time fee you can buy extra cars and courses.
I decided to go with iRacing because it's so realistic. I've been playing it for years. I really like the laser-scanned courses. You can see all the reference points, any imperfections in the road and everything around the track.
BMW GTE Driver
A good alternative to iRacing is Assetto Corsa for Windows PC, PlayStation and Xbox. The simulator has a realistic driving feel and a large range of driving classes. The PC version has free mods you can use for a variety of racing experiences. GT sports car fans will enjoy Assetto Corsa Competizione (only available on PC), which is geared to GT3 racing classes and exciting online races that can be driven against the computer.
iRacing is more expensive than other simulations. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for beginners because it's a little too complex. Better choices would be RaceRoom, rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa.
Sim racing pro
rFactor games and the next generation rFactor 2 for Windows PC are highly popular with sim pros, mainly due to their sophisticated car and tire physics. The software is practically perfect at simulating tread wear, physically accurate wear on the tires and tire temperatures. Another great feature of rFactor 2 is the changing track conditions. The game's developers collaborated with BMW, so you can take the brand new BMW M2 CS out onto the virtual courses.
Racing simulator RaceRoom was created by the developers from GTR 2, and is the most affordable way to get into sim racing because the basic version is free. Famous racing series such as DTM, WTCC or GT Masters are also available for purchase. The driving experience is realistic, but there are no game features that other simulations have such as rain or driving at night. Our rating: good for beginners.
Every race car driver has a simulator at home.
BMW GTE Driver
Riding somewhat in the slipstream of the sim scene, racing simulator Automobilista isn't much on visuals. Despite this, it's still worth a try. The physics aren't as detailed as in rFactor 2, but both the steering feedback and the changing track conditions are realistic enough. Automobilista 2, which will be completely revamped, is set to make its debut soon.
Gran Turismo Sport & Forza Motorsport 7
For those who prefer using a game console to race, the PS4 racing simulator Gran Turismo Sport is a good option. But for Xbox One users, Forza Motorsport 7 is the better choice. Both racing simulators have simplified driving physics, which makes them approachable for beginners. Gran Turismo focuses on seasonal online competitions including official FIA certification, while Forza Motorsport 7's strong point is its extensive fleet, with over 700 cars to choose from.
PC or gaming console?
As far as hardware goes, it comes down to how much you want to spend. The most affordable way to get started with sim racing is to buy a gaming console. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are available for around $250 and can easily be hooked up to your TV. However, the next generation of both of these consoles are about to come out. PC games require a lot of computing power because racing simulations are power hungry – particularly when it comes to graphics. For this reason, it's worth investing in the latest graphics card (Nvidia RTX or AMD Radeon RX) and the most recent processor (Intel i7 or AMD Ryzen 7).
The right steering wheel
To have the most control over your vehicle, you need a gaming racing wheel for PC or console and pedals. The game is not nearly so realistic if you use a keyboard or a game pad. The deciding factor for buying a steering wheel is the force feedback. This means that internal electric motors vary the amount of resistance you feel on the gaming steering wheel depending on the course you're driving.
If you're just getting started in sim racing, you don't have to break the bank buying hardware. Martin Krönke says the “Logitech G29 or G920 makes the most sense for beginners. It's good enough to win. It's also the cheapest wheel that's really usable.” His colleague Maximilian Benecke adds that, “Logitech or Thrustmaster are good for starting out. If you have a desk at home, you can attach the wheel to it. A lot of people already have a laptop or PC on which they can run the simulation.”
I use sim racing to train for races. It helps me learn about breaking points, the entry point of a turn and the ideal line.
Race car driver
German Fanatec offers advanced players a wide range of gaming wheels for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. A mid-class sim racing wheel will set you back about $500. Fanatec even offers BMW fans an exact replica of a BMW steering wheel. As for the pros, they all use the relatively expensive direct drive PC steering wheel. It gives you a dynamic and direct driving experience. Fanatec, Simucube, Open Sim Wheel and SimXperience all have models available in the 4-figure range.
What players often underestimate in game controls are the pedals. Higher-priced models are really good at simulating a true-to-life driving experience. This applies to the brake pedal in particular. We recommend hardware such as Clubsport Pedals V3 from Fanatec or professional accessories from Heusinkveld.
It's often difficult to get the wheel and pedals attached to your desk exactly right. A racing simulator cockpit, also known as sim rig, can help you get set up properly. It has a racing simulator seat to which you can securely mount your racing wheel and sim racing pedal (and optional monitor). Playseat and Simlap both offer practical all-in-one solutions made of metal, and even Formula 1 simulators.
At the beginner level, a regular TV screen works perfectly well for sim racing. Once you start improving, however, you'll want to invest in a monitor with a fast response time and a higher number of Hertz. Depending on your preferences, you can opt for a widescreen monitor or even a setup with three screens, as Martin Krönke explains: “Three 27-inch monitors seem to work the best. When the screens are bigger than 27 inches, the displays are often not fast enough. Personally, I find a 60 Hz monitor too slow, so that's why I use screens with 144 Hertz or more.”
I use a rig from Simlap and components from Fanatec. This is a very good setup. In order to be really successful though, you have to do one thing: train a lot.
BMW DTM Factory Driver
An interesting alternative to monitors came about a few years ago: many racing simulators can be also played with virtual reality equipment. Using data glasses from Oculus or HTC Vive, you feel like you've been plunked down directly in a racing cockpit. There are two drawbacks, however: one is that the resolution is too low as the screens sit directly in front of your eyes. The other is that players often suffer from motion sickness, also known as VR sickness. Gamers experience symptoms much like those of motion sickness the first few times they use VR.
Maximilian Benecke also feels there's room for improvement in VR, “I've tested virtual reality racing, and I think that it's not ready yet. It will take another couple of years. When I look through VR glasses, I always have the feeling that there's something that's not quite right.”
Getting started in sim racing is simple once you have the right hardware and software. But hitting virtual top speeds takes a lot of training. Or as Philipp Eng says, “When I get into my simulator, I know that it's going to make me a better driver.” If you want to take your driving skills to the next level, then you should take the gaming advice of sim racing pro and Youtuber Jimmy Broadbent (Another great read: Tips and Tricks from a Pro).
Author: Thomas Stuchlik