No, you do not need a wheel for sim racing, however, the sims that you are able to play may be limited. You may be able to use a controller or a keyboard but it is highly suggested that you do use a wheel for sim racing in order to get the most enjoyable and competitive experience.
What Sims Can You Use Without A Wheel?
|Assetto Corsa Competizione||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Gran Turismo Sport||N/A||Yes||Yes|
|Project CARS 2||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|DiRT Rally 2.0||Yes||Yes||Yes|
You can see from the table above that most of the popular sims have options to cover various types of input devices, with the exception of Gran Turismo Sport which is a PS4 exclusive and iRacing.
As always, double-check that the sim you are wanting to race on supports the input method that you are wanting to use as they may or may not have been updated since.
What Can You Use Instead Of A Wheel?
There are really only two options that you have if you don’t have a wheel, a controller or a keyboard.
A controller is the most logical choice as they allow you to have analog inputs for the steering, throttle, and braking.
Having these analog inputs means that you will still be able to smoothly apply the throttle, and achieve techniques like trail braking with a bit of practice. You will also be able to tighten your turns and ease out of corners much like you would with a wheel.
The only downsides are how easily you are able to achieve these techniques and also how much control you have over the car. You won’t be able to catch slides or make small corrections anywhere near as easily as you could with a wheel, however it is still doable with enough practice.
Overall, a controller isn’t a bad option and if it’s what you have then it will be able to do the job, even if you are going to be slightly off the pace.
Using a keyboard is the last option that I would pick as it makes it really really hard to control the car. I would highly advise against racing in online races if you’re going to be playing with a keyboard as the lack of control over the car is potentially going to ruin other peoples races.
If a keyboard is your only option then at least it is still able to be used for some, but not all, sims. Just be aware that all your inputs will be binary so your brakes are going to be 100% on or off, your steering is going to be at full-lock or not, and you will be at full throttle or nothing at all.
To make the experience a bit better, this would be the only time that I would advise you to go into the settings and turn on some of the racing assists to makes things easier on yourself.
If you only have a keyboard and can’t afford a wheel at this time, then I would strongly recommend that you try and get your hands on a controller. A wired off-brand Xbox360 controller like the VOYEE Wired Controller is available on Amazon for a really good price. That’s all you need to be able to seriously increase the racing experience from using a keyboard.
Should You Get a Sim Racing Wheel?
Whether you should get a sim racing wheel or not is going to depend on a few things. I would always suggest getting a sim racing wheel if you can as the entire experience improves dramatically, but let’s have a look at some factors that come into play before making that decision.
Your budget is going to be the biggest factor in whether you should get a sim racing wheel or not. If you are able to afford it I would highly recommend it, but I know that not everyone is in the position to be able to buy a wheel.
There are a lot of different choices to make when buying a wheel that might offer more cost-effective options. You do not need to go out and purchase a top-of-the-line direct-drive wheel for your first wheel. There are plenty of introduction wheels that are available, such as the Logitech G29 or Logitech G920 which are available on Amazon.
The other option if these are still too expensive is the second-hand market. There are plenty of used sim racing wheels that are available that will be in great condition as sim racers generally will resell their old gear once they have started to upgrade.
With the release of the new Logitech G923 keep an eye out on your various second-hand marketplaces as you may see an increase in older Logitech gear becoming available.
Sim and Platform
Some other factors that you should consider if you’re deciding to buy a wheel or not are what sim and platform that you are planning on playing on.
Let’s say, for example, that you mainly play Gran Turismo Sport or F1 2020 on the Playstation 4. These are both on the more arcade side of available sims so they may attract more casual drivers, and given that you are playing on a Playstation 4 where a controller is a default, then a lot more drivers are going to be using a controller.
In a situation like this then I can see less of an incentive to go out and buy a wheel as soon as possible if you are getting by just fine with a controller.
On the other side of things though, if you’re planning on racing on iRacing on the PC then using a controller will put you in the minority of players and is something that I would not recommend you do. iRacing is going to benefit greatly from a proper wheel and pedal set.
There are drivers that claim to be just as fast and have just as much control on a controller as they do on wheels but personally I think this is an exception rather than the rule. Most people, given enough time to adjust, will be faster and have more control over the car with a wheel than a controller.
Let’s not also forget the fun factor. Having a wheel, shifter, and pedals is so much fun and really increases the experience.
You don’t need a wheel to be involved in sim racing, you can be fast enough with a controller, however, it is highly recommended among the community that you try and get a wheel at some point so that you can be a faster and more consistent driver.
If you only have a keyboard available then most sims will still offer an option to use them but it is going to drastically affect your performance on the track and the overall experience. If you don’t have a wheel then try and use a controller over a keyboard. You can at least still keep up with a controller, you will not be able to with a keyboard.