Sim racing can be an expensive hobby, there’s no doubt about that, but just like many other hobbies, there are always cheaper ways to get started. Let’s have a look at what an inexpensive setup might look like for someone just looking to get started in sim racing.
To get started in sim racing cheaply, your best friend will be Craigslist, eBay, or any other 2nd hand market place. Look for a used G29/G920 as it is a great beginner wheel and won’t break the bank. If you don’t have a gaming PC capable of running whatever sim you want to play, consider looking into consoles to start as they are substantially cheaper whilst still offering great sim racing opportunities.
The Bare Essentials
So, what do you actually need to get started with sim racing? Well, to be honest, you can get away with a console and a controller but I’m guessing that if you’ve come across this article then you’re probably thinking more along the lines of a wheel and pedal set. The proper sim racing experience.
With that said, you’ll need the following
- Console or PC
You don’t need external shifters, you don’t need handbrakes. They’re all nice extras but you can get started without them. Most basic wheels will have padel shifters for you to use. H-Pattern and separate sequential shifters simply offer more immersion and control but are not needed at all, especially when you’re just starting out. Even today 95% of the cars that I personally race only use the padel shifters on my wheel.
Console or PC?
Given that you’re just looking to get started in sim racing for as little investment as possible, stick to whatever you currently own. Don’t go buying a gaming PC just to get started in sim racing because you think you have to. There are plenty of good quality sim racing games available on console in many different classes of motorsport and a lot of high quality online multiplayer racing to be had.
If you currently don’t own either a PC or a console and you’re starting from scratch then seriously consider a console to get started as they are far cheaper than a good quality gaming PC. Personally I would look for a base model PlayStation 4 if possible so you can take advantage of Gran Turismo Sport (a PlayStation exclusive). It has gained a lot of popularity in the online racing scene lately and whilst it is more of an ‘arcade-sim’ than a true sim, it is a great game to get your feet wet with and begin to learn racecraft.
If you do have a gaming PC then congratulations, you’re already on the best possible platform for sim racing. All the best online sim racing is available on PC, all the best sims, and all the fastest racers. You can’t go wrong.
There is a bunch of different sim racing games available so this option is really going to be up to you. Some questions that you might ask yourself when deciding on a game is what sort of racing you’re after. Is it competitive online racing? Formula style cars? GT cars? Rally? A good mix of all of the above? There are quality sims available for all these categories(and more)!
If you’re completely unsure as to what sim to go with then have a look at Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione, or Project Cars 2 which are available on both PC and console. They offer great single-player options as well as online multiplayer races and lobbies and are frequently on sale. If you’ve decided to play on the PlayStation 4 then I’d also suggest picking up Gran Turismo 4 if you’re interested in online races as well.
You may have heard of iRacing which is a sim available on PC. If you’re just starting out I would avoid going straight to iRacing. It’s a very competitive sim and reasonably expensive as it’s a subscription-based model + pay to unlock various pieces of content. It’s not really budget-friendly for the most part and I’d recommend taking the dive into iRacing once you’ve solidified your interest in the hobby.
Alright, the equipment is the exciting part and what you’re all here for. It’s also the most expensive and it can really add up quickly.
You’re just getting started, you don’t need to go and drop $2000 on a direct drive wheel and another $500+ on a load cell pedals. What you do need though is a basic force feedback wheel and a set of basic pedals. The keyword there is force feedback. Most wheels these days are force feedback but there are some very cheap and nasty options out there that don’t have force feedback. Avoid these at all costs.
The Logitech G29/G920 is pretty much the go-to for entry-level kits. You’ll get a force-feedback wheel with a heap of buttons and dials, padel shifters, and a set of potentiometer pedals with a clutch pedal. If you’re wanting to save some money, see if you can pick one up used. They’re everywhere on the second-hand marketplaces (Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, etc) so you won’t have any trouble finding them.
If you’re looking for second-hand gear, you can even check out the older Logitech wheels such as the G27 or even the Driving Force GT. To put things in perspective for you the Driving Force GT is a step below the G27, and the G27 is the predecessor to the G29/G920. You’ll notice a difference in quality between the G27 and the Driving Force GT but there isn’t as big of a difference (in my opinion) between the G27 and the G29/G920 as far as the feel of the wheel when driving goes. Long story short – try and pick up a G27 or a G29/G920 if you can second hand. If you happen to find a Driving Force GT and feel that will cover all you need, then that’s a great buy in its own right.
Personally, when I started sim racing with a wheel I had a Driving Force GT and then later upgraded to a G27 which is still in perfect working order today almost seven years later. You’ll save a fair chunk of money by buying the Logitech wheels second-hand and they’re built like tanks so should last you many years to come. If I was looking to buy a wheel for the first time again, I would go a second hard G29/G920.
You don’t need any H-pattern or sequential shifters, or handbrakes. The Logitech kits are enough to get you into a game and racing. If you feel you need those extras later on then Logitech sells an H-pattern shifter separately for the G29/920 that you can get later on. You will need somewhere to mount the wheelbase and the pedals though. Almost all low-end wheels will come with built-in clamps that will allow you to clamp them to your desk or table. The pedals will usually have something like carpet teeth but if you’re on hardwood floors for example, then you’ll need to get a bit creative as to how you’re going to get them to stop sliding around.
Figure out of you’re going to be playing on console or PC to start with. Don’t go out buying a gaming PC if you don’t already have one as there are heaps of good sims available on console.
Finally, you’ll need your wheel and pedals. Have a look at second-hand online marketplaces for used Logitech G29/G920. They’re great introductory wheels and built to last.
Failing all of this advice, if you’re still looking to go cheaper then I’d suggest picking up a controller and just starting with that. You’ll still have a great time sim racing.