The heartbeat accelerates, the hands sweat. You stare at the traffic lights, waiting for those red lights to go out, hoping that you will be the fastest to release the clutch at the right time: one moment before and it’s false start, the next moment and you lose at least one position. They are eternal moments, which all riders experience at each start of the race. Whether they are in the lead or in the middle of the group, very little changes: the adrenaline is the same. Incredible as it may seem, it is possible to experience the exact same sensations even while sitting comfortably at home, thanks to a driving simulator.
During the lockdown period there was a real explosion of new aspiring virtual pilots, thanks above all to the live broadcast on Twitch by Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Max Verstappen, and to the attempt by Liberty Media (unsuccessful, to tell the truth) to run a Formula 1 world championship race on a simulator. The videogame offer, in this direction, is quite wide and varied: leaving out the arcade-sims like F12020 and the various Forza, Project Cars and Gran Turismo, titles like Rfactor 2, but above all Assetto Corsa Competizione (here the review of Assetto Corsa Competizione ), Raceroom Experience and iRacing, compete for the scepter of the best online driving simulator.
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The best simulator
Almost without a shadow of a doubt, the winner is iRacing, characterized by an obsessive accuracy in the representation of all the facets that make up a true 360 ° virtual pilot career. In the game there are the realization in laserscan of all the available tracks (more than 100 in 350 different configurations, on which you will find even the smallest holes existing in reality), a great accuracy of the physics engine and of the tire model, a maniacal reproduction of the cars, and even a ranking and driving license system that will allow you, if you have the talent and patience, to challenge the best in the world in live streaming competitions. During such events, there is no shortage of technical commentary and interviews with the protagonists, as well as of course cash prizes and a whole series of contests that could even induce you to leave your seat forever, to land on the seat of a car.
Finally there is the most important strength: the robustness of game servers and netcode, combined with a very low latency, in some cases almost imperceptible. All this is the result of years and years of experience: the iRacing deus ex machina is that Dave Kaemmer founder of Papyrus Design, developer of the unforgettable Indianapolis 500: The Simulation (1989 – Amiga and PC) and of the whole Indycar series. Racing and Nascar Racing (1993-2003), as well as Grand Prix Legends (1998, PC), a milestone in motor racing simulation, with which the first online races were already run using 56k modems.
What do we need to run?
But let’s see what we need, from the hardware point of view, to start the approach to the world of iRacing. Let’s start by saying that it is better to forget the joypad: here they are needed steering wheel with force feedback and pedal set if the goal is to be able to stay on track. The accuracy of the simulation leaves no room for error and, although providing some aids for newbies, these are only useful for the initial approach: it is in fact impossible to reach important goals without first deactivating them. However, it will not be necessary to shell out exaggerated figures: I can guarantee, with 30 years of simracing behind me, of which almost 8 on iRacing, that it is possible to win a world championship with “standard” steering wheel and pedals and a chair well anchored to the ground. The market offer is basically divided into 3 bands, which differ in the power of the engines and in the way in which it is transmitted to the steering ring. In the low range we find steering wheels with gears, in the medium belt and in the high one the so-called direct drive.
The Logitech G29, top of the low-end range, continues to represent the best wheel ever to start and possibly continue a career at high levels.
With 250 euros it is possible to take home a steering wheel, pedal set with three pedals and gear lever: it is a solid and reliable product, which has essentially been the evolution of itself for almost 15 years (it derives in fact from G25 and G27), with all the benefits that this entails. Its antagonist in the same price range at Thrustmaster is the T150, but it is clearly inferior in all respects. To have something comparable you have to aim for the T300, which however costs 400 euros, does not have the gear lever and has a flaw in the pedal, devoid of clutch and in any case much more “toy”.
In the mid-range we find the whole Fanatec belt range, but for an entry level you have to shell out about 600 euros between force feedback motor, crown and pedal set. At Thrustmaster we find the Ts-Pc Racer, at a cost of 600 euros, to which another 200 must be added for a decent pedalboard.
After all, starting from the mid-range there is also a change of philosophy: it is no longer an “all inclusive” kit, but it is possible to divide everything into components that can be purchased separately: engine, crown, pedal unit, gear lever and even of the handbrake. It is therefore possible to create a system composed of peripherals each coming from a different brand.
Returning to the market, in the high end of the steering wheels we find direct drives which, as the word itself implies, transmit the power of the engine directly to the steering ring, without passing through gears and belts. This results in highly detailed driving sensations, coupled with impressive, arm-splitting engine power when set to maximum. The cost is also growing exponentially: starting from about 1200 euros for a Fanatec Podium or a Simucube 2 Sport, engine only.
Simucube 2 Sport
Moving on to the pedals, the next most important step to the G29 is the transition to a peripheral equipped with a load cell for the brake pedal, a feature that makes the feedback much more similar to that of a real car. This guarantees greater precision in braking and better consistency in the race pace: the G29 pedal has in fact a very low resistance to force (entrusted only to a spring), and it is very easy to reach the end of the stroke and lock the tires. To avoid going long, the brain must therefore memorize the position beyond which it is not possible to push.
With the load cell, however, muscle memory comes into play, much easier to learn, as the pedal stroke is relatively short, but the force to be applied changes. For a load cell pedal it starts at around 230 euros to grab a Fanatec CSL Elite, to get to around 700 euros for a complete Heusinkveld, of which however there is a sort of cheap replica (450 euros), but no less valid, produced by the Spanish DC Simracing. As for the gear lever (however not necessary), the Thrustmaster TH8 costs less than 200 euros and is great. The handbrake is only necessary if you run on dirt and find in the Clubsport Handbrake v.15 by Fanatec an excellent choice for less than 150 euros.
Finally, moving on to the actual station, as already mentioned, a chair well anchored to the ground could be sufficient, but if you want it is really possible to indulge yourself. This is the sector of the market that offers the most options, from the very famous Playseat (starting from around 250 euros), passing through the GT Omega Racing and Next Level Racing (starting from 350 euros), to get to the more expensive Obutto and Rseat (from 600 euros upwards). There are also many Italian manufacturers, such as SRC, which creates modular workstations with highly customizable aluminum profiles. The choice is really huge, without considering the various add-ons, such as the buttkicker (less than 100 euros), an accessory to be mounted just under the seat, which returns the vibrations of the asphalt thanks to a built-in subwoofer, and the various motion systems that they can raise the total cost of the station to 15,000 euros.
What I can recommend, from direct experience, is to start with a G29 to be anchored to a solid desk, a heavy chair without wheels, and to activate a new subscription to iRacing, which in this period offers new entries 50% Discount: it takes less than 20 euros to start a 3-month trial, enough to understand if you are ready to become real simdrivers. In the next episode we will see how to approach our virtual career, the system of points, licenses and rankings of iRacing, and above all how to get out of the infernal circle of rookies as soon as possible, and painlessly. Until next time!
Note: Enzo Sings, official driver of the famous Italian team Mivano Simracing Team (among the teammates, there is the real driver Josè Maria Lopez, world touring champion 2014-15-16 with Citroen and Formula E driver from 2016 to 2019).
Registered on iRacing since 2013, winner of two official world championships in the Skip Barber series in 2016 and currently in second place behind teammate Manuel Lucchetta, the all-time world record holder in qualifying on the Road America circuit, again on Skip Barber. He raced against many real drivers, among others: Lando Norris, Max Verstappen, Rubens and Eduardo Barrichello, Benny Simonsen and Raffaele Marciello (GT3 drivers), Johnny Guindi (winner Gran Turismo Academy 2016). He participated in the first official Italian ACI Formula 3 championship in 2020.