Racing Simulators – From Consoles to Cockpits

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Once upon a time a racing simulator meant heading to the arcade to play Hard Drivin’ or the big 4 player Daytona stock car game that seemed common place throughout the 90s. The graphics on Hard Drivin were utterly awful by today’s standards whereas Daytona was actually pretty tolerable. However, to get just one go you had to spend money and often the budget didn’t stretch too much more than 2 or 3 races.

Then came the home consoles with titles like Rad Racer on the NES. A this time there was a raft of other driving games that were so far from a simulation it was like comparing sitting to close to the TV to going to the cinema. So this left the keen driver very little in the way of choice other than to attempt to go out and buy a racing car or risk everyone’s lives by speeding on the public roads of Britain. Neither of these possibilities were open to young people and nor were they likely for most normal folk. Back then even motoring TV was dull with Top Gear still being largely a magazine show with about as much tyre smoke as a bowls club car park. Thankfully things have changed a great deal in the years since the 90s and now the petrol head is faced with a massive range of simulator and gaming options as well as more motoring TV than you could possibly fit into a day….what a time we live in!

Console Games

In terms of the bottom rung of the driving simulator world sits the humble console. Except, the console is not that humble anymore. The PS4 and Xbox One are both highly capable machines and certainly offer some great racing titles like Forza Motorsport, Project Cars, the F1 franchise and Gran Tourismo. The snag with consoles is that a control pad is really no way of giving you any kind of sensation of driving and this has always been a bit of a sticking point. Thankfully though, these  days there is a substantial range of steering wheels on the market and a few of them offer a very sophisticated gaming experience. For a few hundred pounds you can set up a stand, wheel, pedals and maybe even a seat based around a console at home and create a very solid simulator.

PC Games

The PC offers a great deal more power and the games offer online play that is populated by good drivers and not kids bashing into you all the time. However, the costs go up a great deal and a good gaming PC can set you back at least £1000. On top of that you would still need a wheel, stand and maybe a seat so it is not an option suitable for everyone’s budget.

Steering Wheels

A few years ago the only wheels you could get where very plasticy and offer little in the way of what is known as forced feedback. Now you can buy leather and metal wheels with metal pedals and enough power to make your arms really ache after a few laps. The technology has got so good that the feedback from the “road” is getting very accurate indeed. Models like the Thrustmaster series for Playstation have gone from strength to strength with competitors like Logitech and Fanatec doing well too. For around £300 new you can pick up a very good wheel and a hunt on eBay will probably get you the same for half that.

Stands

If you are going to go down the steering wheel route you have two choices, a stand or a desk attachment. The later simply involves clamping the wheel base to a table and can work very well provided you have the space but a good wheel stand is certainly a better choice. There are a number of stands out there including makes like Wheel Stand Pro who make solid stands that offer a lot of adjustment.

Seats

For most people by the time they have spent money on a console or PC, wheel and stand they are quite happy to sit on a household chair or the sofa. However, if you want to push things a little further there are a number of chairs you can buy to give the experience another level of authenticity. You can get general gaming chairs with speakers in or proper racing seats on rails that the stand can fit into.

Full Simulators and Cockpits

If money is really no object then the simulator options certainly open up but even if you are not a millionaire you can still pick up a very impressive simulator for £2000-3000. These systems are not only a few more quid than the wheel and stand options they also take up a lot more space. Do not be fooled into thinking cost is the only barrier here, you need a serious “man/woman cave”  to be able to house one of these things.

The variations when you get to this level of simulator are massive. You can go for the more basic set ups which are essentially all the console or PC options built into a frame with a racing seat and speakers as a start point. However, from this point things go up to involve better sound, multiple screens and even movement systems to throw you around in the seat itself. As you might imagine, if you want to spend enormous amounts of money you can, there are any number of custom built options out there to satisfy the most hardened gamer. When you get to the top level you will be using the same kit as many pro racing drivers.

Is Any Of This Worth It?

There is a lot of kit involved in setting up even a simple home simulator and many people will ask if it is worth it. The answer really comes down to the person building and using it. If you are an amateur racer and want a good way to practice then sims can work wonders. You might just be a hardened gamer and simply love driving games so a sim will give you a great deal of pleasure. If, however, you are a casual gamer then the odds are you will find it all a bit of a novelty and stop using it within 6 months. eBay is full of dusty steering wheels and pedal sets that simply don’t get the use despite the best intentions.

The best thing to do is buy some used kit and set up a basic home sim and see how you get on. If you love it then and only then it might be worth investing more.

Article provided by Ade Holder, an independent content writer in the automobile industry – working alongside a selection of companies including FEV, the UK’s leading fire extinguisher valve company, who were consulted over the content in this piece.

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