Sim racing 101
Trying out one of our state-of-the-art simulators at The PaddlUp Rooms is a great way to dip your toe into the vast waters of virtual motorsport. But what happens if you've given it a try and you've decided that you'd like to take it up as a hobby? What are the next steps and what else should you know before taking the plunge? Together with Riley Phillips, PaddlUp Esports driver and our resident sim racing expert, we've outlined the basics of sim racing and esports to help you get started.
Let's address the big question first of all, what is sim racing? Sim racing, in essence, is virtual motorsport that is made as realistic as possible. It's not just a case of booting up the latest instalment of the annual Formula 1 game on your Playstation and playing on a controller. To experience everything sim racing has to offer you will need an appropriate steering wheel, something to attach it to and if you want to get the most out of it, a gaming PC. Commonly known as a 'rig', in most cases, your home set-up will continually evolve to eventually include a full racing seat and monitor mount among other things.
From there, you'll need to select your game of choice, and while the traditional Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport games are great fun, if you are looking for realism and a true sim racing experience, you'll need to look at titles such as Assetto Corsa which we run on our simulators at PaddlUp.
If you wish to indulge even more so in your new-found hobby and begin racing online on a regular basis, then you enter the realm of competitive sim racing or 'esports'. With a thriving online community spread across forums, discord and other platforms, esports is an incredibly welcoming and accessible sport to become a part of.
We wanted to know more about the basics of sim racing, so we sat down with our esports expert Riley Phillips to understand a bit more about the world of virtual motorsport, and how to get involved.
How did you get started in sim racing?
If we're talking about competitively sim racing then that's something which has happened in the last few years. I was looking for something interesting and challenging to do with my own simulator which I already owned so I looked into joining a few leagues with some people that I'd met along the way. I got some messages asking me to join various teams among other things and those people who have been there throughout this journey are still with me now, one of which is Leandro Schäfer who is in the PaddlUp Esports team, mainly because of his speed but also because he is well organised when it comes to pit stop strategies!
To start with though, I was introduced to simulators quite early on by my dad. We're quite a motorsport-oriented family so he was enjoying racing online with his friends. From the age of about three, I was on his lap steering on his simulator and he realised I was actually trying to make it around the corners. That's something I've always done for fun and then we started karting things expanded from there. I had my own computer when I was about 12 or 13 and was using the simulator for fun but then we got to the stage a couple of years ago when I started competing in leagues because I was looking for something more challenging. So I've been sim racing a long time.
How has your rig evolved over time?
The earliest simulator I can remember was my dad's one which was just a wheel and pedals mounted onto a desk and the wheel had flappy paddles, there was no extra shifter and it wasn't very complicated but it was good fun.
By the time I had my own computer I had my own simulator equipment, I had a foldable stand, so the pedals sat on the bottom and the wheel was mounted at the top and it was adjustable so you sat on the sofa and used that, and it stayed that way for a long time. I upgraded my wheel a few times from a Logitech G25 to a G27 and then went to a Thrustmaster T500RS.
It wasn't until the beginning of this year that I got a set-up that I wanted, now I have a direct drive wheel that gives more realistic feedback and a proper racing chair. I have a Simucube wheel and some loadcell pedals that give better feedback to the brake and throttle. I tried a lot of different seats of varying prices and comfort levels, that took a while to decide which one was best.
Before I got my PC we had a Nintendo Wii which I played some of the F1 games on so that was fun, but for simulator stuff I've always been in favour of PCs, I've never had a Playstation or an Xbox.
What are the similarities and differences between real motorsport and sim racing?
The biggest similarity between sim racing and actual motorsport is how competitive people are. I wouldn't call it ruthless but people want to win and they won't give you a gap in real motorsport or sim racing.
I'd say the biggest difference is that you don't feel as much. In real life, you have the sensation of bumps in the steering wheel and the motion all help you to understand where the car is moving. In simulators, you can only rely on your eyes to tell you what's happening. You can set the wheels up in different ways but the feedback is never going to be perfect so you have to watch if the car is moving from side to side.
Sound is a big factor as well when sim racing. I have a couple of electric car mods and they've really put me off because you have no idea how fast you're going, so sound is important, tyre scrub, kerbs and engine noise are all used as references to say 'I'm going this fast' or 'I'm pushing this hard' whereas in the real world you can just feel that you're on the edge of grip because of the forces through the car.
You can have a motion simulator which moves you around as a car would but I don't think that makes you faster for sim racing. It's good fun and a good party trick but I'd say it makes you lose concentration more than anything.
How do you get involved in racing leagues and clubs?
A lot of leagues have a website which then links to a forum or a discord server. If you have a preferred class in sim racing like GT3s then your best platform would probably be Assetto Corsa Competizione because that's full of GTs and if you do a quick Google search for that, then you'll find loads that will link to forums.
They all have different entry requirements so for some it's a simple sign up but for others, you might have to qualify to get in and post a good time if they're looking for more competitive people.
There's a lot out there and it's important to find out what's right for you. If you're not interested in doing Formula stuff then you can look for groups that don't do that. There's enough out there that there's something for everyone. I've done a lot of the Le Mans Prototype stuff after seeing it online and from there I've found what I like to race.
What is a good starter set-up for anyone looking to get involved?
The second-hand market is quite big in sim racing. I think Logitech or Thrustmaster are good places to start; the Logitech G29 performs well for a good price. You'll probably want some sort of foldable stand as well, that way you can put it away easily. I wouldn't expect most people to have a full-on cockpit straight away because they probably won't have the space or use it enough to begin with.
What games/software would you recommend?
There's no straightforward answer to this. There are obviously the main titles which are Assetto Corsa and Assetto Corsa Competizione as well as iRacing but that can not only be very expensive but also I think its daily and weekly race format means there are no championships and no long-term narratives like having a rival so I feel that distracts from the experience a little bit. Some people like that though, some people like just being able to jump on any time they want and go racing but it wasn't for me.
There's not really anything new in terms of proper simulation software at the moment, but for example, rFactor2 has had a few updates recently. Between Assetto Corsa, iRacing and rFactor2, I'd say those are the big three but there are others out there like Automobilista is quite well regarded, Assetto Corsa Competizione is reasonably big because it is quite easy to use and has a good online system.
Is there anything else to know if you're starting out on your sim racing journey?
It takes a lot of practice. It's something that is very different, there's not really anything else like it. You're trying to compete against everyone else at the same time and everyone is sitting at home on their computers, obviously, that is the premise of multiplayer gaming but as far as racing goes this is the only way to do that.
It takes a lot of hours to learn how each car drives and do set-ups and everything else. If you're thinking that you're lacking in pace then you can always ask questions about how to set up cars, you can watch guides and hot laps for a track you're trying to be quicker on. A lot of people think they'll be good at it, and they are because they can do a lap cleanly and reasonably quickly but then there are people who have put so many hours in and are ridiculously fast. It's something a lot of people can do but to be the best you have to put the hours in. We use a term in the sim racing world for the really fast guys and we call them 'aliens' because you can't see why they're quick, they just are.