Build A Home Racing Simulator On Almost Any Budget.
Get the thrills of the race track, without the costs, fumes, noise, and devastating crashes.
Got the need for speed, but a budget that will only afford you clunkers? Well, being a father of three, and 40-hour a week grunt, that's me. I love racing. I love driving. But, time and budget limits my options for taking the hobby as far as I want to. According to TurnFast.com the average cost to race over one weekend is $1,150.* (Not counting the cost of the car!) So, what's a broke racer to do?
(*Moderate Racer's Typical Costs for a 2-Day Weekend = Club event fees - $300.00 , Track fees - $20.00, Oil change (synthetic) - $ 50.00, Racing Brake Pads - $ 200.00 , Hotel/Food 2 nights - $200.00, Gas - $120.00, Rotors - $ 60.00 , Race Tires - $200.00 . TOTAL:$1150.00)
That price is almost equal to building your own racing cockpit for your Den, Basement, Garage, Cave, Middle of the Living Room so your wife yells about it constantly, you know, wherever.
And, today, I'm going to show you a few options, from the bare minimum setup, to a complete package to take your digital racing experience to the next level.
Starting With The Wheel. (~$250 and up.)
This is a good way to start out. It's let you get a feel for using the wheel and pedals, while not requiring the budget of a full setup
The most important part of a car is the connection it gives you to the road. And, that's a good place to start on our setup. The controls. If you already have a PC, PS4, or Xbox, then all you need is to purchase a wheel + pedals, clamp it to a card-table and off you go. So, the only question in this setup is: What wheel do I buy?
There are plenty of choices from $20 "Chinese Plastic Hunks of Junk" to hardcore wheel kits that start in the thousands of dollars for just the base unit. (And, you still have to buy a wheel to attach to it, separately.)
Since this is the first section, I'm going to show you two wheels that I consider "Entry Level" sim wheels, and not just "Gimmick Controllers". These are the very least you should consider, as they give you the full sim-wheel experience. Beware of cheaper models. And, be especially careful knowing the difference between "Force Feedback" and just "Rumble". With a wheel, it's a huge difference.
Logitech Dual-Motor Feedback Driving Force G29 Gaming Racing Wheel
The G29 Racing Wheel from Logitech - This is a good wheel, one that may radically increase your enjoyment of racing games. It does its best to look and feel like a ‘real’ steering wheel. 27cm in diameter, with a largely metal frame and finished with leather wrap. The wheel itself turns around 900 degrees. This allows two and a half turns before the wheel locks.
The Logitech G29 has great force feedback. Playing without any customizations, the force is strong enough to cause arm ache after 30-40 minutes play, a clear sign that the wheel has powerful motors working for it. If you’ve not used a proper force feedback wheel before, you’ll love it. It gives you a much more direct sensation of control over a car, where with a gamepad you’re left relying on visual and audio cues to judge when a car is about to understeer or oversteer. With force feedback you can feel it, because when properly programmed it lets you feel how the car (and the road) is working against you. It works very with games like DriveClub, and even better with the more realistic Project Cars and GT Sport.
The pedals are actually a high point unlike most kits. While the base is plastic, the board is substantial, needing less securing than the oldest G-series sets. It’s a three-pedal setup: accelerator, brake and clutch. Each has a different tension style, mirroring what you get in a real car. The important improvement in the G29 is the brake. It’s progressive, with more tension at the end of its depression to give you much better control over the force of the brake and a more realistic feel. It’s a big improvement over most other wheels.
And, if fancy paddle shifting isn't your thing, here's a little add-on:
Logitech G Gaming Driving Force Shifter
The Logitech G Gaming Driving Force Shifter, is an add-on that gives you a 6-speed shifter with push-down reverse, to complete the total driving feel. "Flappy Paddles" are fine when you're screaming down the track in something like a McLaren Senna, but feel horribly out of place when driving something like a Aston Martin DB-5. In that sexy beast, you need a rod of steel in your hand at all times waiting to drop gears on your demand.
The G29 is specifically for the PS3/PS4/PC, however it's brother the G920 is Xbox One/PC compatible. (The only differnce is the G29 has Playstation Blue Highlights, and PS4 specific buttons such as the PS button and the "Share" button. The G920 is simply black with the XBox Button in the same place as the PS Button.
Both can be found for around $250 for the Wheel and Pedal set, or around $300 with the Shifter included.
Thrustmaster TMX PRO Racing Wheel (XOne & PC)
The other option I'd recommend is the Thrustmaster TMX PRO Racing Wheel (XOne & PC). The TMX wheel is equipped with a high-performance force feedback motor offering adjustable intensity and the 11”/28 cm diameter wheel rim features a 270 to 900 degrees rotation angle. The TMX Controller operates in 12bit and allows for a 4096 read-out resolution by means of an optical sensor. The rim is made out of plastic but is coated with a rubber layer. Furthermore, the TMX features a set of metal wheel-mounted sequential paddle shifters. The TMX is bundled with the three-pedal Thrustmaster T3PA pedal set, whose pedals and internal structure are all 100% metal. The T3PA is fully adjustable (spacing, angle, and gas pedal with an adjustable height setting), and users can even adjust the push force independently for each pedal. The optional Conical Rubber Brake Mod is also included, allowing for an authentic feel with ultra-progressive resistance at the end of the pedal’s travel.
Thrustmaster TH8A Add-On Gearbox Shifter
It too, has a separate shifter add-on. However, it's only slightly better than the Logitech but costs 3x more. The TH8A has a changable plate, that lets you go from 7-way to sequential shifting, other than that, it's not much better than the cheaper Logitech. (Both shifters are compatible with both brands of wheels, at least on the PC platform. So, the choice is yours.)
The Thrustmaster TMX PRO Racing Wheel retails for $250, and the TH8A Shifter Add-On is an additional $150.
This will get you setup with the most important and best starting point towards your cockpit: The Controls. This will allow you to test and use them, and decide if you like the feel enough, to move on to the next step...
The Basic Full Setup - Adding a chair. ($150 and up)
The next step is to get you into the proper driving position.
Now that you have a wheel and pedals, (and maybe a shifter) that you like, let's get you out of that desk/dining room chair, and into something more comfortable. Unless, you're driving a Mack Truck or a School Bus, you're probably not driving sitting straight up, with legs and knees at 90 degree bends. And, if you're in a high performance machine, you are probably damn near laying on your back. So, now we need the seat. Once again, the choices are massive. You can buy cheap sub-$100 seats that might last you a few months before they brake, or you can go all out, and slap a real, honest to god, racing seat onto a tube rail frame and call it a day.
Playseat Challenge Racing Video Game Chair ($235)
Playseat is probably the biggest and best racing simulator seat/cockpit brand on the market. They’re so well-respected in the racing simulator space, that even many world-famous F1 divers use their seats to train.
The Playseat Challenge Racing Video Game Chair (Pic Above) is a good entry level choice. The reason it’s so affordable is that the manufacturer has cut costs on the build quality. Instead of padded cushions and a solid frame, this chair is essentially just a piece of fabric (albeit nice Alcantara suede fabric) draped over some steel tubes. But don’t let looks deceive you. It might look like a glorified garden chair, but it provides all you really need for a basic racing simulator set up. It includes length-adjustable multi-bar wheel support that sits on top of your lap. You can also mount foot pedals to the bottom bar by clamping them to it. It’s incompatible with a screen mount (no surprises there, considering the price) and there’s no shifter mount but, other than that, it’s the whole package.
Playseat Revolution Racing Video Game Chair ($400)
Up next, another Playseat racing chair – the Revolution. In case the Challenge is a little too basic for you, this is a more robust and sturdy entry point. It provides a very good all-around package at a very good price. It’s one of the most affordable racing chairs on this list while also including all the most important stuff you need for a very basic racing simulator set up: a seat, a frame, and space to mount pedals and a wheel.Playseat consulted professional racing drivers when designing this chair, and you can tell. It boasts superior build quality with a reinforced steel frame that eliminates wobble. The seat itself is comfortable, durable, and has a pretty good weight capacity of 300 lbs. It’s also fully adjustable for height and tension to accommodate all different kinds of users. The only major downside to this chair is that it doesn’t come with a shifter mount.
DXRacer PS/COMBO/200 ($450)
The package includes the PS/F03 racing-style gaming seat, cockpit frame, and two shifter stands – one for the left cockpit, and one for the right. One great thing about this cockpit is how quick and easy it is to assemble. It features a fold-able design which makes it easy to fold away and store it out of sight when you’re not using it. Like all DXRacer chairs, the build quality is great and the seat is very ergonomic. It’s also fully adjustable for both seat height and recline (up to 180 degrees). Thanks to the sliding rails, you can also adjust the distance between the seat and the foot pedals to account for the length of your legs, just like in a real car.
GTR Simulator - GTA-F ($540)
The next step up, is to get a frame system, that not only accomidates you and your controls, but also the screens as well. This gives you more of a real "looking through the windshield" feel when racing, and is the next step in adding to your immersion. The GTA-F, by GTR Simulator offers a very similar setup to the Playseat Revolution, in giving you a well built and sturdy frame, solid and comfortable chair, and adds an adjustable mount for up to three VESA-mountable screens. Depending on your arrangement at home, and how close you are to your screen already, this may not be needed.
Completing the package, or taking it to the next leve
The last step is up to you. Get yourself a 60" 4K HDTV and a bleeding edge PC to rip FPS to shreds. You want to bring the audio up to spec, with the rest of your setup? There's kits for that, or you can come up with your own 5.1/7.1/Atmos surround sound to really kick up the roar of the engines and squealing of rubber as you shoot down Leguna Seca's infamous corkscrew.
Or now, that you have amazing sight, sound, and controls, what's left? Well, the limit is only your budget and imagination. Now, get out there and race!
(APEX4 GTS, PRO Racing Simulator - $64.950)