Fanatec handbrake & ClubSport shifter review – putting the fun back into sims?
We finish pimping our fold-away Xbox racing rig
It's hard to believe it's been more than a year since lockdown started, and the time when those of us with a bit of a geeky bent starting dreaming of long days parked in front of the TV, putting in hot laps against our mates. Sure, real life eventually caught up with us and we needed to go out to buy bread and milk, but I certainly had a few blissful days in 2020 hammering around virtual circuits, forgetting entirely about the oddly deserted world outside my front door.
For me, at least, circuit-racing games are only a portion of the driving fun you can have on a console, simply because rally games have come of age in the past few years.
Whether it's the graphical beauty of DiRT Rally 2.0 or the more approachable but more fleshed-out fully licensed career of WRC 9 – you've got some decent choices for off-road racing. Both offer really enjoyable ways to drift, slither and jump your way to victory, easily equalling the thrill of shoulder-to-shoulder racing on Tarmac.
No matter how good my weight-transfer tekkers and Scandinavian flicks are, rally games tend to require the use of a handbrake. Sure, by default you'll use a button on a steering wheel, but it's a faff to do because usually the wheel's upside down as you hammer into a 180-degree bend lined with onlooking reindeer. So I now have the Fanatec handbrake to help out – oh, and I've also upgraded to the ClubSport shifter too. Here's what they're like.
Let's start with the shifter
Fanatec's €295.95 ClubSport shifter is, like the rest of their kit, carved out of pure metal. It's a chunky beast, with the option to switch it between a seven-speed (plus reverse) H-gate, or a touring-car style sequential back-and-forth action. The shifter comes with a choice of spherical or phallic tips, each of which is – you guessed it – hefty metal that feels cool to the touch.
You can switch the shifter between sequential and H-gate actions
The shift action is notchy, precise and smooth. You have to push the shifter down to get it across into reverse (on the left of the gate) or seventh gear (on the right of the gate). Combined with the Fanatec CSL Elite pedals (with loadcell kit on the brakes), the shifter makes Assetto Corsa's range of manual-gearbox cars a joy to drive. I've lost hours chasing laptimes around Laguna Seca in a low-powered Lotus Elise. Heel and toe shifting is perfectly possible with a bit of tweaking to the brake pedal height using.
To put the shifter into sequential mode you need to centre the gear stick and flip a chunky, stiff, mechanical switch on the unit's right-hand side. This is perhaps the most satisfying mode for the shifter – there's a primal joy in tugging the clunking shifter back repeatedly to chase the gears as you power down the back straight of Mugello in Forza 7, or up to the next hairpin on the Col de Turini. Likewise, braking for turn one at the Italian track now includes a flurry of punched downshifts – it's immensely satisfying to use. You'd be forgiven to using it in sequential mode even for cars that use regular H-pattern shifts.
At €129.95, the Clubsport Handbrake V1.5 is one of the less expensive items Fanatec sells, yet it's still made of solid metal. You can mount it either vertically or horizontally – you unbolt the main box and flip the lever if you wish to do so.
The handbrake bolts neatly to the side of the shifter
The beauty of the handbrake is that it's an analogue device, rather than the simple on/off "press to lock back wheels" effect you get using a button on a gamepad or the wheel itself.
It's incredibly satisfying to use – once you get it right. It's most useful in rally games, and when you nail a downhill hairpin in WRC9, swooping neatly around the apex – you'll laugh out loud. It's as satisfying to use as you'd think.
The whole handbrake bolts neatly to the side of the shifter, so it's worth getting both together – this helps you feel like an absolute god when you're switching between handbraking and sequential shifting through the dark of a Kenyan night in your WRC car.
Should I get them?
Look, neither the shifter nor the handbrake are essential parts of a sim rig. But if you've already got your wheelbase and pedals set up, the two bolt-ons featured here really do open up your racing palette – and add a huge amount of childish satisfaction to your gaming.
Can we have another lockdown? I've got some skids to do…
My creaky old Playseat Challenge really is at the limits of its weight-bearing capacity now. As you can tell by the mess, I'll need a bigger house before upgrading it all again…