Sim racing in itself is an easy thing to get into. You just have to pick yourself a game, and perhaps get yourself set up with a beginner rig. However, if you want to take it to the next level and become a competitive sim racer, there are a few more things to be aware of.
To get started with competitive sim racing, you should:
- Pick a game and platform
- Decide what you need to learn
- Join a team
- Find places to compete
These are very general things that you need to do and we will look into each in much more detail below. You must consider all of these things in turn as it will make it much easier for you to not only start racing in competitions, but start winning them too!
How To Get Started In Competitive Sim Racing
1. Pick A Game And Platform
The first thing you need to do before you start doing any kind of sim racing is to pick your platform and then pick your game(s). You can choose to play on console or on PC (or both of course). If you choose console, you will be able to take advantage of some things, but you will also lose out on some aspects of the PC experience, and so you have to choose wisely.
Console vs PC
You can get your hands on a PS4 or Xbox One very cheap nowadays, and the latest generation PS5 and Xbox Series X/S will still be cheaper than a decent gaming PC. If you want to be a PC sim racer, you can very easily spend over $1,000 on a PC that is able to handle the highest settings on the best games. You will be able to find cheaper PC options, but there are a lot of things to consider.
PCs require lots of different components to be of the right specification in order to play the top sim racing games smoothly, whereas the PlayStation and Xbox both come packed with good hardware already. This means you don’t need to worry about the same kinds of things you need to consider for a PC, such as the processor and graphics cards.
A Lot More Potential On PC
With that said, if your budget is a little bigger, and you don’t mind shopping around for the best technical specifications, a PC is definitely the best choice. There is so much more to customize with a PC, and they can achieve much better performance than both consoles. This means that you can play games at higher frames per second (FPS), and there are of course some PC exclusive racing sims too.
This brings us on to the point of choosing your game. There are certain games that are exclusive to specific platforms. One popular example of this is Gran Turismo 7, which is exclusive to PlayStation. On the Xbox side of things you have the Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon series, which are exclusive to this console and PC only. But then there are PC-exclusive games to consider as well.
These games include the likes of iRacing and rFactor, which are two of the most popular and most realistic simulators out there. They also happen to be two of the most competitive, due to their very high levels of realism and therefore challenging difficulty. Although there are plenty of GT7 competitions, and other competitions for other console racers, if you want to play iRacing you will need to opt for a PC.
Key Point: With improved performance, access to almost all games, enhanced realism, and far more expansive sim racing equipment support, PC is the best option if you have the budget for it.
2. Decide What You Need To Learn
The next thing that you need to do is learn as much as you can about sim racing and its competitive side. There is theory behind the practical aspects of sim racing, and you can treat it as a learning process. This means you should carry out your own research and even study the fundamentals of sim racing. Getting the theory down will make it easier to do well in-game.
The theory varies by game, but for example, games like iRacing are designed to be very realistic. This means you must learn what kinds of actions produce the right outcomes when you are driving. The more you learn about track dynamics and things like brake bias and weight distribution, the better prepared you will be to take advantage of them when it comes to actually racing.
While nothing beats experience and you'll pick up a lot of what you need to know just by driving on the track, a bit of extra learning off-track can go a long way if you want to become competitive!
You may wish to take things one step further by engaging with a coach or a tutor to teach you how to become a better racer. You can use this to help you get the theory of racing down, and they may even be able to help you with the practical side of things as well. There are a lot of people online looking to help others become better at sim racing, and even just watching videos on YouTube can be helpful.
The Right Setup
The setup itself is what you use to race within the game. The game can be the very best of the best, and you can have all of the skill in the world, but if you don’t have the right setup you will struggle to do well as a sim racer. You don’t need to have the most expensive racing rig, and you can get started with a basic sim racing setup for just a few hundred dollars.
There are several key things to consider when putting together your ideal sim racing setup. In order to compete at a decent level, you will at least need a good steering wheel and pedals, while your life will also be made a lot easier with the addition of things like sequential gear shifters and perhaps even a handbrake (if they’re relevant to your racing discipline), along with add-ons such as button boxes.
There are plenty of different options when it comes to each of these pieces of equipment, but the steering wheel and pedals will be the most expensive and the ones that have the largest effect on your racing. Having a solid cockpit/rig is also key, especially if you want to take advantage of direct drive wheel bases.
Usually, you will start with a budget gear or belt-driven wheel, along with a set of potentiometer/Hall effect pedals that will give you an idea of what sim racing is like.
Belt Or Direct Drive
If you are not a total beginner however, and if you are looking to try out some competitive sim racing, then you will probably want to look into the higher end belt-driven or direct drive wheels as well (with the latter almost being a must at the very top level). These will give you the edge in competitions once you know how to get the most out of them, and they are what the very best sim racers use.
In terms of pedals, you will want to upgrade to load cell pedals for a more realistic feel and better performance. Then there are hydraulic pedals, but they are usually a matter of personal preference and they are much more expensive. Regardless of how you choose to upgrade your rig, you will first need to have the skills to be able to use it all effectively.
Note: More expensive equipment will not automatically make you faster!
3. Join A Team
Another thing that you might consider is joining a team. There are sim racing teams all over the world, and you can usually join them and race for them remotely. This is in contrast to a real racing team, which obviously requires a lot of travelling to and from competitions, and to meet with your team at physical locations to practice – although this still may be the case with some sim racing teams.
For example, when I sat down to chat to Kamil Pawlowski, formerly of the Ferrari Esports team, he told me how he got to experience living in Italy as part of driving for the Scuderia:
“It was an amazing experience. Italian food, Italian people, Italian places. Not only the possibility of being and working in Maranello with Ferrari, but also just to enjoy life there and enjoy the experience.”– Kamil Pawlowski, former Ferrari Esports driver and multiple-time Project CARS World Champion
Aside from potentially allowing for some incredible life experiences, sim racing teams can also open doors to new competitions, and there are usually team competitions that run alongside most solo tournaments as well. Just like in real racing, being part of a team can make things a lot easier for you. Besides, it will also probably make it a much more enjoyable experience and you can learn a lot from those around you!
If you can’t find a team to join, or if you would just prefer to start your own, building a team from scratch is another option for you. This will involve a lot more work, and you will need to go out and find people that are willing to join if you don’t have anyone already on board. You will need to either take charge of the team yourself or give the power to someone else, but it can be very fruitful.
It Can Be Very Rewarding
If you can get a decent team of people together with a reasonable amount of skill, there is no stopping you from entering competitions with a team that you have built yourself. This can provide a very rewarding feeling, especially once you start winning! However, it will take a lot of time and effort, and of course your teammates have to be good enough to perform in the competitions.
If you don’t already know people that might like to join your team, then you may find that looking online is the best way to find potential teammates. There are countless sim racing forums out there, and they often have threads dedicated to finding new teams to join and new teammates to bring on board. Other than this, you could reach out to people on social media too.
More Research Required
This is where research can help once again, as if you look around online you are bound to find some people that want to race. Or you could simply reach out to people within the games you are playing, and this way you will get a chance to see how they perform before you make any commitments. However, it is usually more effective to check spaces where people actively look for teams to join.
4. Find Places To Compete
Whether you decide to join a team or form your own, or if you want to go it alone, you need to think about where you want to compete. I don’t mean physically, but instead I’m referring to the types of competitions that you want to enter. Once you have chosen your platform and your game, and know what you are doing with your equipment, it’s time to find a competition.
There are online tournaments that take place all the time, and these often even have big prize pools. This is where becoming a professional sim racer – someone who gets paid to race – can seem like a possibility. There are regular online tournaments and competitions that pay out prize pools into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The 2022 F1 Esports prize pot was a whopping $750,000, with the winner taking home a sizeable chunk of that
This means that if you can perform at the top level, you can win some serious money sim racing. Most of the big sim racing games, such as iRacing and Assetto Corsa Competizione, have regular online competitions that are open to anyone to enter, and these can be a great way to get a taste of the competitive racing scene. But they are not only online, as there are also live tournaments as well.
These live events can put you in head-to-head races with the very best sim racers and can be very exciting, but also very hard to qualify for. However, there are also various other ways to race that don’t put you in such a competitive environment. Although they are often just multiplayer game modes, many games are very good at matching you up with other racers of similar abilities.
Use Multiplayer Modes To Improve
This can serve to be very useful when you’re trying to learn to improve as a sim racer, and it can be a vital way to get to know different cars and tracks in a real racing situation, albeit a slightly less competitive one. You don’t have to be racing in a professional sense (i.e. for a team or at live events) in order to make money from sim racing, and definitely not in order to enjoy yourself anyway.
Other Ways To Get Into Sim Racing
Sim racing should be fun, and so if competitions are not a fun thing for you then you should not force yourself to enter them. There are other ways to get involved with the growing community that surrounds sim racing, and not only can these provide viable sources of income, but they can also just be a very rewarding thing to do with your sim racing in order to get the most out of the experience.
For example, Jimmy Broadbent is a sim racer that is active on YouTube with more than 850,000 subscribers. Although he does a fair bit of real driving himself now, he has also been a big name in the world of sim racing for other reasons, mainly due to his following on YouTube. He even commentates on various events too.
As more and more competitions appear, and as the prize pools get bigger, live sim racing events will become more popular. The events are held much in the same way as real races are, and there is a need for commentators and other roles that help to make the experience better for both drivers and spectators.
We have talked about other ways to make money with sim racing in greater depth in another article, but even just the few that we have touched on here illustrate that there is more to sim racing than being a professional racer. As the esport expands, there will be more roles to fill, so even if competitive racing is not for you, there still may be a related job for you out there!
There is a lot to think about when you are considering getting into competitive sim racing, but with modern technology it is very easy and affordable for beginners to get into it with a beginner racing rig. From there, you can improve your skills through practice and by doing your own research, and as you progress as a racer you will also want to upgrade your rig as well.
Once you get quite good at racing, you may wish to reach out to other racers to form or join a team, or you may wish to go solo. Then, you can enter live or online competitions, some of which pay a lot of money to the winners! But if you decide that competitive sim racing is not for you, there are other ways to get active within the community, and there is still a lot of fun to be had!
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.