As with most hobbies, getting into sim racing can be tough and can require a lot of time and patience. There are dozens of titles on offer and a whole load of vocabulary to learn, all before you even take your place on the track. It can leave newcomers wondering whether sim racing is easy or hard.
Sim racing can be hard for beginners. The user interfaces of popular games like iRacing and Assetto Corsa can be difficult to navigate, and a lack of tutorials can leave drivers feeling underprepared. However, there are plenty of beginner-friendly sim racing games out there to make it easier.
However, these factors shouldn’t necessarily put beginners off. In this article, we will discuss these factors in greater detail, as well as offering some tips to ensure beginners get the warmest possible welcome into the world of sim racing.
Why Is Sim Racing Hard For Some Beginners?
Sim racing isn’t always optimised for beginners, and while user interfaces may come as second nature to experienced racers, they can leave newcomers feeling confused and overwhelmed. The world of sim racing can be intimidating for beginners, but it doesn’t have to be hard to navigate.
Difficult User Interfaces
It’s first worth considering the top end of the sim racing pool of games, where the real simulators like iRacing and Assetto Corsa lie. These are often the kinds of games through which people first come across sim racing, and they’re billed as the pinnacle of the genre in terms of realism and driving experience.
iRacing’s User Interface
There aren’t too many flaws to pick at with iRacing – one of the most popular sim racing games – apart from the fact its user interface is incredibly over complicated for an unseasoned sim racer. Packed with almost endless settings to no doubt enhance your racing experience, the interface is a minefield for new players.
The settings interface is split into six sections: Drive, Options, Graphics, Replay, Sound and Controls. Each of these settings contain in-depth specification options that could well take a couple of business days to navigate through fully.
For example, the drive page is split into eight parts, with one of those parts devoted entirely to adjusting the drivers view. In this section you can adjust the field of view to the exact degree, you can also tinker with the percentage of the shift horizon and the roll chassis, and so on.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this level of detail is hugely impressive, but to a beginner it can feel like they are trying to translate a foreign language. And the problem isn’t necessarily in the detail of the specifications, more so in the sheer number of specifications loaded onto one single page.
Assetto Corsa Competizione’s User Interface
Another huge hit in the sim racing sphere, Assetto Corsa Competizione also suffers from difficult user interface problems.This time, the problems lie with its online user interface and the difficulty this causes when trying to find a race against other online drivers.
Assetto Corsa offers players access to multiple servers with multiple different car requirements, but unfortunately doesn’t allow users to filter out the empty servers, which makes finding an online race without scrolling through endless empty lobbies very difficult.
The Lack Of In-Game Tutorials Available
Once new racers have sorted out their settings and prepared themselves for actual racing, they will have to quickly become accustomed to the etiquette and rules of the track. These are not always obvious to those who aren’t die-hard fans of real-life motorsport.
With a lack of in-game tutorials on many sim racing titles including iRacing and Assetto Corsa, rookie sim racers will often have to learn what they can and cannot do through Google searches or YouTube tutorials. This is an unintuitive way to start a sim racing journey, especially after paying the subscriptions and up-front costs of the games.
Learning The Basics
Some of the key things that new sim racers will need to learn are racing lines and overtaking manoeuvres. The racing line is the shortest possible route through the track, involving less sharp turning, resulting in less braking and faster lap times. It is the foundation on which you build your race, yet there are no in-game tutorial lessons on various titles to guide you through it.
While there may not be any tutorial sessions on iRacing or Assetto Corsa, both games allow you to turn on a driving aid that displays a recommended racing line on screen for you. However, this line is disabled for certain online race levels, meaning new racers will have to put the extra effort in to learning different tracks and their lines.
Regarding overtaking manoeuvres, new racers will have to do their fair share of self-educating, as they will not only improve your race performance, but can potentially land you in a spot of trouble should you get them wrong.
You Can End Up In Trouble
For a novice driver, overtaking may seem like a straightforward routine of driving faster than the other car and therefore going past them. However, disregard your peripherals and the stage of the track you are on and you put your position in the race at risk.
Not only could you cause a crash and face disqualification from the race, but the protest feature on iRacing means that other drivers can file a complaint against you for reckless or unsportsmanlike racing, which can result in disciplinary measures being taken by iRacing, and in exceptional circumstances it can even lead to a ban.
Obviously in order to get a ban you will need to display some seriously bad driving and ruin a lot of drivers’ experiences, but on a driver-to-driver level, it is recommended that newbies brush up on their overtaking skills. Something that the games themselves should offer more help to new drivers with.
How To Get Around This
But iRacing and Assetto Corsa and rFactor are not the only sim racing games out there. While many fans may deem these as some of the only true racing simulators, there are lots of other games that beginners can – and should – check out either when they first get into the hobby, or before they even begin.
Games like Gran Turismo 7 (and its predecessor GT Sport), Project Cars 2 and the F1 series of games (for fans of open wheel racing) are arguably better places to start for absolute beginners concerned about the difficulty of sim racing.
These titles are packed with training modes, tutorials, career modes, and lots of assists that can help you ease your way into sim racing without having to worry about being banned because you’re still learning. You can then work your way up the ranks and take on tougher challenges when you’re ready – be it within these games or in the form of the more simulator-type games.
So, choosing the right games to play at the start will often dictate how hard sim racing is for you. If you’ve never used a racing wheel in your life and are only used to playing arcade racers with the chase camera, don’t expect sim racing to be a completely painless experience. There is a learning curve! But there are other things to consider too.
The Physical Limitations Of Sim Racing
Another factor adding to the difficulty of sim racing is the physical limitations of sim racing itself. Unless you have a decent sim racing setup, it can be hard to map what you do with your wheel and pedals to what the car is doing in the game.
This may affect your sense of speed and how you approach certain aspects of racing like taking on corners or overtakes. It can leave a driver more susceptible to over or understeering, affecting performance in other ways, and making it difficult to understand how to properly control what the car is doing.
Unless you have invested in an ultrawide screen or triple screen setup, or if you use VR, the lack of peripheral vision can also make sim racing more difficult. Setups like this aren’t cheap and may be over the initial budget for someone venturing into the sim world for the first time.
Don’t Let Lack Of Expensive Equipment Stop You
Without having the peripheral vision around you, it can be hard to judge moves you make on the track and those of others around you. This can quickly lead to incidents on track, which can in turn bring your driver ratings down etc. This can therefore also put people off sim racing because they feel they need the best equipment in order to succeed.
But you definitely do not need the most expensive sim racing gear to have fun and perform well as a sim racer. While a basic wheel and pedal setup is recommended for beginners, you’ll quickly get the hang of the basics that allow you to both enjoy what you’re doing and perform well with practice. If you then want to upgrade your setup to things like triple screens, you definitely can.
Is Sim Racing Hard To Get Into?
It is no secret that the cost of sim racing hardware, including your gaming platform, steering wheel, and overall rig setup, can be steep. But it doesn’t need to be for you to enjoy sim racing, as we’ve mentioned above. But the cost of games and their in-game downloadable content is often understated.
The Cost Of iRacing
In order to get started on iRacing you will need to choose a subscription plan, which starts at around $13 a month, depending on limited time offers or cheaper ‘returning driver’ rates. The initial subscription grants you access to 16 cars and 22 tracks, and if you want more, you should be prepared to pay extra.To own everything within iRacing, you should expect to pay $1,500 or more.
Cars cost $11.95 each and tracks are available for $14.95 each. These are high prices for relatively little in return, and many newcomers who want to experience everything that the world’s premier sim racing game has to offer may feel like they are being priced out of sim racing.
In addition to this, if you choose to cancel your iRacing subscription, everything you have purchased so far will no longer be available to you. While the pricing may be high, it must be said that the quality of the cars and tracks does keep to a very high standard. But that’s what makes iRacing one of the pinnacles of the hobby. But you don’t need to start there.
Cheaper Alternatives To iRacing
There are cheaper alternatives to iRacing, including Assetto Corsa Competizione. Downloadable content for ACC comes in bundles, so you will be paying for multiple cars and tracks, often for the price of one in iRacing. These bundles are available for around $20, so while they are cheaper overall than iRacing, they still come at a high price when you factor in the original purchase of the game.
DLC is a common attribute of many sim racing games out there. Those on console, such as players of GT7 and Project Cars, will also be faced with these additional costs if they want everything the games have to offer. However, these base games come with plenty of content already, and the one-off purchase price makes them a far more cost-effective option for beginner sim racers.
The Level Of Competition In Sim Racing
As the intrigue in sim racing grows, so too does the player base, and with that comes incredibly high racing standards. It can be difficult for newcomers to get up to speed without investing hours into training their skills.
iRacing in particular have tried to combat the gulf in class between drivers, assigning each racer with an iRating, which fluctuates depending on performance. Players with similar iRatings will then be matched up together, ensuring closer and more exciting races.
This adds an incentive for drivers to improve, as well as clearing out those who drive recklessly and dampen the racing experience for others. Most sim racing games have some system like this for online play, but they’re never perfect. This means beginners can often find themselves struggling at the back of the pack as they are still learning.
However, with practice and regular racing, the systems will usually begin to match you up with players closer to your skill level, so it then becomes up to you in terms of how much you improve. There is a lot to be gained from simply doing some basic sim racing training!
6 Beginner Sim Racing Tips
1. Start Slowly
Don’t feel any pressure to jump into your sim racing rig and start recording world class lap times. Naturally, it’s going to take some time to hone your skills, so take your time and focus on learning the tracks and working on your race craft.
2. Don’t Become Dependent On Driver Assists
Driving assists like racing line indicators are a very useful tool to have when you’re starting out. But be wary – if you become too dependent on them, it will detract from your performance in races where they are not allowed. Learning to decipher racing lines on your own is an excellent skill that will be transferrable to any track you want to race on.
3. Practice On Your Own
Be careful to not jump into an online race immediately. Get to know how certain cars drive before you take the first corner too late and crash into the barriers, taking half the grid with you. This is also another great way of learning tracks and improving your lap times.
4. Learn From Professionals
Thanks to advancements in sim racing from a practical side and a commercial side, the very best sim racers take part in professional tournaments that are often broadcast on the internet. These tournaments are a gold mine for prospective new racers to learn from the very best.
Watch out for how they start races, how they take corners and how they master their positioning on the track. It is also a good opportunity to scout out any equipment that you like the look of. Sim racing YouTubers and streamers also post lots of useful content, and many even offer tutorials on specific aspects of sim racing.
5. Research Your Game Before You Buy It
Each sim racing title has a different purpose with different tracks and styles of racing within them. Make sure you research a game you want to buy first, to make sure it suits your needs and your budget to ensure you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your money.
There are tons of resources online, from videos about the games to reviews that provide more insightful information on games than just the trailers themselves. Check out a few lists of the best sim racing games and match up the option that best fits what you want to get out of sim racing.
6. Enjoy Yourself
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as it’s all part of the experience. Learn from every crash and every poor finishing position.Mistakes are a bigger part of sim racing than flawless drives, and the best part is, any crash is easily resolved with the restart button, which can definitely not be said about real-life racing!
Sim racing is often hard because beginners feel like they need to be racing at the front of the pack from the beginning, with the best equipment they can buy. However, sim racing can be made far easier with some practice, and by picking the right sim racing game to start with.
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.