Like any activity, it can be easy to look back on your early sim racing career wishing you found things out sooner. It can be helpful to learn from other people’s retrospective checklists, so here is what I wish I knew when I first started sim racing.
7 things I wish I knew about sim racing before I started are:
- Invest in quality equipment
- Be patient
- Learn the basics of car racing
- Use time trials
- Find the right camera settings
- Learn without assists
- Don’t be afraid to change settings
Below, I will go into more detail about each of these things and explain why I think they are good things to know if you are just starting out.
7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Sim Racing
1. Invest In Quality Equipment
Not The Only Piece Of The Puzzle
I will start this point off with a disclaimer. Obviously, as with any activity, sport or profession, having the best equipment does not automatically make you the best. You do need to have the skillset to be good in order to perform at a high level, but sim racing is definitely something that will be far easier to get good at if you have decent equipment in the first place.
There are lots of options out there, and we have articles here on Flow Racers that go into these options in more detail. There are also lots of options out there that are aimed specifically at beginners, but perhaps should still be avoided if you are looking to get good at sim racing and to really enjoy yourself in the process.
It Can Get Expensive
However, sim racing can also get expensive. This is why many people choose to go for the cheapest wheels and pedals they can find and try to make do with whatever seat they already have, perhaps even building their own makeshift stand. But this is not a sustainable approach. You will quickly outgrow your equipment in terms of your skill level, and you might get uncomfortable too.
I started using my computer chair and a makeshift stand, but gradually upgraded to a real stand, albeit a fairly cheap option. I then was able to get the Playseat Challenge racing seat, and this made a world of difference. This provided me with a far more comfortable gaming setup, and it allowed me to go for longer without feeling the need to move around or get out of the seat.
You also need to think about the actual racing hardware. There are a lot of sub-$150 wheels out there, and they offer little in the way of realism and feel. The same goes for the pedals, but you really do need to think about the long term where you can. If your budget allows, it is worth looking at something like a set of load cell pedals over cheap potentiometer options.
Having upgraded myself from the potentiometer Logitech G29 pedals, which are fine for beginners, to the Thrustmaster LCMs, I notice that not only do I have more control over my braking, but it also just feels better from an enjoyment point of view. The same goes for your steering wheel, as cheaper usually means it won’t offer as much realism and will be a cheaper construction.
A good place to start as a beginner is with something like the Logitech G29, which I used when I first started. I don’t think you should go for anything lower than that in terms of value or price, as these wheels tend to be cheaply made and really aimed at those just looking for a bit of fun, rather than an immersive sim racing experience.
The Best You Can Afford
The bottom line is that it can be hard to choose equipment when you first get started with sim racing, but it is definitely the smart option to go for the best that you can afford. It will make everything else I will talk about below much easier to follow, and you will be able to get more out of your equipment before you feel like it’s time to upgrade.
2. Be Patient
This next tip could be applied to almost anything in life, but it rings truer than ever with sim racing. It is not easy to go fast in a racing simulator if you are just starting out, and it is very easy to get frustrated and simply stick the foot down when you are trying to improve. Being patient is definitely the most important thing to learn when you first get going with a racing sim.
Learn What You Are Doing
You will be tempted to try and win the race at the first corner, braking later and pushing hard on the throttle. However, this will just result in inevitable crashes until you actually learn what you are doing. You might manage to get a good race in and then spin at the final corner, and this can be demoralizing, but it is vital that you take it on the chin and get going again with the next race.
But you should also consider trying other methods of practicing, as if you jump into online races right off the bat you are just asking for a damaged driver rating and several penalties per race. You need to learn how to race before you can race well, and this involves taking the time to practice, perhaps using things like the in-game driving schools.
Learn The Basics
I didn’t do this when I first started and found myself struggling to control the car when it mattered most. I was entering races I had no business being in and expected to win them all! After a while I realized that it was time to go back to the start and learn the basics. Learning to run before you can walk just will not work with sim racing, so patience is key!
3. Learn The Basics Of Car Racing
Learn The Theory
This next step follows on nicely from being patient, as it is the best way to get good at sim racing without doing any racing at all. While the idea of learning the theory behind sim racing might sound like you’re being sent back to school, it can prove to be an excellent tool in your belt when you do get into the car and race.
Learning all you can about things like braking zones, weight transfer and oversteer and understeer will allow you to troubleshoot on the track, rather than simply being helpless as you head towards the barrier. I thought I understood the basics of driving, but a simple visit to some online resources and YouTube videos told me I had a lot to learn.
Learn What The Problem Is
I was wondering why I couldn’t turn the car quick enough while I was still jamming on the brakes, and why my front tires were always locking up first. I couldn’t make sense of the way each car acted so differently in the same corners at the same speeds until I learned about weight transfer and how the engine placement affects tire grip.
All of these things were fundamental to allowing me to drive the way I should. Without knowing why I was crashing, it was impossible to stop! Learning why your car is behaving a certain way is the only way to understand what you can do to become a better driver. Obviously, you will learn as you practice, but learning the theory really can make all the difference.
You don’t need to go back to school or pay anyone to teach you, as all of the information you need is online for free. YouTube videos are a great place to start as you can practice alongside them. Online forums will also teach you a lot, and you can find entire websites dedicated to helping people learn the specifics of sim racing.
Learn the basics sooner rather than later, and you will be able to develop good driving habits before the bad ones become too hard to break.
4. Use Time Trials
When I first started sim racing, all I wanted to do was get racing. I wanted to put the foot down, weave between the other drivers and progress as fast as I could to the finish line. This was fun until I hit the second corner, and I had no idea which way the track was going without looking at the track map, and I didn’t know my braking zone so I ended up going straight off the track.
The two key things here were that I didn’t know the track and I didn’t know the car. Sure, I picked a lot of it up simply by racing over and over again and looking up at the track map, but this meant I was taking my eyes off the road, and it led to many a crash. Plus, I was constantly having to focus on where and when to brake and accelerate, which meant I was quickly overwhelmed.
Learning How To Race
This is where the value of time trials and similar game modes really shows itself. I just wanted to race, but I couldn’t do that well if I didn’t know how to race. So, I hit the time trials, and put my focus on each track with different cars. I quickly learned the layouts, which allowed me to start focusing on getting the most out of the car.
You will be surprised at just how quickly you start picking up where the corners are, and then you will start to find your braking zones too. This will mean you never need to look at the track map, and this allows you to stay focused on what is in front of you. The other aspect of time trials that is important is that you can race against yourself.
Where I Could Improve
This allows you to see where you can make up extra time, and this proved vital for me. Using the ghost of my fastest laps, I was able to spot where I could brake a little later, and hit the throttle a bit earlier, which allowed me to shave off even more time each lap. This meant that when I then went to race on this track, I could focus on negotiating the other drivers, rather than when to turn.
This takes a lot of time and practice, and it links back to the idea of staying patient. Go through the tracks with different cars and learn how they each react to the corners and undulations of the road. This is the best preparation for racing without actually racing, and it will be more fun than you think racing against your own best times!
5. Find The Right Camera Settings
The next few tips are more specific to the actual setup and in-game experience, rather than the preparation phase. The first of these is to find the right camera setup for you and your own style of racing. If you are coming from racing with a controller, there is a high chance your instincts will be to race with the chase camera, behind the car itself.
This will make it very difficult to race with a wheel, and will really limit the immersion aspect, and so you will want to learn to use one of the other cameras as soon as possible. I first started playing GT Sport with the bumper camera. This allowed me to see a lot of the road and what was in front of me, and it was fine for using the wheel and it offered a decent amount of immersion.
However, you will probably read a lot online that the only camera you should be using for sim racing is the cockpit camera. This can be very intimidating for beginners, and it can be very hard to get used to. This means your racing can suffer, as you are too busy trying to make sense of the cockpit view itself and learning the tracks and cars at the same time.
However, there really is a lot of value to be gained from using the cockpit view. If you don’t want to and aren’t worried about the immersion side of things too much, then stick to something like the bumper view. As long as you can race then you can use whatever you like! However, getting used to the cockpit view at an early stage really can make a world of difference for your overall experience.
Field Of View
You will need to play around with your field of view, and there are calculators online that allow you to configure it to the right settings depending on your game and setup. Doing this will really aid in taking your immersion to the maximum level, and it just takes some time to get used to and then you will get faster and faster.
I wish I had started using the cockpit view sooner as I would’ve gotten far more immersion at an earlier stage, but I also enjoy using the bumper camera as well. I wish I hadn’t thought too much about it, as it was quite off putting to try and use a camera mode that I just couldn’t get used to, so I recommend not rushing into too much change too quickly.
6. Learn Without Assists
Getting Used To It
This is something that, like the changing of your camera settings, will take a lot of time to get used to. This is why I wish I had started turning off the assists earlier, as I know I would’ve become a much faster driver sooner. If you have never tried sim racing before, then it’s not something you need to do right away, as it is important to learn how to use your equipment first.
However, once you are fairly competent with your wheel and pedals, you should play around with the assists you have turned on. These can be things like traction control and ABS, while some games may provide you with braking indicators or even the racing line on the track. I would recommend turning off the latter type of assist first.
Learning to drive without the braking assists will teach you the braking zones much faster, and the games only put them in as a guide. This means there is room either side for better performance, and so you might find you can brake sooner or later than it suggests for a faster lap time.
The racing line is another one that features in sim racing games, especially games like the F1 series. While this will teach you where you should be placing your car when you first get started, it will start to prove useless during races when you are trying to focus on staying on the line and getting past other drivers too.
So, these assists should be turned off quite early. I kept them on for a bit longer than I could have, and quickly realized that they were not helping me much at all, and really just served as a distraction more than anything. As for the traction control and ABS type of assists, turning these off will be harder to get used to.
Some real cars don’t have any of these assists, so if you want to go for the ultimate realistic experience, you will need to get used to life without these depending on the type of car you are using. But regardless, getting used to driving without these assists will allow you to get more of a feel for the car too, and you will be less reliant on the game helping you out.
This will bode really well for driving on different games. For example, I was used to driving on GT Sport with the assists on, and when I swapped over to PC2, I couldn’t string two laps together because I just kept losing control. This is because I had the assists turned off, and so I was not ready for the massive change in driving behavior.
Getting good without the assists is the best way to really learn how good you are as a driver, and although it will be challenging at first, you will feel like you have truly accomplished something once you get everything down.
7. Don’t Be Afraid To Change Settings
Settings Are Your Friend
Finally, the last thing I wish I knew when I first started sim racing was that the settings are your friend. Don’t be afraid to play around with them, with everything from brake bias changes to the FOV settings discussed earlier. It can be overwhelming at first, but if you play around with them you will get used to it.
You probably have a wheel that has plenty of buttons on it. Chances are you won’t be using any of these when you first start out, as you will be too busy trying to keep the car on the track. However, these buttons will make it easy for you to quickly change things about your car that will allow you to get faster over time.
Learn What They Mean
Things like the brake bias settings and traction control adjustments will require you to think about step number 3, as you will need to learn what these things mean. However, other settings like changing fuel mixes in some games to preserve your fuel over long races are self-explanatory, and these things can be quickly adjusted by mapping buttons on your wheel or external button box.
When I first started sim racing, I didn’t want to touch any of these buttons! I didn’t want to mess with any of the settings in general, as it took me long enough to get used to driving on its own. But I quickly learned that some driving modes required me to use them, such as open wheel racing with things like DRS requiring me to map a button to make the most of what the car could do.
Other times I would find myself racing a car I wasn’t used to and finding the front wheels locking up at every corner, causing major understeer and a lot of lost time. I then realized that I could quickly change the brake bias using a few buttons on the wheel, and this allowed me to take corners more aggressively and ultimately perform better in races.
It Takes Time
Changing settings might seem overwhelming and scary at first, but it really will save you time in the long run. Get used to playing around with them, as it is the best way to truly get the most out of your sim racing experience.
There are lots of things that I wish I knew when I first started sim racing, but arguably the most important are knowing the value of good equipment and the value of knowing why the car is behaving in a certain way. Getting these fundamentals down, while also remaining patient and practicing intelligently allowed me to become a faster racer sooner.