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Beginners Guide to Sim Racing

Simulation racing, known better as ‘sim racing’ inside the community, is the concept of virtual races taking place on simulated software.

While this may look somewhat intimidating on the surface, the variation of the term “simulated” refers more to the accuracy of the variables being mimicked by the cars in the software. Arcade-like racing video games such as Forza Motorsport, Need for Speed and others are geared more towards a pick-up-and-play style and approach.

Sim racing however, focuses much more on the users requirement to develop understandings of variables such as tyre temperatures, suspension geometry and the ability to feel how a car is reacting across the tarmac.

As a result of this enhanced realism, sim racing finds itself in a unique niche where the skills between virtual and reality are, arguably, the most transferable compared to other video games. They are, in fact, so accurate that many real-world motorsport teams (such as Ferrari, Mercedes etc.) will use simulators to train their drivers prior to them being physically present at the real tracks.

The questions of why sim racing is popular and why it’s competitive can be traced to the same roots:

  • The cost of these simulators compared to their real world cars is extremely low. As you will see in future articles, we can help you find a simulator for under £1000 – no extra costs for spare tyres, repairs when you crash or to travel the globe to experience some of the world’s greatest racetracks. This reduced entry barrier means that the size of the community is larger, and thus the talent pool much stronger.
  • The time investment required to reach a ‘competitive’ standard is somewhat small. In order to race in Formula One, drivers such as Lewis Hamilton will have had to complete hundreds, if not thousands of hours to drive at a high level. Thanks to the ability of adjusting competition rulesets through simulation software (such as having identical car performance, reduced damage effects and the introduction of rating systems) the vast majority of users can race wheel-to-wheel against drivers with similar abilities in a fraction of the time. This means you can come home from work, jump on the simulator and feel the spoils of victory when you beat your opponent across the line.
  • Sim racing has grown so popular is because of the community itself. With such an expansive community (not only in volume, but geographical range) there’s a group of individuals for your preferred type of racing. Whether it be emulating the feats of Ayrton Senna in Formula One cars around classic tracks, darting through the forests of Finland in a modern rally car or even just cruising in hypercars through the picturesque hills of L.A or the Transfăgărășan, there’s a community of like minded individuals who will join you on track.

Sim racing may appear as a super competitive, confusing market on the surface; one where only the best survive. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Sim racing is a place where those with an interest in anything automotive or a desire to create a legacy can come together and race in some of the world’s top cars, against the best individuals, and on the finest racetracks in the world.

How to get started in sim racing

So, whether you’ve seen Lando Norris and Max Verstappen in a simulator and fancy racing them, or you just want to drive the cars of your motorsport heroes and idols; you’ve decided to take the next step on your journey and see how to get started in sim racing – congratulations! Whilst it may seem like there’s so much to work out, by following this guide we can ensure you don’t become overwhelmed and can enjoy the first steps on your journey! 

Work out what games you want to play

A quick search of “racing simulators” or “racing games” on Google will bring up a plethora of choices. Sim racing is now in a fortunate enough position where there is such a wide variety of games that you can pretty much drive any car that you’d like.

Before you do this though, ask yourself these questions below.

Based on your answers, we’ve compiled this handy flowchart to help you decide:

  • What kind of cars do I want to drive?
  • What kind of motorsport series do I enjoy watching? (F1/Le Mans/Rally etc.)
  • Do I want a subscription based model or just a once-off purchase?
  • Do I already own a games console/PC?

In Summary, your choices could be simplified as the following:

PS4 – Gran Turismo Sport provides the widest range of content, whilst F1 2019 and Dirt Rally 2.0 can appease your appetite for a specific form of motorsport. Project Cars 2 lends itself the closest to the simulator genre, and is a strong starting point for those aiming to be competitive. 

Xbox – Again, F1, PCARS2 & Dirt are on offer, but Forza Motorsport 7 will also provide you with an Xbox alternative to Gran Turismo Sport if you’re after a competitive edge to be filled. 

PC With the widest range on offer, you can have any of the above options, but also the following:

  • Assetto Corsa will provide the largest variety of cars & tracks in the entirety of sim racing.
  • Not to be confused as it’s successor, Assetto Corsa Competizione provides you with a GT3 simulator created with the support of real-world teams and drivers. It’s super competitive and super rewarding.
  • RFactor 2, Automobilista 2 & Kartkraft will all provide you with limited base content, but passionate communities.
  • iRacing operates on a monthly subscription based model, which includes a pre-set selection of cars and tracks in your membership. More can be purchased as you progress through your series. Currently viewed as the pinnacle of competitive sim racing.
  • Raceroom finds itself at the opposite end of the spectrum, with plenty of free content and no upfront costs – often viewed as a friendly introduction to racing.

Find out where you want to race

Again, an easy approach to do this is to ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of cars do I want to drive?
  • How serious do I want the rules and regulations to be?
  • Do I want these races to be broadcasted on social media, or does this not matter?
  • Do I want an officially sanctioned and ruled race or will a non-official race matter? 

Ultimately, these above questions aren’t too important in terms of restricting the areas you choose to race. After all, you may find that you wish to race competitively in one style of car, whilst having a more relaxed approach to another.

A good starting place for finding racing leagues or communities is through the forums of your chosen game, for example:

  • Codemasters for F1 2019, DiRT Rally 2.0
  • Kunos Simulazioni for Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione 
  • Slightly Mad Studio for Project Cars 2

On these forums, there’s a wide range of communities where you can find out where to race based on your needs and availability. There are always the The Sim Grid races which are full of competitive individuals willing to give you help off the track, and push you on the track!

What Sim Racing Hardware should I purchase?

When it comes to purchasing your sim racing hardware, it can be tricky to find the balance between cost and quality. To keep it consistent, all these prices are based on their current retail value. Yes, you can probably find it cheaper elsewhere, but this way you’ll be purchasing from one of our vetted sellers, with the warranty and support from them to protect you! 

Generally speaking, we’ve bundled the various elements of a setup (wheel, wheelbase, pedals, cockpit, PC and screen) into 4 distinct categories:

  • Entry Level – Geared towards keeping costs down, this setup will provide you with the essentials to learn the basics.
  • Casual – Leaning towards the sweet spot of quality and price, this setup will appease your appetite for creating a solid user experience.
  • Professional – For those who have a competitive mentality and want to ensure they’re with the latest competition-grade equipment, this setup is at a higher price point but will retain its value for some time, allowing you to have the confidence in your gear.
  • Money-No-Object – Pulling from the widest range of suppliers, this bracket features the newest and most sophisticated equipment. Perfect for commercial venues or those who wish to replicate racing as close as possible.

How to get better in Sim Racing

Set your expectations correctly

For the majority of new sim racers, being the fastest person on track does not come instantly. Much like any other skill, sim racing is one which takes time, patience and dedication in order to improve.

When it comes to improvement, don’t focus on the gaps to the fastest drivers, but rather focus on how much time you’ve gained, how you’re able to feel the car more and other elements that previously seemed impossible – it’s as much a mental game as it is physical.

Routines, routines, routines

It’s no secret that motorsport is mentally draining. Ask any racing driver and they will all tell you that the amount of focus required when you’re on the limit is unlike anything you’ll ever experience. It is therefore important to ensure you set aside enough time to learn, develop and improve on your skillset.

Before you even jump in the simulator, think about what you’re aiming to achieve from the session. Is it to learn how to take a specific set of corners? Is it to learn how ride heights affect the car? The biggest mistake you can make is to just jump in and pound lap after lap with no reference of whether you’re improving or worsening.

By creating a routine and schedule of driving targets, you’re already placing yourself ahead of those around you on track. Don’t be afraid to take regular breaks (we know it sounds silly) but as is often the case, you can become so burnt out by one element of driving that a break away from the wheel gives you time to reflect and improve.

Services like iRacing/Assetto Corsa and GT Sport all feature ‘regular’ races (e.g., every hour). Develop a routine where you can allocate time to improving a specific area of your racing and finish it with a race – you’ll be surprised how quickly you can learn new skills, and how transferable they can be. Furthermore, by forming a routine you are training your mind to follow a set of procedures and improve on them every time.

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t see major improvements for days or even a couple weeks, instant results are a rarity. However, coaching can certainly speed up this process to help you focus on where to improve.

Data, your new best friend

The beauty of a racing simulator is that you can, in most cases, receive either real-time or post-session telemetry information (often known as data). Whilst on the surface these may look like complex graphs and numbers, they can be invaluable in telling you about your driving style.

Consistency, smoothness and confidence are key in sim racing and so if your data is looking scrambled, it’s possibly due to your driving style. The Coach Dave Academy offers guidance and walkthroughs on how to interpret data, and you should really look into it!

Sim Racing vs Real Life: Does Sim Racing Make You a Better Driver?

The beauty of sim racing is that it is, as we have said, arguably the most transferable form of competitive gaming you can compete in. With that being said, the end goal for many sim racers is to ultimately enter real motorsport. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this position, or believe you’re quick enough to transfer the skills, it’s important to approach it in the right manner.

Set the right targets

Much like we identified when you first started racing, it’s important to treat this next step in the same manner. You’re unlikely to be offered a test session in a Formula One car by an F1 team as a result of your time on F1 2019, whereas the possibility of a GT3 test drive is much more feasible based on the associated costs for the prize winners.

It is, therefore, important that you set the right target of entering competitions where prizes in real tests can be achieved. Here are a few examples:

DiRT Rally 2.0 hosts its world championships, offering the winners a test in either a WRC or RX car.

Assetto Corsa Competizione hosts its SRO GT E-Sport Series, where many of the factory teams offer their representative sim drivers test days.

rFactor 2 regularly offers the winners of their Formula E series test days in real Formula E cars.

Connections build the bridge

The second key aspect of transferring skills is the problem that everyone in motorsport faces: budgets. Unless you’re one of a select few, the harsh reality is that little will come after your test day without you being willing to open your wallet. Results on a simulator are indicative of performance, but cash is paramount in moving things forward.

Sim racing is full of individuals who all share the same passion, meaning you have a great starting point to look for prospective partners. Currently, the ‘sim-to-real-driver’ story is relatively untapped and would make a good starting point for sponsors.

In truth, we could write a whole article around how to attain sponsorship, but the key takeaway is that it’s crucial to reach out to individuals in your leagues, racing groups or teams. You never know who you might meet that will be willing to support your journey.

Do the prep work – not just virtually

As you prepare for your real life test, it’s important to ensure that you’re physically and mentally fit to take on the challenge of driving a car. It’s well known that for the most part, the majority of simulators fail to accurately replicate the physical forces you’ll feel on your body, and so the last thing you want to do is form the stereotype of an unfit gamer.

The temperatures in the cockpit of a racecar can exceed well over 100 degrees fahrenheit . Throw in the constant lateral and longitudinal strains on the body and you can see why a proper strength training program can help temper the effects of this.

In summary, there are 4 key areas of your training you should focus on, with an emphasis on the importance of training regularly in combination with a well balanced diet:

  • Cardiovascular training – To allow for proper oxygen utilisation during your drive.
  • Core Strength – To allow for combating the G-forces you’ll experience and for things like brake pedal application.
  • Flexibility – To aid with injury risk reduction in the event of an accident.
  • Cognitive Training – The ability to concentrate for longer, analyse situations quicker and generate more accurate predictions of what may happen.

If you’re at a loss at how to best create a training program, there are a wide variety of resources available online that will help you build a training program around what areas of fitness you need to improve on. You, yourself, will know exactly what areas you are stronger in than others, and so don’t be afraid to be honest about this. Red Bull has a great article, for example, on how to improve your core strength.

When it comes to mental training, it’s much harder to find articles relevant to racing. The key area of mental development to be aware of is that of memory. When turning into a corner on a simulator, your brain instinctively knows within seconds how much brake force and steering angle to apply, as well as where to position the car.

By improving your memory through memory-orientation tasks, you can increase the number of scenarios your brain can recall instantly if something is to happen (such as the car beginning to slide or getting hit). These scenarios and experience are undoubtedly what you will face in the real world, and so being able to handle anything that comes your way is key.

There is no doubt that when you roll out into the pitlane for the first time, your body will become oversaturated with the amount of stimuli being presented to you. By creating training routines around the above steps, however, you can reduce the amount of energy and strain this will have, allowing you to relax, focus and enjoy driving all the much more!

Becoming a Pro Sim Racer

The ‘road to pro’ as it’s often called in sim racing, is the end goal for the majority of drivers. With the recent surge of investment in Esports due to the collapse of the real world, the prospect of working full time in a simulator to race is a very real possibility, and the likes of G2 Esports, Williams Esports and others have evidenced this.

Whilst the term ‘pro’ is somewhat ambiguous, and can differ between individuals, you should ultimately be looking towards the following:

  • Competing in high level competitions on a regular basis.
  • Being paid by a team and/or sponsors to represent them

In terms of how successful you can be, there’s really no limit . If your end goal is to be supported by one of the top sim racing teams, then your success is very much linear in terms of progression. If, however, you decide to go down the indepent route, then you can capture as many sponsors as you desire. There are, of course, trade offs between these routes.

  1. If you sign to a team, you’ll have a regular income + travel expenses covered, as well as support from a wide range of individuals.
  2. If you explore the solo route, you won’t be governed by sponsor restrictions, but may face a harder time getting up and running to find sponsors.

In terms of where to find support or put yourself on the radar of the top teams, you should look to compete at the highest level of your racing sim as possible – whether that be the iRacing world championships, or the SRO GT E-Sport series. If you perform well at this level, you can evidence that you’re worth the investment moving forward. Investment is ultimately the key term; you’re after investment (albeit in yourself) and not just for someone to throw their money at you.

Once you’ve established the competitive CV to show you’re marketable, the next step is to ensure you’re presenting yourself professionally on social media. Social influence is what many companies will use to measure your profitability (if your goal is to generate them more sales).

Make sure your social media platforms are clean, presentable and don’t have anything you wouldn’t want your mum seeing. Focus on growing this as much as you can. The higher the numbers you have, the higher the numbers you can ask from your sponsors.

Hopefully, once you have the results and the social media presence to match, gaining support will be easier! Look towards companies already inside sim racing, explain to them your story and most importantly, show how, with your unique fanbase, you can increase sales. This is the key to every sponsorship, and with the right approach can generate you the support you need.

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