If you’re hooked on track days and looking for a way to bring the adrenaline-inducing experience home to your living room, look no further than the best racing simulators on the market. Designed to satisfy your need for speed, these immersive racing sims are one of the best ways to get more time behind the wheel — short of going pro.
Best Racing Simulators: Real-World Benefits of Simulated Reality
If you have to ask why you’d want to own a racing sim, you probably won’t understand the draw of simulated racing. However, if you just can’t get enough time in the driver’s seat, a racing simulator is a great way to scratch that track day itch.
Fun for gamers and driving enthusiasts alike, the best racing simulators are as close as you can get to the real deal without spending an arm and leg. (Okay, you can still spend that much if you want to, but at least there are more affordable options, too.)
Nowadays, even professional drivers use simulators as these high-tech devices are a great way to get more seat time or learn a new track. And while the pro-level sims are a bit more sophisticated (and expensive) than the options you’ll find below, even a mid-price-point racing simulator will get you some of that coveted driving time, for much less money than it costs to own and operate a track car.
Yes, the initial investment may be steep, especially if you opt for a turnkey rig, but compared to the cost of a new or used race car, it’s considerably cheaper. And after your initial investment, you won’t have to spend money on consumables like gas, tires, and parts, all of which real race cars chew through with regularity.
Plus, a simulated four-off or on-track fender bender is an easily remedied situation that won’t break the bank — unlike if you put your sports car into a very real concrete wall.
What to Look for in the Best Racing Simulators
You have your pick of quite a few different options when it comes to the best racing simulators. On the wallet-friendly side of the spectrum, you can opt for a relatively simple wheel stand along with the components of your choosing. A wheel stand is meant to be used in conjunction with a couch or chair and has mounting points for a steering wheel, pedals, and, in some cases, a shifter.
The next step up is a full-frame cockpit stand that is designed to be used with a realistic race seat. Many of these frames are sold separately from the components, so you will have to piece together the wheel, pedals, and any other accessories you want to use with the cockpit.
If your budget allows, the higher-end options include turnkey rigs and monocoque or replica cockpits. These will be the most expensive option but should come equipped with all the hardware (and, in some cases, software) you need to get started with a plug-and-play, full-fledged racing simulator. Additionally, these racing simulators are going to be the most advanced in terms of tactile feel, responsiveness, and true-to-life features.
Racing simulators and their requisite components will all have various feels and levels of responsiveness. If you are aiming for a life-like driving experience, look for a racing sim that has pedal, throttle, steering, and braking input and response that feels as close to the real thing as possible.
The better the tactile feel of the steering wheel, pedals, and shifter, the better your chances of actually building muscle memory for real-world scenarios. Options like belt-driven wheels and magnetic shifters and pedals will provide a more seamless experience than gear-driven wheels or potentiometer pedals.
Additionally, some of the more expensive full-frame rigs are designed to simulate the actual G-forces you would feel in a car utilizing various motorized platforms and professional-grade direct drive steering force feedback systems.
If you want the full simulated experience of driving by the seat of your pants, the more advanced rigs can give you a feel for things like oversteer, understeer, and that perfectly executed drift through the corner.
If you already own a gaming console or PC, make sure you purchase components and/or cockpits that are compatible with your current setup.
Size & Price
Consider both your budget and your space. Full-frame, turnkey, monocoque, and replica racing sims will take up considerable space and be difficult to move. Ideally, you’ll want a dedicated room to leave your sim set up. If space is an issue, a wheel stand that you can use from your living room couch and then tuck away when not in use might be the more realistic option.
Other Components to Consider
On the tech side of things, you’ll need a gaming console (the latest from PlayStation or Xbox should do the trick) or a PC with a fast enough CPU to handle whatever gaming software you want to run.
You’ll also want a high-resolution screen or monitor — for an even more immersive experience, consider using a curved monitor or multiple monitors to simulate the feel of looking out a windshield. Another option is a VR headset — though not as common yet, VR kits like this one from Stilo are another option for building out your racing sim setup.
Finally, do some research on what racing games you want. There are many racing games available, including ones that allow you to compete online in sim racing events.