It’s winter again for much of the country, which means most tracks aren’t holding HPDE events. But other options exist. Sim racing is great fun and can help keep your mind and reflexes sharp during the off-season.

If you’re not familiar with sim racing as a sport, read on to learn more. We answer many of your sim racing questions, including how sim racing practice can benefit HPDE.

What Is Sim Racing?

Sim racing is short for simulated racing and uses computer software to accurately simulate driving on a track. While the average pick-up-and-play car game is designed mostly for entertainment, racing simulators get serious about the real-world physics of driving. Tire grip, traction, suspension geometry and engine response are all realistically modeled. Real world tracks are scanned with lasers and imputed into the simulation within an inch of perfect accuracy. That makes sim racing a great tool for training your focus and skills without leaving your driveway, and it’s why many professional racing teams now incorporate it as part of their race preparation.

How to Get Started in Sim Racing?

For beginners, sim racing starts out easy enough. At minimum, you need a sturdy table and chair, plus a computer, monitor, game and controller. But things can get complicated from there. Professional sim racing setups can get very technical and costly, so consider first how serious you want to take your new hobby, how much you want to spend on equipment and how well you already understand the basics of high performance driving.

How Much Does Sim Racing Cost?

If you want to do sim racing on a bare-bones budget, it’s possible with about $200 to $500 for a basic wheel and pedals. But for the full effect, you should plan to spend more. The initial investment can be fairly significant, especially if you’re going with a fancy sim racing rig, load cell pedals, direct drive steering wheel and ultrawide monitor. Expect to spend $2,000 to $5,000 or more for this sort of setup. And the setups used by professional drivers for race training? These can cost as much as a car, at around $20,000 or more. However, the flip side to sim racing is that the ongoing operating costs are incredibly low. Some simulation platforms do have a modest annual subscription fee, but you won’t have to worry about typical real-world recurring cost with sim racing, such as tires, brakes, gas and more.

Should You Get a Console or PC for Sim Racing?

All sim racing requires some sort of computer system, but from there, options abound. If you’re not too sure how seriously you’ll take sim racing or how much time you’ll devote to it, a gaming console like Xbox or PS5 is a good starting place. Consoles are generally cheaper and there’s not too much to do besides plug it in and start playing your favorite game. If you later want to upgrade, or want a more professional setup to start, a gaming PC may be a better option. Gaming PCs are powerful computers that offer more options for games and software, equipment setups and technical customizations.

Should You Use Controller or Wheel for Sim Racing?

Another key question is whether to use a gaming controller or steering wheel for sim racing. Both are options, whether you’re a hobbyist or a pro. Many games were originally designed to be played with either a keyboard or a gaming controller, and once you learn to use them, you will find these controls can take performance to a very high level. However, most people will want to invest in a steering wheel controller for the most realistic experience. Sim racing steering wheel options are almost endless, so focus on getting one compatible with your preferred console or PC, and its games or software, and that’s also within your budget.

What Is the Best Sim Racing Software?

The best sim racing software depends on your likes and goals. Some options for cars, tracks and gameplay are only available in certain games or on specific platforms. Some classic console racing games include Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Popular PC simulator options include Raceroom, iRacing, Assetto Corsa Competizione, Automobilista 2 and rFactor 2. While any of these options will do to get started, you may also want to consider whether you enjoy racing alone or with others. The choice of some simulators opens up the possibility of participating in sim league racing and online competitions.

How to Brake in Sim Racing?

Acceleration and braking in sim racing is done with either a keyboard or controller, or with a set of pedals, just like on the track. The response of a pedal setup is often very similar to real world braking, with the added bonus that you aren’t putting your car or life at risk by trying something new. It’s actually a good idea to spend some of your sim racing time exclusively focused on braking, by practicing looking ahead down the track for where you want to begin and end your braking. You can also safely experiment with faster and slower and earlier and later braking techniques with each turn. You’ll find a sim racing car will respond differently to each braking combination.

Do You Need a Shifter for Sim Racing?

Most cars still have some sort of gearshift, whether they’re manual or automatic. But with sim racing, a shifter is often less important. Gears can be shifted with gaming controllers or the paddle shifters built into the steering wheel controller. However, standalone H-pattern and sequential shifters are available. The right shifter can make the sim racing experience feel more lifelike.

How to Stop Your Chair from Rolling?

There’s a reason that driver’s seats don’t come on wheels — it’s very unstable when you have to steer and use the pedals. However, most chairs sitting in front of a home computer setup are on wheels. For a quick fix, you can place the wheels of your chair inside of old shoes or halved tennis balls. Fixed chair feet can also be ordered online to replace the wheels. A better option is to eventually invest in a sim racing cockpit, which can incorporate fixed mounts for a seat, wheel and pedals.

How to Get Faster in Sim Racing?

Getting faster in sim racing comes down to practice. The more time you spend on a simulator, the better you’ll get at it. Although, it’s important to get the most out of each session, just like you would on the track. This means devoting some of each session to specific techniques, such as staying focused, focusing on braking and accelerating, perfecting your racing line, looking further ahead down the track and improving your lap times. Online and on a track, faster speeds are not purely achieved with more throttle, but are the result of improved technique and skill.

How Much Time to Spend on Sim Racing?

Sim racing offers the best results with regular practice. By spending 60 minutes per week on a racing simulator, you can dedicate time to developing specific skills and commit them to muscle memory. Then you can work on refining those skills when you do a real HPDE event. Some skills you may work on include training your vision for where to look on the track and when, braking techniques for how much brake pressure to apply and how the pressure changes through the braking zone, throttle application techniques, rate of steering application and so on. The benefits of spending time on sim racing can be huge. At an HPDE event, you might only get 80–200 minutes on track over the course of the whole event. If you only do 3–4 events per year, there’s only so much you can focus on and improve. With a sim racing rig at home, you can get much further.

How Real Is Sim Racing?

Drivers who have never tried sim racing may wonder just how lifelike the experience can actually be when you’re actually sitting in front of a computer in your basement. The truth is that computer gaming has come a long way from the first arcade racing games. The newest sim racing software is incredibly lifelike, and both amateur and professional race car drivers use it to sharpen their skills. Real-word variables, from tire grip to suspension to damage and more, are all realistically modeled. Plus, virtual tracks like the new rFactor 2 Le Mans track look real, even in a side-by-side comparison.

How Does Sim Racing Help HPDE?

Sim racing can have carryover benefits for HPDE enthusiasts because it allows you to focus on the “E” in high performance driver education. Education in sim racing can mean many things. It could help you familiarize yourself with the behavior of an unfamiliar car before getting behind the wheel on the track. It could add in developing muscle memory to better steer and modulate the throttle and brakes. It could also help with learning new tracks, where reference points on the real-life track are usually accurately scanned into the simulator. Many professional teams now invest time and resources in simulators for these and other reasons. HPDE participants who get into sim racing can experience the same benefits.

Protecting Your Car

Taking care of your car is easy in sim racing, since repairs are fast and free with just a click of the reset button. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in the real world.

Out on the track, accidents can happen that cost thousands to fix. Luckily, HPDE Insurance from Lockton Motorsports is available to protect your real car while it is on the track.

Online signup is fast and easy, so you can get coverage and then get back to your next sim racing session. Visit Lockton Motorsports to learn more.