Anyone that’s spent their fair share of time at the race track can tell you that piloting a machine on a closed, purpose-built circuit is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences on the planet. However, this same group of track day enthusiasts is also privy to the lengthy list of downsides tied to amateur motorsports, such as the physical danger it exposes drivers to and the exorbitant costs that the sport requires for items like safety gear, track fees, the race vehicle itself, and the maintenance, race fuel, tires, and other spares that these machines require. As computer and gaming technology has rapidly evolved over the last decade or so, we’re now seeing a growing number of high-end racing simulation rigs that afford remarkably lifelike and realistic driving experiences in turkey packages that can be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of your own home.
While once a fairly niche segment, the influx in popularity of racing sims has ultimately given rise to an increasingly impressive and cutting-edge array of rigs, with moving platforms that pitch and raw, replicating the sensation of g-forces, wrap-around (or VR) displays, and ultra-lifelike control setups with real steering wheels, race seats, three-pedal systems, and hydraulic e-brakes, and H-pattern (or paddle) shifters. In fact, modern sims are so advanced that many of today’s most elite drivers routinely utilize these rigs as a means of training in lieu of traditional track time. And with more state-of-the-art options to chose from than ever before, we’ve thoroughly delved into the space, rounding up the most advanced systems on the market to deliver this guide to the best home racing sim rigs.
The Sum Of Its Parts
Breaking Down The Components That Comprise A Sim Racing Rig
Before buying a rig, it helps to understand the basic anatomy of a complete system as well as the individual parts that comprise it. Below we’ll briefly touch on the primary components that constitute a complete sim racing rig.
Cockpit Or Frame: Also known as a “cockpit,” this component is the backbone and frame of a sim racing rig, and as such it accommodates and supports the rest of the rig’s accompanying hardware.
Monitor: The monitor or display acts as a sim racer’s virtual windshield and can hugely vary in size and picture quality. Curved displays have become increasingly popular amongst sim racers, as have triple monitor setups that wrap around the driver. Some racers also opt for using VR headsets, as it can be a cheaper alternative to a cutting-edge display that doesn’t compromise on immersion or realism.
Pedals: Mounted at the base of the frame, the foot controls — or pedals — are an instrumental element on any racing sim rig, and like those found in real cars, are often hydraulic and made from metal. Some of these pedal devices offer tactile feedback, as well as a third (clutch) pedal.
Seat: A racing sim rig’s seat is often included with the cockpit, though this isn’t always the case. In addition to being adjustable, seats can be modular, and as such can be upgraded. This is important depending on the type of racing you plan on doing, as an F1 sim driver will want a markedly more reclined seating position than that of a GT racer.
Steering Wheel and Wheel Base: The steering wheels on modern racing sim rigs are nothing short of true feats of engineering, affording wildly lifelike tactile feedback and response and allowing for wildly precise control inputs. When looking at this area, you’ll want to explore wheel-bases just as closely as you will with steering wheels themselves. Steering wheels with wheelbases equipped with direct drive motors will afford the most lifelike and powerful feedback and are unequivocally the nicest — and most expensive — sim racing wheels that money can currently buy.
Shifters & Emergency Brakes: Though considered somewhat of a premium option, hand shifters and emergency brakes hugely add to a racing sim rig’s level of realism and allow their user to enjoy banging through the gears — sometimes with an H-pattern gate or a sequential shifter — or drift their sim cars. And, just like with steering wheels, these are incredibly advanced pieces of tech, offering tactile feedback and often being of the hydraulic variety.
Racing Rig Types 101
The Main Types Of Racing Simulation Setups
Though most utilize similar control setups, there are several main types of sim racing rigs that are on the market. Below, we’ll be poring over the primary kinds of rig setups that are currently available.
Wheel Stand: This is the most basic, entry-level style of rig, and consists of a piece of a framework that supports a steering wheel and is placed in front of a regular TV or display. These minimalistic setups require the least amount of space — and financial investment — and often come equipped with mounts of foot pedals. Unlike traditional full rigs, these stands don’t include a seat and instead rely on the user sitting in a chair or on a couch.
Full Frame: The most common type of rig, a full-frame setup is built atop a robust chassis and includes the steering wheel mount and base, pedal mounts (and often a shifter mount), a rack to accommodate a display (or displays), and a race seat. These systems are more lifelike than their entry-level counterparts, afford greater rigidity, and ultimately afford a markedly more immersive sim racing experience.
Monocoque & Replica Cockpits: Some full-frame rigs take things one step further by wrapping the race seat, chassis, and controls in a partial shell, whether it be that of a classic Italian car or a contemporary Formula One racer. While more expensive, these replica cockpit setups further increase immersion and typically are much more pleasant to look at or display than the skeleton of a traditional full framer.
Turnkey Rigs: Unlike most racing sims that are custom pieced together by their owner, turnkey racing sims consist of bundled complete setups that include everything needed to go sim racing. These systems offer a number of clear benefits, though two of the biggest are removing much of the headache and legwork involved in researching and building out your own sim, and guaranteeing hardware and software compatibility across the entire setup.
A Digital Racer’s Buyer’s Guide
What Factors To Consider When Buying A Racing Sim
With prices that regularly extend well into five-figure territory, purchasing a rig for sim racing games is a major investment. As such, it’s extremely important to be armed with the necessary info in order to know what to look for and ultimately determine which rig is right for you. So, with this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the 13 most important areas to take into account before buying a rig.
Consoles & CPUs: A sim racing rig’s chassis and controls comprise the skeleton and appendages of the setup, though its brain is undoubtedly the system the entire configuration is running off of, whether this is a PC or console. Today’s latest next-gen consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X are more convenient and user-friendly, though lack the upgradable and customizable nature inherent to PC CPUs. Those running their rigs off of a PC also have the option of piecing together their own custom CPUs, selecting individual components to optimize performance.
Software: Choosing a console or PC to run your sim rig on will not only impact areas such as graphics, physics, and realism, but this fundamental element will also determine which software titles (i.e. games) will be compatible with your setup. Assetto Corsa Competizione, iRacing, rFactor 2, and KartKraft, are all immensely popular game choices among PC sim racers while Gran Turismo Sport, F1 2021, Project Cars 2, Dirt Rally 2.0, and Forza 7 are some of the most widely used titles with next ben console owners.
Components: Because complete sim racing rigs are no more than the sum of their parts, the individual components that comprise each system is of utmost importance. As a result, manufacturers very seldom fail to cite extensive specs on each piece of hardware. Likewise, turnkey rigs will always include detailed lists of every element that they contain, though it’s also worth noting that many turnkey units are sold directly by the manufacturer with various optional upgrades.
Chassis & Form: Often referred to as a racing sim rig’s “cockpit,” the frame that a setup is built around is of immense importance as it accommodates the controls and display. These chassis setups can wildly vary in size, weight, and rigidity, as well as other areas such as how far back the driver is reclined. And, while most frames are of the skeleton chassis-style variety, there are sim racing rigs that come complete with partial (actual) cockpits that the user literally has to climb inside of. This latter group of rigs costs a good deal more, though undeniably add yet another layer of realism to an already tremendously lifelike driving experience.
Hardware Compatibility: In the same way controllers and accessories don’t offer cross-platform compatibility, many components that comprise racing sim rigs can’t be used together. For this reason, we can’t overstate how tremendously crucial it is to look into the individual compatibility of each part in order to ensure the entire systems works together. A lot of this comes down to the port, plug, and connection types, which makes this an easier area to explore, though confusion surrounding compatibility is also another reason that a lot of racing enthusiasts choose to opt for turnkey rigs where all the comparability-related legwork has already been done for you.
Tactile Feedback: Alongside ultra-lifelike physics and graphics, today’s latest and greatest racing sim rigs also offer unparalleled tactile realism thanks to systems that afford the user physical feedback. This includes rigs built atop moving platforms that pitch and yaw in order to mimic the G-forces experienced in a race car, as well as steering wheels and pedals with tactile feedback, and even seatbelts with built-in tensioners that replicate the sensation of being in a moving vehicle.
Rigidity: Whether behind the wheel of an actual track car or helming a virtual racer, the driver needs to exhibit incredibly deliberate and precisely controlled inputs, especially because race machinery tends to be ridiculously powerful with ultra-potent powertrains and ridiculously sensitive steering and braking inputs. For these reasons, a racing sim rig’s chassis needs to afford little to no “flex,” making rigidity ridiculously important — especially when running a rig that offers tactile feedback. This area largely comes down to how the frame was constructed, the materials it is crafted from, and whether or not elements like the steering wheel, shifter, or pedal mounts of braced or reinforced.
Materials: In the motorsport world, precious, high-end materials like various metal billet and carbon fiber are widely utilized, and it’s no different in the racing sim realm. Many of today’s leading hardware brands offer items crafted from these top-shelf constructions such as race seats with carbon fiber seat-backs, carbon steering wheels with titanium or magnesium paddle shifters, CNC-machined shifters and pedals. The type of material used for the frame also plays a major role in its overall rigidity, with extruded aluminum being a go-to choice amongst several industry leaders.
Upgradability: The vast majority of sim racing rigs are modular in nature, with individual pieces, parts, and components being able to be swapped out or upgraded (so long as the items are compatible with each other). For those interested in dipping their toes into the world of sim racing without spending a fortune, we’d recommend purchasing a more affordable rig that can be up-specced over time, assuming your passion for the hobby grows.
Versatility: While racing sim rigs are objectively expensive, one way to help stretch your dollar and give you better bang for your buck is to buy a setup that’s compatible with multiple types of racing or even multiple types of simulations. Some sim racing rigs can have their steering wheels and pedals swapped out for a yoke and flight controls in order to be used for aviation sims like Microsoft Flight Simulator X, GeoFS, and Aerofly FS.
Dimensions: This may sound obvious, but, just like with pool tables, buyers of racing sim rigs are often surprised by the immense physical dimensions of full systems. Not only can full-sized rigs take up quite a bit of square footage, but (again, just like with a pool table), these rigs also require some additional space surrounding them in order to comfortably access and climb in and out of. It’s also important to note that the rigs with moving platforms will require even more room. And, though they do tend to lack the rigidity of traditional racing sim rig frames, there are apartment-friendly folding and collapsible setups that can be stowed away in a closet.
Accessories: When purchasing a sim racing rig, it’s also worth exploring the myriad of accessories and peripherals offered in the space. This is because items such as driving gloves and racing shoes afford their wearer the same benefits as they do when being utilized in an actual race car, bolstering grip, control, and tactile feedback. Another cool aspect of this area is that many of the accessories used for sim racing can also be used during IRL track days.
Price: Each component that comprises modern racing sim rigs are objectively advanced, wildly sophisticated, and cutting-edge pieces of technology, and as such these pieces quickly add up in price when purchased together. Buying these items in bundles or turnkey packages often comes with at least a slightly discounted price. There are also lower-specced options on the market that stand out as being more affordable, though at the end of the day you typically get what you pay for — at least up to a point (which is typically around the $50,000 mark). Some of the most high-end rigs on the market even boast MSRPs that are greater than that of the latest model year Porsche 911, going well into six-figure territory.
Racing Sim Rig MVPs
The Best Racing Simulation Rigs Currently On The Market
Now that you’re up to speed on the different parts that comprise a rig, the different types that exist, and what to look for when shopping, let’s dive into our choices for the finest sim racing rigs currently available.
Stilo ST5VR Helmet
Made by renowned Italian helmet manufacturer Stilo, the ST5VR is an actual auto racing helmet with a visor and shell that’s been modified to accept an Oculus Rift VR headset. Made from the same premium materials as Stilo’s standard ST5 helmet range, the ST5VR is a less costly alternative to traditional displays that still allows for an incredibly immersive simulated racing experience. It is probably worth noting that this helmet is not certified for actual race or track day use.
Next Level Racing F-GT Cockpit
Next Level Racing’s F-GT model is a solid yet affordable cockpit that can be set up in GT or F1-style seating positions. Constructed around a laser-cut and robot-welded carbon steel chassis, this cockpit features a fully adjustable steering wheelbase, shifter, and pedal mounts that are pre-drilled and were designed to accommodate high-end hardware like direct drive wheels. Utilized by various professional esports teams, this full-frame setup is compatible with wheels, pedals, and shifters from leading brands in the industry like Thrustmaster, Fanatec, Simxperience, and Logitech.
Fanatec Rennsport Cockpit V2
Fanatec is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most eminent names in the sim racing hardware realm. The brand’s second-generation Rennsport cockpit is a high-end and heavily customizable full-frame platform that users can configure using a selection of seats, hardware, and accessories. Weighing under 70lbs, the Rennsport V2 cockpit features a roll-cage-inspired powder-coated tubular solid aluminum frame with a slew of adjustable elements. This rig is also compatible with most high-end pieces of sim racing hardware.
SPARCO Sim Rig II
Brimming with top-of-the-line hardware, this plug-and-play system is built around SPARCO’s Evolve Cockpit and features a SPARCO EVO II racing seat, Thrustmaster TS-XW steering wheel and pedals, a 49” curved HDR-4K Samsung monitor mounted on SPARCO’s TM-STAND1 monitor stand, and a Logitech K400 Plus wireless keyboard and trackpad. The is based on an MSI Infinite X with Intel Core I7. It is pre-loaded with Assetto Corsa Ultimate Edition (with Steam License). Also included is a Samsung Ultrawide 4K 49” curved monitor mounted to a SPARCO Monitor stand. The entire system runs off of an Intel Core I7-equipped SPARCO Edition PC AK-RIG that comes pre-loaded with Assetto Corsa Ultimate Edition.
Cool Performance Formula Simulator
Built by hand in the UK, this turnkey rig from Cool Performance is constructed around a powder-coated aluminum chassis that’s backed by a lifetime warranty. Running off of a top-shelf water-cooled PC, this impressive package includes a leather and suede-covered multi-way adjustable race seat, a top-of-the-line SimSteering Force Feedback system that packs more than 19ft-lbs of torque output, a hydraulic pedal system supported by an electronically adjustable positioning system, and a quick-release competition steering wheel with paddle shifters. Optional upgrades on this system include a tactile feedback system, Quaife sequential or H-pattern gear shifters, and a D-Box Motion System that affords 1.5” of travel movement for the chassis.
VRXsim Platinum Package
VRXsim’s Platinum Package rig is the result of the Barcelona-based brand setting out to deliver an all-in-one turnkey system using the finest hardware and componentry currently available. Comprising this ready-to-race rig is a carbon fiber seat and display triple display stand accommodating a triple 65″ 4K QLED TV setup, a top-shelf direct-drive wheelbase, Heusinkveld Pro pedals, and a booming 500-watt 5.1 THX digital surround sound speaker system. This spare-no-expense rig is also compatible with VR headset integration. At the heart of the rig is a Pro Motion 3DOF U-Series platform with a 3,6GHz Intel i7-9900K processor, 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD HHD, and an 11GB MSI RTX2080ti graphics card.
Vesaro VR Stage 5 Simulator
Vesaro’s VR Stage 5 rig is an objectively high-end sim that takes a spare-no-expense approach in order to achieve the most immersive driving experience possible. In addition to wearing an Oculus Rift VR headset, this rig’s user is positioned atop one of Vesaro’s Signature Cobra Imola Pro GT seats that ride on a D-Box Motion System with an industry-leading 6” of travel coming from four electronic actuators that provide tri-axis motion and allow for up to 2G’s of simulated force. Alongside a supplementary 50” display (for non-VR use), this thoroughly premium rig also comes equipped with an immensely top-shelf range of hardware from both Vesaro and a handful of other equally renowned names in the space.
Aston Martin x Curv AMR-C01
The AMR-C01 is an ultra-top-shelf, luxury home racing sim rig born out of a partnership between Aston Martin and the UK’s Curv Racing Simulators— a cutting-edge technology outfit that’s headed up by Le Mans winner and AMR works driver Darren Turner. The rig features a carbon fiber monocoque and shell that takes visual inspiration from the British marque’s supercars, and a reclined seating position loosely modeled after the one found in AM’s Valkyrie hypercar. Limited to just 150 units worldwide, the AMR-C01 is available in a myriad of different iconic race livery options and boasts a ridiculously high-end array of hardware and components, including a flat-bottomed F1-style steering wheel, a massive curved wraparound display, and an ultra-thin carbon race seat.
CXC Simulations Motion Pro II
CXC Simulations’ Motion Pro II rig is unequivocally one of the most cutting-edge and advanced racing sims on earth, with the highly immersive and extremely lifelike system routinely used for training by a slew of high-profile Formula One and NASCAR drivers. This modular system includes a carbon fiber body kit, an enormous 77” panoramic display, and comes with an enormous selection of custom options. Features like seatbelt tensioners also make this already impressive system all the more immersive. CXC also sells helicopter and airplane flight packs that allow this same rig to be used for aviation simulations.
AXSIM Formula Simulator
The AXSIM Formula Simulator is the closest a sim can get to the sensation of piloting an actual race car. Starting with a body that’s formed using an actual F1 car mold, the sim sits above a D-Box Motion System that’s further supplanted via a Cranfield Simulation Yaw Platform and Cranfield’s proprietary G-force replicating G-Seat — resulting in the most lifelike racing sim experience on the planet. As you’d expect, this moving sim’s componentry is thoroughly top-of-the-line, consisting of hydraulic brakes crafted from CNC-machined aluminum billet, a Precision Sim Engineering GPX Wheel positioned on a Simucube 2 Steering Motor that affords 18.5ft-lbs of torque, a Samsung 65″ 4K Ultra HD display, and a super-premium KEF hi-fi speaker system backed by a REGA amp.
While most modern racing sims are geared towards piloting (virtual) F1 cars, GT racers, and hypercars, TCCT opted to take things in a different — albeit no less premium — direction with its vintage-inspired eClassic. To bring this system to life, TCCT partnered with state-of-the-art sim tech outfit Racing Unleashed, as well as legendary auto design firms Pininfarina and Zagato to pen the bodywork and shell of the rig. Classic leather upholstery, brushed metal dash and trim, and woodgrain steering wheels all give this rig an incredibly unique feel and appearance.
Razer Ultimate Driving Simulator
First unveiled at CES 2020, Razer’s Ultimate Racing Simulator is another incredibly lifelike rig that was created through a multi-way collaboration with Razer, Vesaro, Simpit, SynthesisVR, and IoTech Studios. The entire rig is built around a hand-crafted chassis that supports an overhead-mounted 202-degree wraparound dual HD projector setup and surface, an anodized aluminum and carbon fiber steering wheel with leather accents, magnetic paddle shifters, and adjustable button clusters, and a hydraulic 3-pedal system. Added realism also comes from both a D-Box Motion System and a race seat with seatbelt G-force tensioners.
The 20 Best Racing Video Games Of All Time
Looking to enjoy some simulated racing without a complete rig? Then be sure to head over to our guide to the best racing video games of all time for 20 of the most high-adrenaline wheel-to-wheel action-packed titles ever released on console or PC.
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