by David Allen on April 9th, 2012
Years ago when I started sim-racing the idea of hooking a steering wheel to a computer and driving a car on the screen was a stretch of the imagination for many. It was kind of like wearing your favorite cartoon character’s pajamas to bed: it wasn’t discussed in public or at the family reunion your parents just hoped one day you’d grow out of it. While most of us did grow out of our favorite cartoon pajamas and stop wearing them, sim-racing has become more main stream, more widely accepted, and even recognized as a sport by professional racing organizations.
When something becomes popular everyone starts thinking of ways to make money off of it, and sim-racing is no different. In terms of the iRacing service, the more it grows the more the third party support grows for products to make racers more comfortable and to make the simulator feel more like a real life experience. While I would love to personally use or endorse all products out there, it’s just not financially possible. But I would like to discuss a few products that I have used or supported.
Let’s start with comfort. Sitting in the kitchen table chair is for eating not racing, as your body will remind you after 50 laps. Besides we all want that authentic “in the seat feel” right? While many sim-racers out there have fabricated their own racing rigs, for those not as mechanically skilled a few options do exist. The one I recommend is the Obutto Gaming Cockpit. The United States distributor for the Obutto system is Main Performance PC, owned by sim-racing fanatic Michael Main. For just under $400 dollars you can get the base model which comes with a fully adjustable racing seat, steering wheel and shifter mounts, single LCD monitor mount, swiveling keyboard and mouse tray, and pedal tray. That’s enough to get the average sim-racer comfortable and on the track. Other accessories are available such as triple monitor mounts, lap desks, and flight stick mounts for those flight simulator fans out there.
As a side note, Main Performance PC does offer custom built gaming PCs as well as the Logitech G27 steering wheel. A sim-racer looking the complete package could visit Main Performance PC and for around $2000 walk away with an adequate setup to begin a sim-racing career.
Once you’re in the seat it’s about the extras right? Kind of like a teenager picking out the accessories to their first car. At this point we could go all directions with our discussion. Folks, there are steering wheel and pedal sets out there for sim-racing that can easily chew up the average tax refund two times over. Companies like ECCI come to mind with the 6000 and 7000 series Trackstar wheels. For the average consumer those wouldn’t be considered affordable; but for the dedicated sim-racer who wants that real weekend warrior car feel on the computer, these may be your answer.
Many who like a more authentic feel for gas and brake turn to Todd Cannon and his CST pedals. I have to be upfront with you and say that, being in a wheelchair I personally have never used his pedals, so I can’t offer personal feedback. What I can say is Todd’s setups start at just under $500 dollars, and there’s even a DIY option for the mechanical minds out there who want to make their own. I do know Todd stands behind his products and his pedals do produce the authentic feedback most sim-racers are looking for.
What’s left? Some pretty cool stuff, some high-end technology that just flat-out makes iRacing cool. When iRacing released some API code for the simulator, programmers were all smiles and applications have emerged from all directions to improve the service. I can’t name them all, but the few I rely on are iSpeed for telemetry and in-car stats. iSpeed can be run on a separate screen or device as long as it has a web browser. I also use iRaceDash which is an application for the iPhone or iPad. This allows you to see up to the minute fuel levels, speed and lap times, and even enables you to change tires with just the touch of a screen. Some of these applications are available for the Android platform as well and should be available under the five dollar mark.
Sim-racing is about what makes you as a driver comfortable and competitive; some people prefer more expensive cockpits, and some prefer button boxes. And some prefer just the mouse and keyboard. It’s an open market, and your bank account and imagination are truly your only limits. New products are being developed in garages everyday by some of sim-racing’s brightest minds. We’ll do our best to keep the ones covered here on Allen’s Wrench that make it to production.