Is a gaming wheel worth it for VR sim racing?

Is a gaming wheel worth it for VR sim racing?

My motor-sport journey

I have been a motor-sport fanatic my entire life, initially watching motor-sports on television, then go-karting while a child, moving onto track days and eventually racing (with a license) as an adult.

I hold one thing solely responsible for my ‘driving ability’ and that is sim racing with a gaming wheel and pedals. Since about the age of 12 I got my first sim racing wheel and pedals and have been using one ever since. Obviously the first gaming wheel I had was very basic – however by the time I got my Driving Force Pro and then later the Logitech G25 it was a game changer. Being able to ‘feel’ the car, the bumps, the grip and the weight shifting about – it changed everything.

How sim racing helped me improve

I noticed as soon as I started sim racing my go-karting in real life improved massively and then after years and years (and thousands and thousands of hours) of sim racing, I noticed my ability in a real car had improved too. When I first started doing track days people would get ‘upset’ because I was going ‘too fast’ – they claimed that I was ‘pushing the limits’. In fact I just knew how to drive and balance the car much better than they did – my car and driving was no where near the edge like it was for them due to the lines and car control / balance I used.

The long story of all this was that I eventually got my race license and went racing for real. Believe it or not, I won my first ever race.

Sim racing - to real racing - it really works
Sim racing – to real racing – it really works.

So, what I guess I’m trying to say is – sim racing wheels with pedals are awesome and actually improve driver skill with continued practice. I find that generally there is a ‘nack’ to using a sim racing wheel, which even a good ‘real’ driver can’t get the hang of first of all when they try it out. However I do notice that good ‘sim racers’ generally make good real drivers – as proven by the GT Academy Series and people like Jann Mardenborough.

I finally tried sim racing with VR

So now, on to sim racing and VR (in my case using an Oculus Rift and Assetto Corsa). Many sim racers claimed that triple screens were ‘better’ for sim racing because of the limited field of view and lower resolutions in virtual reality headsets. However, once you try VR and sim racing with a decent force feedback wheel there is definitely no going back.

I’d say that with VR you cannot experience anything more immersive than using a decent force feedback wheel in a sim racing game such as Assetto Corsa. Not only can you look around the car as if you were there, but the fact your hands rest on the wheel in the exact position your real hands rest (and you can feel the wheel and the force feedback through those hands), it truly feels like you are there driving that car.

The strangest thing when you first try VR with sim racing and a wheel, is that your body ‘feels’ the turns and compression’s (as your brain is so fooled it is real and is making up for the lack of actual inertia). Similarly when you have your first high speed crash your body actually tenses and prepares for the impact – which is a strange experience.

Pushing past the initial experience

Luckily your brain adjusts quite quickly and after a while you are hurtling around tracks at an alarming rate – the interesting thing is the ‘realness’ remains. You can feel the bumps, slide the car, look out the window as you’re going sideways – it is incredible. Add a clutch pedal and a six speed shifter and the experience gets even better.

I feel sorry for the people who have only tried VR sim racing on a game pad, although they will be able to ‘see’ as if they were in the car, the disconnect through the hands on the controller would completely break the immersion.

Then once you then take the plunge to try online racing in VR with a wheel it then goes up yet another notch over any other VR experience. You can hear the cars around you, you can look into the apex, you can judge the distance to the car in front under braking, you can look to your side as you race side by side under braking. It’s amazing.

Conclusion

So the conclusion is: Yes – a sim racing wheel is definitely worth using in VR – go find a second hand G25 or G27 on ebay today and get stuck in.

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