Will high-end sim equipment make you faster?

As sim-racing continuously grows, more and more sim-racers are investing on higher end equipment ranging from direct drive wheels, load cell pedals, custom wheel rims and other upgrades. There is one question that is commonly asked by those who are looking to make the jump into high end gears; “Will it make me a faster driver?”

Quick answer: No it WILL NOT, but it CAN. There is a difference between the two. Just upgrading your equipment will not make you a better driver at once. It is like getting a gaming grade mouse with high DPI for shooter games but without adjusting in-game settings, or getting a professional camera when one doesn’t really utilize its adjustment options. To make the most out of any equipment requires a good understanding of how it works and its strong points compared to lower end models.

Unlocking the potential

Gaming grade peripherals are promoted for various benefits. High Refresh Rate monitors offer better response times vital for shooters, premium keyboards offer good ergonomics and tactile feel for comfort as well as muscle memory, high DPI mice offer precision, and the list goes on. But gamers can be just as good with a standard equipment if it suits their needs or, more importantly, if they haven’t maximized the potential of their current peripherals. The same thing applies to sim racing equipment.

Direct drive wheels and high end pedals (which usually include load-cell brakes) are among the latest and most sought after commodity in sim racing as the technology is becoming more accessible to lower budget prospects. More and more professional sim racers are looking into such equipment, but why?

Benefits of higher end wheelbases

Compared to gear and belt driven wheels, most direct drive wheels are said to be more responsive since the wheel rim is directly connected to a motor, hence the name direct drive. Without any gears or belts in between the wheel and the motor, there is almost nothing to dilute the force feedback which the driver needs in order to know when the car is at its grip limits. On most direct drive wheels, you would be able to feel a car’s sensation of understeer or oversteer much sooner than you would feel on an entry level set.

The wheelbase is often the only tool helping drivers to feel what is going on with the car unless one can avail of haptic transducers or motion platforms. Although most direct drive wheels beat lower end wheels in terms of responsiveness, it is still possible to set similar lap times and pace even on entry level wheels provided it has sufficient force feedback.

If you could apply steering techniques on an entry level wheel as if you were driving on a higher end set with high torque, you could pretty much nail similar lap times as you would on a direct drive wheel. High end wheels does help drivers be more consistent in the longer runs though.

Benefits of higher end pedals

On the other hand, the pedals are the more crucial piece of equipment for sim racing. It’s all about speed, and what better to keep the speed up by properly managing and timing your acceleration and braking. Aside from accelerating quickly out of corners without losing traction, it is just as important to brake as late as possible while still being able to travel through the corner on the optimal line and average speed.

Trail braking is one of the techniques that can shave off that all important final tenth of a second from your lap time and it involves the gradual releasing of the brakes while turning in the corner. This technique is more difficult if the brake pedal is too soft and with a lack of travel. It is also difficult to do if the pedals have a bad angle.

Higher end pedals offer a higher amount of resistance compared to entry level sets, and most can also be adjusted to the driver’s preference. The natural resistance of such pedals help drivers to be able to gradually release the brake much better than they would on lighter pedals which is important for trail braking, and can therefore improve lap times and consistency. Aside from trail braking, stiffer brake pedals can help prevent locking up the front wheels when braking hard. This is where muscle memory and seat time come into play.

Muscle Memory and Seat Time

A sim racer can be just as quick and consistent on an entry level set like a G29/G923 compared to some who are on a higher end set, but this may require plenty of seat time, or practice as others may say. As with sim racing using a wheel for the first time, everyone will face this readjustment period when the drivers take their time to acclimatize with the new equipment. The same will happen when shifting to a higher level equipment. More seat time with their choice of equipment over time will help drivers understand the potential of their equipment as their muscle memory already knows how exactly their equipment feels. Hence muscle memory and seat time are pretty much linked to how one can fully make use of the equipment to its limit.

Perhaps a Logitech G923 paired with a high pedal set (at least on PC) may be a good idea

It’s all about style

There are many other upgrades and modifications available for sim racers. Some go for wheel rims that are better suited for rally, open wheel or drifting. Every driver has his/her own preference. At the end of the day, it boils down to driver style with the help of muscle memory and plenty of seat time. Some if not most sim racers make upgrades not necessarily to go faster right away, but to try and enjoy virtual racing much more, which in turn will eventually help become a better driver. What’s important is to try to make the most of what you have now and understand its maximum potential before making a big leap to a higher end equipment.

- Luis Moreno -