You suck at luthiering?

I have a lot of hobbies. Possibly too many. While auto racing currently occupies the plurality of my attention, I have been obsessed with lots of things, many of which are sports: skateboarding, tennis, basketball, lacrosse, fencing, archery, marksmanship, soccer, biking, climbing, etc.. On the non-competitive, artistic side, I have writing, music, and programming. Sometimes hobbies collide and weird shit happens. For example, I wrote a novel about car racing. This was done as part of the National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November. No, you can’t read it. It’s horrible. The point of NaNoWriMo is to draft a novel in 1 month, not write something publishable.

In another car-meets-art effort, I’ve begun to make some guitars from valve covers. I don’t know anyone whose done this before. I’m calling these Overdrive Guitars. I’ve built 5 so far. The first was a bass guitar made from a 1.8L Miata. While this worked okay for bass, it’s a little large for guitar. So I went to the local Pick-n-Pull to look for something more suitable. Ideally, the neck fits into the gap between the cam lobes, and the cover shouldn’t be too thick. After a couple hours in the scrapyard, I came away with several Honda B18 and B20 covers.

The first prototype I built featured a B18A1. These were found in non-VTEC Acura Integras from 1990-1993. This is the 3rd guitar in the image below. I didn’t do any cutting on the body, but milled the neck to fit the slightly narrower gap between the cam lobes. The neck is 25.5″ scale length and the electronics are a pair of P-90 soap bars with dog ear covers. The bridge is a typical tune-a-matic affair. I was going to strip all the paint off it and then give it a proper paint job. But then I thought I was ruining part of the authentic aesthetic and left it unfinished. It is a prototype after all.

The next 3 guitars feature a 24.75″ scale length, as you would find on Gibson guitars. The guitar on the far left is another B18A1, but this time the body has been extensively modified. There is now a proper horn and the neck cavity has been milled to fit the neck. The pickups are once again P-90s, but this time without covers. The bridge is an interesting wrap-around design.

The 2nd and 4th guitars are both made from B20A5 covers, which were sourced from Preludes. These also feature cutaways for access to the higher frets. The pickup is a solo humbucker. The 3-way switch is therefore an on/off switch rather than a pickup selector. The bridge allows for anchoring through the rear or with sockets (I chose the latter).

In addition to these mostly finished models, I also have a B18B1 (94-01 Integra) guitar I just started. Building these guitars takes more time than you might guess. There’s a lot of work in cutting, abrading, and drilling the aluminum, but the biggest pain is making sure everything aligns properly.

How do they sound? Aluminum has good acoustic properties, and everything is put together solidly, so they sound good. If I didn’t suck at guitar, I’d upload something to YouTube. Maybe I will anyway, but not today.

Are they for sale? Yes. I plan on keeping one, but I’ll sell the others to recoup my expenses (and maybe get supplies for the next batch).

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Nannies: good or bad?

As a driving coach, I get to ride in a lot of cars. Most of them these days have really impressive nannies, by which I mean the combination of anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. These systems are mandatory on all new cars today in the US and EU and have been for a few years. The reason for this is that nannies save lives. While expert drivers may be able to control a car more effectively without such gadgets, I’d guess that 99.99% of drivers are safer with them. Personally, I’m glad all new street cars have nannies.

As a driving enthusiast and performance driver, what do nannies mean to you?

  • Faster – except for truly advanced drivers, nannies will see you lapping faster.
  • Safer – you’re much less likely to drive off track, spin, or hit something with nannies on.
  • Cheaper – you can read the sensors through the CAN bus and save thousands of dollars on telemetry.
  • Dumber – you won’t know how to control a car that doesn’t have nannies.

In spirit, nannies aren’t much different from an automatic transmission. If you spend all of your time in a car with automatic transmission, you’ll never learn how to operate a clutch or gearbox. How important is shifting to the driving experience? I don’t know. I’ve raced with an automatic transmission and it still felt like racing. Most engines these days automatically advance the ignition timing. Engines didn’t always do that. Have I lost an essential skill of driving because I don’t manually advance timing? I generally don’t think so, but some curmudgeon somewhere probably does.

As a coach, I love getting into a modern car because I know I’m much safer. Even though modern cars have way too much power, they also have nannies to prevent the car from spinning off course. I’ve had several experiences where I thought, “well, this is going to suck” only to have the nannies simply change the shape of the corner and leave me thinking “great car”. I rarely get into such situations and think “great driver” because the driver was the problem, not the solution. However, when I get into a car without nannies and the driver recovers from a difficult situation, all I have is praise for a driver who is learning to “explore the space”.

As a learning tool, bicycle training wheels are both a blessing and a curse. They save a lot of scabbed knees and possibly broken bones. But they have a fundamental flaw. When you’re riding a bike, you steer by leaning. Training wheels prevent that. I feel the same way about nannies. They prevent oversteer. However, if you ever want to be able to control oversteer, you’re going to have to experience it. Eventually, the training wheels have to come off if you’re going to learn how to really drive a car.

That said, if you’re going to your first track day, please leave the nannies on. Consider taking them off on your 3rd track day. However, if the car is your daily driver and replacing it would be financially painful, don’t do it. Leave the nannies on to protect yourself and your investment. An older Miata or 3-series is an ideal way to get a nanny-free experience. And if you brick it, it’s not that big a deal.

Of course, you can also get a nanny-free experience driving in simulation. It seems like I talk about the merits of sim racing every week. Well, that’s because it’s such an inexpensive way to train.

You suck at dieting: part 2 of 2

Last week I talked about my general approach to dieting. This can be summed up pretty simply.

  1. Dieting is as simple as calories out > calories in.
  2. Using a scale and calorie counter to track weight loss is like using a stopwatch and telemetry for improving your driving.
  3. There is no need to get caught up in the composition of the food when it is the amount that matters.

This week I want to talk about some specific tips and tricks to help you lose weight.

Eat healthy foods

While dieting is more about the amount of food rather than the composition, when you’re restricting calories, you need to have a balanced diet to stay healthly. Eat nutritious foods. You know what they are without me enumerating specifics. In general, healthy foods spoil when you leave them out. Things that don’t spoil aren’t even food. If bacteria and mold can’t thrive on them, you can’t either. Drink water. If that’s too boring, add some lemon or lime to it. Alcohol contains a lot of calories and prevents you from metabolizing fat, so minimize alcohol consumption.

1 pound per week

While it’s possible to lose more than 1 pound per week, I don’t think it’s good for your body to stress it out too much. 1 pound per week amounts to a 500 calorie deficit each day. That’s enough of a difference to see progress without doing yourself any harm. Note that your weight fluctuates throughout the day depending how much food and liquid you have in your body. Don’t be discouraged if your weight goes up some days. When viewed over the course of weeks, it drops steadily.

The NOBLES diet

Last week I turned my nose up at diets, but I’m going to tell you about one I invented for myself: the NOBLES diet. NOBLES  is an acronym for NO Breakfast or Lunch Except Socially.  It’s a form of intermittent fasting. The diet has absolutely nothing to do with food composition or amounts, but rather when you eat: which is only at dinner. The reason to use this diet is not necessarily to lose weight, but rather to train yourself out of feeling hungry. Having long periods of time when you’re not allowed to eat will give you an opportunity to challenge your hunger feelings. The more you deny your hunger, the better you’ll get at it.

The Except Socially part of the NOBLES diet recognizes the fact that dieting is not the most important thing in your life. Eating with other people is sometimes critically important in business relationships. Don’t tank your career for vanity. If you have to eat breakfast or lunch with someone, do it, but then you might have to restrict what you eat for dinner or the next day. The Except part isn’t an exemption from dieting!

Dieting is supposed to be hard

One of the critical stages in improving your driving is getting comfortable being uncomfortable. That means taking corners at higher speed and driving with greater yaw. When you first start driving, you’re not comfortable sliding a car around, but that’s how a car is supposed to behave on track. The dieting equivalent is being satisfied with being unsatisfied. You have to get accustomed to hunger.

Dieting sucks, especially the first few weeks. You’re going to feel hungry all the time. You have a few hundred million years of animal evolution demanding that you eat whenever possible because historically food has been scarce. But your ancestors went long periods of time without eating and it didn’t kill them. You can make it through the day on 500 calories less. Poor people the world over do it all the time.

I’m morally opposed to things that are supposed to make dieting easier. Here, take this pill and you won’t have an appetite. Eat only ______ and you won’t feel hungry. One of the most important parts of dieting is you taking control of something that’s really difficult. It’s a mental challenge. It’s difficult, and it’s supposed to be. Don’t cheat yourself out of the experience by looking for shortcuts. Just like race prep, shortcuts end up being the long way around.

No days off

A couple days off can ruin a couple weeks of good dieting. Each day, you’re only missing 500 calories. It’s not a lot. It’s much easier to eat 500 more than 500 less. A weekend of binge eating and drinking could see you easily consuming an extra 2500 calories. That’s 2 days undoing 5. One reason dieting is so hard is that it takes commitment every single day.

One of the hardest things about dieting is convincing yourself that every little bit matters every day. Does every crumb matter? Actually no. But the attitude matters. The world is full of people doing shit half-assed, and it’s not better off because of it. When you get right down to it, dieting isn’t really that complicated. It’s just consuming less food. It doesn’t take a whole lot of mental or physical skill to diet, just willpower. Commit yourself for no other reason than you don’t want to be one of those people who coast through life doing shit half-assed.

A 10 minute mile is just as long as an 5 minute mile

Exercise is an important part of weight loss, but overdoing it will undo the good. This is especially true when you start a new exercise program. There’s a desire to jump in and work out like crazy. Pulling a muscle will set you back weeks. It’s like driving too hard on cold tires. Spinning could send you home early. Start gradually. Weight loss takes months. There’s no reason to rush in the first days or weeks. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to run a 5 minute mile. I’ve only been a timed a few times, but when I was in college in peak shape I barely broke 5:30.

Catch up on TV, movies, audiobooks, and podcasts

Exercise time is a great time for your media consumption. I listen to audiobooks at the gym (and elsewhere). As an aspiring author, I consume a lot of books to understand how people construct them. Back when my knees weren’t totally shot I used to work out with a stationary rower while watching movies on Netflix. It’s hard for me to watch movies sitting on a couch because I always feel guilty, like I’m supposed to be doing something else. Watching while exercising is therefore a useful synergy for me. This Summer, I’ve added swimming to my exercise regimen. I’m not a very efficient swimmer, and it’s a little frustrating. Yet another mountain to climb…

You suck at dieting? part 1 of 2

Dropping pounds is a lot like dropping seconds: conceptually simple, but difficult in practice. I consider myself an accomplished dieter. My weight cycles between 165-173 pounds (75-78.5 kilos). When it gets to 173, I purposefully lose weight until I’m 165. Then I forget about dieting until I hit 173 again. The cycle takes about 6 months. Why don’t I just maintain 169 or something? Because it bores me. I actually enjoy losing weight. It’s almost as fun as gaining weight. But losing weight is hard. Your body doesn’t want you to do it. Well, I like challenges.

As a college student, my weight was a steady 165. I was highly active in a variety of athletics and never considered what I ate. As a graduate student in my mid-20s, I maintained a slightly higher weight: 175. I was still very active (tennis mostly) and ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I recall consuming a lot of pizza and soda. When my wife became pregnant, I gained a lot of sympathy weight. At my peak weight, I was about 190 pounds (86 kilos). Throughout my 30s and early 40s I maintained a weight of about 180-185 pounds (82-84 kilos). And then one day in my mid-40s I decided it was time to lose weight. I got down to 176 pretty easily, but that was a plateau I couldn’t break through until I changed my strategy. Eventually, I got down to 161. At that point a friend asked if I had health problems. I figured it was time to gain weight, and from then on my weight has been between 173 and 165.

This post and the next are about my approach to dieting. Shedding 10 pounds will make your car faster and use less consumables. So this is totally legit race talk even if it sounds like health talk.

The job of the racing driver is to find every tenth of a second to lap as quickly as possible. But the driver also has to do it safely. So it is with the dieter. The dieter must drop pounds as quickly as possible while staying within a safety margin. You should not attempt to drive on a race track unless you are physically fit enough to do so. And you should not attempt to diet unless you are in good health. I can’t stress this enough. You have absolutely no business losing weight if you’re ill. There’s an old saying “feed a fever, starve a cold”. FUCK THAT. Feed a fever and feed a cold. And feed every other malady while you’re at it. The best time to lose weight is when you’re 100% healthy. And then, at a pace that isn’t dangerous.

There are tons of diets that people have invented over the years. Popular diets today include Atkins, cleansing, ketogenic, paleo, raw foods, Slim Fast, South Beach, vegan, vegetarian, Weight Watchers, etc. I don’t do any of that complicated bullshit. I eat exactly the same kinds of foods whether I’m losing or gaining weight. It’s not about the type of food, but rather the amount. When you break it down, dieting is really simple. There is only 1 thing to consider.

  1. Calories out > calories in

The problem with some of the fad diets is that they are often a highly polarized balance of nutrients that help you lose weight by making you less healthy. You can lose weight with a high protein diet or a low protein diet, or a high carb diet or low car diet. None of these is a great idea if you ask me. Another class of diets is those where the inconvenience helps you lose weight. For example, on a rainbow diet, you’re only allowed to eat food that matches the color of the day (such as red on Mondays, orange on Tuesdays). You’re better off learning how to control your hunger rather than having some obscure rules control it for you.

How do you know if your lap times are improving? You time yourself. But that’s an overly simplistic answer. It’s more important to understand why your lap times get faster. What specific things does one do to drive closer to the limit? For that, you need to dissect your driving and understand the process of driving rather than just the result. Telemetry is essential. I use a RumbleStrip and Aim SoloDL. I also just got an APEX Pro, which I’ll review soon. Without the right tools it’s really hard to get faster.

Dieting without the right tools is similarly difficult. Fortunately, dieting tools don’t cost very much. All you need is a scale and a smartphone. The scale is like a stopwatch. It tells you if the results of your efforts are bearing fruit. Trying to lose weight without a scale is like trying to drive faster without a stopwatch. Simple bathroom scales are as little as $10. I have a $72 My Weigh SCMXL700T. This is totally unnecessary for weight loss, but since it has a 700 lb limit, I also use it to get corner weights on my racecars. If you do this, you’ll just need to make a set of 4 shims the same height as the scale (you’d think you only need 3 but it’s easier to swap things around with 4).

The dieting equivalent of an Aim SoloDL is a calorie counter. I use Lose It!, but there are many, many equivalent apps to choose from. Here’s a screenshot showing my weight chart over the last 5 years (everyone asks about the spike in the middle, which was a data entry error).

Don’t want to count calories? Well, that’s like wanting to drive faster but refusing to use telemetry. Good luck with that. Get over whatever the fuck your problem is and start counting calories. Understand the process not just the result. The reason you’re overweight may be simply because of your stubborn refusal to count calories. Remember, the only rule of dieting is calories out > calories in. Fad diets like to make dieting about food composition. Only drink liquids. Only eat raw foods. Avoid high fructose corn syrup. It’s not about the food composition, it’s about the calories. Eat normal healthy food, but less of it.

Sweeteners

To illustrate the misunderstandings of food composition, let me rant a bit about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This sweetener is used in canned sodas and other drinks. Lots of people look at the modern problems with obesity and diabetes and point to HFCS as the culprit. What exactly is HFCS? Table sugar is a mixture of 50% glucose and 50% fructose tied together in a single molecule called sucrose. HFCS is a blend of fructose and glucose, having more fructose than glucose, typically something like 55%/45%. The health-conscious world has 2 reasons to hate HFCS.

  1. Your body can detect changes in glucose but not fructose. HFCS therefore has more undetectable sugar, which leads to diabetes.
  2. HFCS is inherently bad for you because it is a processed food and unnatural. Better alternatives include honey and agave syrup.

The 10% difference in the balance of glucose and fructose is not going to give you diabetes. You could consume the exact same amount of fructose by simply not finishing the last bit of your drink. It’s the amount of sugar that’s the problem, not the balance of glucose and fructose. If it was the balance that’s the problem, you should also stay away from honey. It has the same ratios of glucose and fructose as HFCS. And what of agave syrup? That shit is 90% fructose. If you’re worried about fructose intake, it’s about the worst possible sweetener you could consume.

What about artificial sweeteners? Why the fuck would anyone want to fool their bodies into thinking they are consuming calories when they are not? That kind of shit never works out in the end. Stop making your diet about composition and start making it about amount. Want some sweetener in your coffee? Use actual sugar, be it sucrose, agave, or honey. And then record it in your calorie counter app.

Rev-mashing: part 2 of 2

Are you rev-matching or rev-mashing? Let’s repeat the question from the end of last week. Where in the corner should you downshift and what are the consequences of shifting at the wrong point.

Red Zone

Lots of people start to downshift during threshold braking. As soon as they hit the brakes, they also depress the clutch and blip the throttle. There are several problems with this.

  • The car was already at high RPM and the blip just sent it even higher.
  • The car is currently going too fast to engage the lower gear.
    • If you shift to the lower gear immediately, you may destroy the engine by revving it past redline.
    • If you wait with the clutch depressed, the engine and transmission will spin down, negating any benefit of blipping the throttle. When you do engage the clutch, you’ll have to feed it in gradually to prevent locking up the tires. Congrats, you just ruined your brake bias and made the stopping distance longer. You’re also putting wear on the clutch.

Blip-shifting in the red zone is the worst possible place to shift.

Orange Zone

This is generally the best place to downshift. For really long decreasing radius corners, it’s too early though, as you’re still aggressively bleeding speed through half the corner.

Yellow Zone

In this trail-braking zone, your concentration should be on controlling the speed and angle of the car using a combination of brake pedal and steering wheel. It’s not a good time to take your hand off the wheel or dance on pedals.

Green Zone

This is the point of maximum lateral g-force. Your foot is making the transition from brake to throttle. In longer corners with extended trail-braking zones, this is a fine time to shift.

Blue Zone

You’re balancing throttle and steering as you pass the apex and track out to the exit. The over-rotation you initiated in trail-braking has to be wound out some in here. Probably better to keep both hands on the wheel.

Purple Zone

Although it seems way too late, shifting in the Purple zone is an ok place to shift. You’re not going to break any lap records doing it this way, but you’re also not going to do any damage to the car. If you drive through a corner in a gear that’s too high, it’s not that big a deal. If you’re balancing throttle and steering, as you should be, you don’t really need full power anyway. I don’t know anyone who actually downshifts after a corner. It would be like shooting free-throws underhanded: works okay, but looks too silly to be taken seriously.

Demonstrations

Here’s a popular YouTube video instructing how to heel-toe shift. The video overlays footwork and RPMs. Watch as he starts the downshift too early. The revs drop and feeds out the clutch gradually. If you have to release the clutch gradually, you’re not rev-matching, you’re engine-braking (or engine-breaking). One wonders how such a flawed example can have so many views.

Here’s the right way to do it. Notice how quickly the clutch is released as he blips each gear. You might also notice how he changes his hand position depending on which gear he’s selecting. It’s most noticeable for 2nd gear where he rotates his hand thumb-down. He’s not doing this to look cool, but I’m guessing somewhere there’s a ricer in a stanced Honda back-handing every fucking gear…

Rev-thrashin: part 1 of 2

Check out this awesome 1980s movie poster.

I weep every time I see this poster, partly because I grew up in the 80s, a time of particularly embarrassing fashion. But now I also weep because I just learned that Pamela Gidley recently died. She’s probably most famous for “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” but I’ll always remember her as Cherry 2000. However, the real reason I’m bringing this poster poseur to your attention is that the wrist guards are on backwards. Wearing them like that would do more harm than good. Obviously nobody at the photo shoot had any idea about skateboarding. Why am I talking about skateboarding. Oh, I don’t know…

Whether you call it rev-matching, blip shifting, or heel-toe-shifting, this technique is often categorized as an advanced skill. I agree, but not because it’s difficult to do, but because it doesn’t have much effect on lap times. It only becomes really important when you’re searching for tenths of a second and not whole seconds. That said, driving enthusiasts love to display their rev-matching skill on the street or track. Like the Thrashin’ movie poster, sometimes they do it so wrong that it looks like wrist guards on backwards.

Let’s look at an idealized corner depicted as a rainbow of colors.

  • Red – Threshold braking zone. All brake no steering.
  • Orange – Initial trail-braking zone. Ideally, this zone is really small.
  • Yellow – Trail-braking zone. The car is rotating as the mixture of brake plus steering puts more weight/grip on the front of the car.
  • Green – Nadir. This is the point where the right foot is moving from brake to gas, and the point of minimum speed. Ideally, this zone is really small, but some corners do benefit from a little coasting.
  • Blue – Throttle zone. The position and angle of the car are controlled by a mixture of steering and throttle.
  • Violet – Straight. All throttle no steering.

At what point along this path should you downshift? Your perspective may be different from reality, so if you have some video of yourself driving, observe your shift points. Ask yourself “what are the consequences to the driveline and handling of the car?” Tune in next week for some discussion.

P.S. The image above is from my upcoming book, “In Slow Out Fast (and other lies of the race track)”. This long-awaited sequel (by me, not you)  to “You Suck at Racing: a crash course for the novice driver” focuses on the intermediate driver. Due out this Summer and available from Amazon.

Budget sim rig

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m an rabid proponent of simulation training. It’s the cheapest and safest way to improve your car control muscle memory. In this post, I want to talk about building a low budget sim rig in mid 2018.

Software

There are two main contenders: iRacing and Assetto Corsa. The downside of iRacing is that it has a subscription and collection fee structure. The subscription part is a monthly fee. The collection part is that you have to buy cars and tracks to add them to your collection. 1 year of iRacing will cost you $200 or more depending on how many tracks and cars you purchase. What you get is laser scanned tracks, great racing, and a really helpful community. I highly recommend it.

Assetto Corsa costs about 10% of iRacing. Most cars and tracks are developed by the community and are generally free. You can also pay for official expansion packs. Assetto Corsa is a lot more tweakable than iRacing and has AI opponents, which iRacing does not. If you want to race as a competitive eSport, stay tuned for Assetto Corsa Competizione, due out this Summer.

In addition to iRacing and Assetto Corsa, there’s also a few others worth mentioning: Automobilista, Project CARS, Project CARS 2, rFactor, rFactor 2, and DiRT Rally. I have all of these, and each has its merits. Some tracks are only available in specific simulators, so if you want to train at that location, you have to get that software. On the downside, learning how to use each platform takes some time. Here’s my recommendation: get Assetto Corsa first. After that, it depends on your goals. If you’re interested in wheel-to-wheel racing, you should be practicing against other people to learn the habits of stupid people, not smart AI. You can do that with Assetto Corsa, but iRacing is better. If you’re driving off road, you can do that with Assetto Corsa too, but DiRT Rally is better. As you start to train for specific tracks, you may need to pick up Automobilista, rFactor 2, or even the venerable rFactor. And if you want to be blown away by how gorgeous a racing game can be, Project CARS 2 has the best eye candy.

Computer Hardware

Build or buy? Like building a car, building a computer takes time to research and some technical know-how to construct. If you’re not a computer builder, just buy the cheapest decent gaming rig on Amazon. Generally speaking, you can’t get anything decent for under $500. Sure, there are things marketed as gaming PCs for less than $500, but they don’t have a suitable GPU. The single most important thing in your computer is going to be the GPU. Most computers have sufficient CPU, RAM, and storage, but the GPU is highly variable. How do you check the performance of the GPU? Passmark. Assetto Corsa and iRacing don’t require a high end video card, and you can get away with a Passmark score of 1000. rFactor 2 and the Project CARS titles need higher end cards with a score of 2500 or more. My advice is get an nVidia GTX 1050. It has a Passmark score of 4500 and can be found cheaply whether you build or buy.

A quick perusal of Amazon shows you can buy an iBUYPOWER gaming PC for $499. But it’s got a GT710 video card with Passmark score 677. That’s no gaming PC. For the same price you can get a Shinobee with the recommended GTX1050. But who the heck are iBUYPOWER and Shinobee? Good question. You might prefer buying from a more established name like Lenovo, Dell, HP, etc. Expect to pay a little more for that, but maybe it’s worth it. In any case, you’re looking for a decent video card and probably a cost of at least $500.

If you want to build your computer, go to the Passmark best value table to find your GPU. Sometimes you can find screaming deals. I upgraded a GPU at one point for just $35. Right now, I would get a Radeon R9 350 (Passmark 2265) for $80. This is actually a card made for laptops that they shoe-horned into a PCIE slot. So it requires very little power and cooling. Looking at the local computer surplus supply, I can get a Dell with 8GB RAM for $150. I’d swap out the HDD for an SSD for $70. The end result would cost about $300 and the performance would be good enough. But for $200 more I get a lot of newer parts fully assembled, a warranty, the ability to return it to Amazon, and with twice the performance. So unless you actually like building computers, buy a budget gaming PC from Amazon.

Driving Hardware

The spectrum of hardware is immense if you consider the boutique companies making high-end products. But since this is a post on building a budget system, there are 3 major manufacturers to consider: Logitech, Thrustmaster, and Fanatec. I have not used Fanatec. I’ve steered clear of them for my own purchases because I’ve heard of too many horror stories with customer support. However, their hardware is really slick and it’s very popular amongst the top simmers. If you’re not building a budget system, look seriously at Fanatec. But for a budget rig, look elsewhere.

I own both Thrustmaster and Logitech products. I like them both. A sim rig really needs 3 things (1) force feedback steering wheel (2) all three pedals (3) brake pedal with progressive resistance. Although it aids in immersion, you don’t need an H-pattern shifter or hand brake.

Most of the recent Logitech and Thrustmaster wheels have good force feedback. Thrustmaster wheels have stronger motors. How important is that? Not very. What is important is the feel of the brake pedal. Most brake pedals have linear resistance due to using a single uniform spring. The more the brake pedal travels, the more brake is applied. Uh, that’s not how real brakes work. They work on pressure. The most authentic brakes push hydraulic fluid onto a load cell, just like in your car. They also don’t fit in the budget category. The inexpensive alternative is to use stacked springs, springs with varying rates, or rubber plugs. Mixing resistance types can give a brake pedal progressive resistance.

If you like tinkering, you can find older Logitech and Thrustmaster rigs on Craigslist or racing forums. Mod the brake pedal and you’re looking at some savings. You can also increase the precision of the sensor outputs with Bodnar cables. My rig is a mixture of Thrustmaster, Logitech, PerfectPedal, and Bodnar parts. The performance is probably up there with the boutique gear that costs $2000 or more. If your goal is sim training and not sim building, just get a Logitech G29. It has progressive brake resistance out of the box.

TL;DR

Expect to pay about $900 for a sim rig. If you build instead of buy, you could cut that in half, but at the cost of your time and labor.

  • $20 Assetto Corsa
  • $500 gaming PC
  • $90 1080P monitor
  • $260 Logitech G29