Let’s talk about Automobilista 2

Among sim racing enthusiasts, Automobilista (AMS) is well respected for its vehicle dynamics. It’s not very popular compared to iRacing or Assetto Corsa. Honestly, it’s not popular compared to just about any other platform. Maybe that’s because of its obscure car and track collection? Or maybe advertising? In any case, people who like realistic sims tend to have AMS in their software library. Personally, I don’t use it as often as AC or rF2 because of the track collection. I prefer (a) tracks I may visit in real life (b) rally courses. But if AC and rF2 didn’t exist, I’d be very happy with AMS.

Project CARS is well known for its Madness engine. If you want to see how gorgeous a car simulation can be, PCARS and its successor PCARS2 are at the top of the heap. But hardcore sim racers generally feel that PCARS is a little on the arcade side and PCARS2 is a lot on the arcade side. I found that it was really car dependent with some vehicles excellent and others miserable.

When Reiza Studios announced that Automobilista 2 would be using the Madness engine, I got pretty excited. Best physics with best graphics? How can they go wrong? I purchased AMS2 during a sale event but have been waiting for the official 1.0 release before driving it. They have been making lots of little fixes over the last couple months as they get close to 1.0, so the release is going to happen soon. But I got impatient and started trying it anyway.

Controller Setup

Sadly, AMS2 inherits PCARS2’s hidden configuration files. You can’t tweak values in a text file. However, you can see the default values of the pedals when they are at rest, and this lets you set the floor (I think). Calibration probably sets the ceiling correctly but you might want to stop before pushing your pedals to the end just in case. It’s hard to know because there is no feedback in game to show you what the input values are. I suppose I could record data to find out. There are a couple commercial products for data acquisition and analysis (e.g. Z1 Analyzer) but nothing yet that simply exports to AiM, MOTEC, or TrackAttack.

Vehicle Selection

AMS2 has a very strange mixture of cars. You’ll find plenty of Formula cars and prototypes if you like the high end. There are also karts. But there’s also a lot of low performance cars in both RWD and FWD from various Brazilian series.  I can’t think of any other platform that has so many shitty FWD cars. So, yeah, I’m in sim racing heaven with the vehicle selection because I love shitty cars in general. (By shitty I don’t really mean bad, but rather all analog with low power and low grip).

Track Selection

The bulk of the catalog are Brazilian tracks. I’ve never been to any of them and my guess is I never will. So to me they’re a bit like fantasy tracks. Nothing wrong with fantasy tracks! Some of my favorite tracks aren’t real.

Great news, my favorite test track, Brands Hatch, is in the game, as well as a bunch of other UK tracks like Snetterton and Donington. All appear to be laser scanned. There are no dirt tracks yet and I’m not sure if they are planning on that or not.

Driving

My favorite driving test is a low powered Formula car at Brands Indy. AMS2 has a Formula Trainer, so that’s perfect. Unfortunately, the Formula Trainer has some really weird behaviors. The steering isn’t even remotely linear. Turn a little and nothing happens. Turn a little bit more and suddenly the wheels turn too much. There’s a really weird understeer behavior and sometimes the front tires don’t spin at all. I went off track into the grass and the car literally got stuck and couldn’t move. I was about to weep baseball-sized tears of sorrow and ask for a refund when I decided I should check out some other cars.

It turns out that the FWD cars are a completely different story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sim so committed to old FWD cars. Thank you Reiza Studios! They are awesome. Finally, FWD cars that actually drive like FWD cars.

Next up, I tried the Formula Vee. Last year, Reiza put together a car and track pack for rFactor 2, and I bought that. So I’ve driven the Reiza FV before, just in a different sim. I really like the FV in rF2. Also, the Puma is really great. In AMS2 the FV is equally awesome. But it isn’t the same. The AMS2 FV is a lot more stable than the rF2 FV. It may be differences in the default setups. I haven’t explored that yet.

Why should the Formula Trainer be so different from the FV? Physics is physics and the two cars aren’t that different on paper. But they are very different. Did RS do something stupid like inherit the Formula Rookie from PCARS2?

Modding

There is no modding in AMS2. That means no community-created cars and tracks. FUUUUUUCK.

Future

How successful will AMS2 be? Not very. It looks great and drives great (mostly), but that isn’t enough to unseat any of its rivals. It doesn’t have the match-making structure of iRacing. Nothing else does either. You might go to AMS2 for organized races but not for pick-up games. It doesn’t have community content. One of the reasons AC and rF2 are so popular is that the community has created a huge number of cars and tracks. It doesn’t have a Miata. Miata is always the answer. It doesn’t have a low price tag. The Season Pass DLC is like $100. It has one thing that the other sims don’t have: a focus on Brazilian Stock Car racing. That means it comes with some pretty cool tracks and some awesome shitty cars. That’s good enough for me and some hardcore sim racers, but most people will get a lot more out of AC, rF2, or iRacing.

So is AMS2 better than the original? Like PCARS2, DR2, and ACC, the graphics got better. Maybe some other things got better or will get better. But the loss of modding is a really hard loss. So no, I don’t think AMS2 is actually better than AMS. It may be someday in the future when there’s more content, but right now you’re better off with the original.

Let’s talk about Assetto Corsa Competizione

Assetto Corsa’s tag line is “Your Racing Simulator”. And I guess that’s a good description. It does many different things well. You can race against AI or other people; on asphalt or dirt; in vehicles ranging from karts to F1; on world famous tracks or fantasy creations. There’s a huge amount of community content and most of it is free.

Assetto Corsa Competizione is and isn’t the sequel to Assetto Corsa. It is in the sense that it’s the same developers using an improved engine. It isn’t in the sense that it has a very specific goal: it’s branded as “The Official World Challenge GT Game” (it used to be the official simulation of the Blancpain GT3 Series, but the name changed in 2020). Everything in ACC is officially licensed. The cars and tracks are absolutely gorgeous. But they are also limited by what was actually available in the real world. There are no Miatas in ACC because there were no Miatas in the Blancpain GT3 Series. There is also no Mid-Ohio or fill-in-the-blank unless the track was part of the series. It feels very limiting.

Setup

The control setup works very well. ACC had no problem detecting my weird array of controllers and I was able to poke a few buttons to set the floor and ceilings the way I like. The overall look and feel was much more like a console game (or PCARS) than the original AC. However, I think the interface in general is good. Not necessarily better, but usable.

Test Drive

There are several difficulty settings to choose among, and they simply turn on/off things like automatic transmission or traction control. I selected “Expert”, which turns everything off. My favorite test track, Brands Hatch, is available, but it uses the full course rather than the Indy configuration. I find it annoying that they don’t have both configurations, but I guess this is what you get when the game is designed to replicate a real-life series where only one version of the track was raced.  I didn’t know which of the various GT3 cars to drive, so I went with the one I’ve seen most often in real life: Audi A8.

The physics felt pretty good without any FFB tweaking. I’ve never actually driven a GT3 car, so it’s hard for me to judge that accurately. I changed the weather to rain, and I wasn’t that impressed with the difference. There’s definitely less grip, but it didn’t have the level of surprise/treachery I’m used to in the real world. It did look amazing though.

Returned

It may be a little surprising, but I returned ACC before I hit the 2 hour limit. It turns out I don’t like GT3 cars. I don’t like the way they look or sound from the inside. Too hi tech. The cars also have too much grip. That may reflect the real world, but I prefer something that slides around.

There’s a pattern here. Project CARS, DiRT Rally, and Assetto Corsa are all better than their sequels. I hope the same isn’t true for Automobilista 2…

Let’s talk about DiRT Rally 2.0

The Original DiRT Rally

When DiRT Rally was a beta release on Steam, I picked it up out of curiosity. I didn’t know much about rallying beyond the spectacular crashes. DiRT Rally is a brutally hardcore game that doesn’t even have a tutorial on how to drive on dirt. I fell in love with it instantly and it remains one of my favorite driving games. I became so excited about rally that I went as far as building my Yaris to rally rules. I haven’t competing in rallies yet, but I still think about it. I absolutely love driving on dirt, be it virtual or real.

DiRT 4 Disaster

When Codemasters announced their next title, DiRT 4, I was pretty excited. It had this cool procedurally generated track technology that allows it to randomly generate stages. Great idea but it didn’t actually create much variation as there were too few building blocks. Worse, the car physics were horrible. Not only have I uninstalled it, I completely removed it from my account so I never have to see that POS again.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Initial Release

When DiRT Rally 2.0 was announced I was both excited and nervous. Would it be the much anticipated sequel to DiRT Rally or another disappointment like DiRT 4? It was terrible. I couldn’t get my controllers mapped properly because the interface didn’t show controller values. But the reason I asked for a refund was the asphalt physics in Spain. Absolutely no feedback. It felt like I was driving a 1980s arcade game. I cried myself to sleep that night.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Redux

The next time I purchased DiRT Rally 2.0, I got it during a sale, and paid half the price. And to my surprise and delight, it is much improved. It now has one of the best interfaces for controller input. It’s intuitive and highly customizable. Also, the asphalt physics in Spain are better. Somehow they are not the same as Germany, which feels more like the original. I don’t know why different locations should have such different physics, but they do.

Career Mode

I don’t normally play career mode in simulators but I did in DiRT Rally. I did the entire career and won every championship, even to the top level. I thought I would do the same thing in DR2. The first season went just fine and I was having a great time. Then I hit Argentina and couldn’t progress further. It’s so freaking bumpy that I just hated it. Even with the softest suspension I was jumping all over. Doing 6 stages felt like such a chore. And the next level it would probably be 8. Not even remotely fun. Some locations are brilliant though. My favorites in the original were Greece and Germany. In DR2, these are also great, but despite graphic differences (possibly improvements), they aren’t any better than the original.

Next, I switched to rally cross, and the career mode there is good fun. There’s a lot of contact allowed though, so it easily becomes a demolition derby. While I preferred stage rally to rally cross in the original, it’s the opposite in DR2. Not all of that is because of Argentina and Spain. Rally cross is much improved in DR2 also.

Summary

I’m currently making my way through the rally cross career mode and having a pretty good time. Unfortunately, DiRT Rally 2.0 is not better than the original. It’ less fun, doesn’t have hill climb, locks you into online play, and has various monetary schemes that will see you paying for extra content. Save your money and skip 2.0. During sales, you can pick up the OG DiRT Rally for as little as $5.99. It was even available for free briefly. Like Project CARS, the original was better than the sequel.

Let’s talk about Wreckfest and Crossout

In my search for new car games, I decided to try a couple of games in the combat genre. Back when I was a teenager, I used to like to play the video game Spy Hunter and the pen & pencil game CAR WARS. At that age, I had much more interest in weapons than lap times so let’s see if that’s still the case. I wasn’t expecting any kind of realism in these games, so I’m relaxing my criteria about driving in 1st person and on the sim rig. 3rd person and mouse will do.

Wreckfest

For some reason, this game just didn’t click with me. Although I could drive around with the steering wheel, it felt silly with such a poor physics model. It may be more fun with a controller or mouse and keyboard. After smashing into stuff, the car looked well broken, but it kept driving as if it was undamaged. Visually, the game is great, and if you like smashing into other cars, it’s probably as good as it gets. But I don’t like smashing cars as much as I thought I would. I returned this for a refund.

Crossout

Crossout is a post-apocalyptic, car-based, MMO. It’s not anything like a driving simulation. It’s more similar to a 3rd person shooter. Crossout cannot be driven with a wheel and the physics suck. Yet somehow I’ve played it for 34 hours. It’s like CAR WARS as a video game. I actually played the original CAR WARS video game back back in the 80s, and it’s nothing like that. It’s like how I imagined CAR WARS would be while rolling dice. Driving around and shooting stuff is amazing, but even more fun is building cars bristling with weapons and then shooting stuff.

Here are a couple screen shots of some of the cars I’ve built. I call this one the Wolf Spider. Note the multiple headlamps that look like eyes, and the 8 wheels representing the 8 limbs. Those pointy things in front house shotguns and cause damage when you ram stuff. There are also two pivoting machine guns. When this thing pounces with all guns blazing, look out. And it’s got a rocket booster out back to make quick getaways or change direction to make another pounce.

This next one I call the Scorpion. It’s primary weapon is the tail-mounted machine gun, which is accurate even at long distances. If you dare to get close, it has claws (shotguns) and fangs (head-mounted turret).

Let’s talk about Drift21

I don’t normally play drift games, but since I’m trying out new software, I thought I would give them a go. I went to the Steam store and looked at the most popular games with “drift” in the title. Popularity is the average number of people playing per day. Here’s what I found.

Title Popularity Price Two Words
CarX Drift Racing 378 14.99 External view
Drift21 93 24.99 Brake broken
High Octane Drift 47 0 Keyboard only
RDS 30 17.99 One controller
Torque Drift 18 14.99 No wheel
Furidashi 8 14.99 External view
Drift of the Hill 4 1.99 No wheel
Peak Angle Drift 3 7.99 One controller

Of these 8 games, I could only play Drift21. By play I mean that I could plug in my wheel and pedals and drive in first person view. Some games were keyboard only. Others could only support one controller at a time (i.e. wheel or pedals but not both). Others had external view only. I’ve seen phone apps that were better. In fact, I’ll bet some of these were phone apps converted to PC. So what was going to be a drift games shootout became a review of just Drift21…

Drift21

Drift21 was previously called Drift19. But apparently they didn’t get their shit together enough to release it in 2019 so it became Drift21 (with a 1.0 release sometime in 2021?). Here’s what Drift21 says about itself on its website.

DRIFT21 is a fully immersive drifting simulation – with real licensed cars and tracks – featuring different drifting styles: power drift, handbrake and clutch kick. Build your dream drift car, change parts, boost performance and show your skills on Japan’s legendary EBISU circuits!

Early Access

It should be noted that Drift21 is currently in Early Access status on Steam. What exactly is Early Access?

This Early Access game is not complete and may or may not change further. If you are not excited to play this game in its current state, then you should wait to see if the game progresses further in development.

I’ve purchased a bunch of games in Early Access before. For example, I purchased DiRT Rally that way. While Early Access is a bit of a warning sign for something that might become abandonware, I’ve had good success with them so far.

Setup

The menu system was designed usefully enough, however I could not fully configure my controls. My brake pedal didn’t register any input until I was pushing so hard my muscles were straining. While there are sliders to adjust control sensitivity, they didn’t really work. As a result, I had to drive around without braking. Hopefully they fix this at some point or they will lose all the players with load cells.

Play

The physics and force feedback are not just unconvincing but annoying. Maybe all of their customers use hand controllers and don’t care. For those of us with wheels and pedals, it doesn’t feel even remotely authentic.

The graphics and sound are okay. While I’ve never been to any of the Ebisu circuits, they look pretty realistic to me. I think the graphics is one of the stronger parts of the game. If they can fix the controls and physics, this might be fun.

Thank goodness for Steam refunds

If you play a game for under 2 hours and own it for under 2 weeks, it’s pretty easy to get a refund. Just go to the Support tab in the game’s home page to start the process. It usually takes about 24 hours for the money to go back into your wallet. Thank goodness, because that means I didn’t have to spend any money on any of the games I tried, including Drift21.

Best sim for drifting?

Assetto Corsa. That’s probably the best platform for drifting right now. There are tons of great drift tracks and cars available for free, and the physics are pretty convincing. Personally, I like drifting the NA Miata. The low power means you have to transfer weight to initiate the drift and maintaining the drift requires an aggressive but nuanced throttle pedal. You can frequently get Assetto Corsa on sale for $10, which is a bargain, especially when compared to the $25 they’re asking for Drift21. But as I’ve said before, AC and Logitech don’t work all that well together. If you want to drift, you should probably invest in a high end Thrustmaster wheel or something with direct drive.

Let’s talk about Project CARS 2

I’ve owned Project CARS 2 for a little over a year. But after an hour I stopped playing it. That was enough for me to realize it wasn’t going to be one of my favorites, and I sort of forgot about it. But 60 minutes isn’t really a fair shakedown, and I should take a closer look. In the time since release, maybe they fixed some of the things I didn’t like before or released new content.

Controller Setup – user friendly, but deeply flawed

Setting up my wheel, pedals, and handbrake can be difficult because they are all separate devices. Some games expect you to have everything integrated into the wheel, which I don’t. Unexpectedly, getting my gear recognized and calibrated was really simple. But there was no customization. It’s critical for me to be able to change the low and high dead zones because my pedals don’t read zero at the bottom or 100% at the top. The throttle usually reads about 5% when off and doesn’t get to 100% at all. The clutch does get to 0% and 100%, but real clutches have a big dead zones. The brake is the biggest problem. It reads 20-22% when off and it’s pressure sensitive. While I can get to 100%, that’s pushing really hard. I usually calibrate my dead zones as follows.

  • Throttle 15%-85%
  • Brake 25%-50%
  • Clutch 15%-75%

Project CARS 2 has no such capability in the software. There isn’t any configuration file either. Most games put a config file in your documents folder, but Project CARS 2 encrypts this information in a Steam folder. How can I compete for fast times when I’m dragging my brakes and not getting to full throttle?

Car Selection – mostly high performance

I like having a mixture of cars to experiment with. My ideal situation is the following:

  • Old school Formula car like FF, FV, Skip Barber. These are my favorite for driving because they have no nannies, no grip, and decent power to weight ratio.
  • Mazda Miata. Well, Miata is always the answer. I have a lot of time in these in the real and virtual world, so I like being in a familiar environment.
  • FWD. Front and Rear wheel drive cars handle differently. I like both, and it’s important that whatever sim I’m driving models them realistically.

Project CARS 2 has a lot of really high performance cars, but not much of what I’m looking for. There is a Formula Rookie (FF I think), Toyota GT-86 (sort of like a Miata in performance), and a Renault Clio Cup for FWD. So my minimal set is reasonably well taken care of, but beyond that, it’s mostly rocket ships.

Tracks – not many, some good, some bad

Among the track collection is my favorite test track: Brands Hatch. So that’s great. There are also some nice scenic drives in Azure Coast and CA Highway 5. But there aren’t many tracks I have driven or expect to drive in real life. However, there are two very important tracks to me in the game: Sonoma and Laguna Seca. I have driven both of these tracks quite a bit and I can tell you that the Project CARS versions are disturbingly inaccurate. Every time I turn a lap, my brain is confused about the track I know vs. the track I’m presented with. Not only are these not laser scanned, they aren’t even close to authentic. How can the track owners allow such renditions?

The following US tracks are not laser scanned. Avoid.

  • Laguna Seca
  • Road America
  • Sonoma
  • Watkins Glen
  • Willow Springs

The following US tracks are laser scanned. Enjoy.

  • COTA
  • Daytona
  • Dirt Fish
  • Indy
  • Texas
  • Long Beach

Vehicle Dynamics – some bad, some good

The laws of physics shouldn’t change from vehicle to vehicle. But they do in Project CARS 2.

The first car I tried was the Formula Rookie. This is basically a Formula Ford, and it should be the perfect car for testing physics. There’s a reason they were used in the Skip Barber school. In a word, it’s terrible. It won’t oversteer unless you drive it in the rain with wets on the front and sports on the rear. I guess they wanted a noob friendly car for noobs, but that’s not what Formula Fords are. They’re all analog and hard-mode. In case you’re thinking I had assists on, I NEVER have assists on.

Next I tried the Ford Escort 1600 and Toyota GT-86. They feel like the same car. They will oversteer if you brake mid-corner or power too much out of a turn, but it feels like the game is guiding you. It’s hard to really mess up. And here’s a weird thing I noticed, you can’t spin more than 180 degrees. Not sure why, but once you go around 180, it’s like you hit a wall and the car straightens out. I had a hunch and loaded up GTR 2. The core developers from Sim Bin (GTR2) are the same people at Slightly Mad Studios (PC2). And guess what? The GTR 2 cars also have the same weird 180 degree behavior.

What about FWD? The Renault Clio Cup car has lift oversteer, but you aren’t punished if you mess it up too much. And when you add throttle, it’s almost as if the rears are also getting power. Hrmph.

In Project CARS, each vehicle has a “Control Difficulty” rating from 1-3. All of the cars above have a rating of 1 (easy). So then I tried the Formula C with a difficulty of 2, and it was better. Well if that’s the case, what about level 3? So I selected the Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 DTM and yes, that’s a much better model. In fact, I’d rather drive the 190E than any of the cars in iRacing. It’s that good. On the other hand, I’d rather drive any car in iRacing rather than the Project CARS 2 Formula Rookie. It’s that bad.

Rain and Dirt – depends on car and tire

The vehicle dynamics in the rain or on dirt depend so much on which car and tire you’ve chosen. The Slick and Wet tires have more grip on dirt than the All Terrain or Winter. What kind of tire/surface interaction model is that? Broken. Also, the dirt is much bumpier and grippier than the iRacing dirt model. Maybe Project CARS 2 models dry dirt? I definitely prefer the iRacing dirt. Despite my grievances, the most fun I’ve had with Project CARS 2 is driving the 190E on All Terrain tires on the various rallycross tracks. That’s some seriously fun shit. I can do that all day. Well, not all day. The combination of super bumpy terrain and me having a great time ended in a rare case of motion sickness.

Summary

Stay away from the vehicles with a Control Difficulty rating of 1. They will make you a worse driver in real life. Also, don’t load up the non-laser-scanned tracks or you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you choose the 190E and a laser-scanned track, you’ll feel that all is right in the sim racing world.

Let’s talk about iRacing

My iRacing subscription is running out at the end of the month and I don’t plan on re-subscribing. There are a bunch of other simulators I want to experience and review here on YSAR. That series of posts is about to start, but before I journey into new territory, let me take a moment to reflect on my most recent iRacing experience.

Delta Challenge and the MX-5

I love trying new tracks, and the delta challenge gave me some motivation to try tracks I didn’t think I would be interested in. I don’t imagine many YSAR readers actually took up the challenge, but if you did, I hope you also found some pleasure in it. I know I did.

This also gave me a chance to drive the Global MX-5 Cup car. Back when I was an iRacing Rookie, we were in the NC car. The ND is a fantastic car even with the baseline setup. I hear a lot of complaints about it though. Here’s my advice.

  • Understeer – If this is your complaint, you’re probably trying to steer while mashing the throttle on a too-slow entry. Enter faster, hold some brake while turning, and you will find it oversteers plenty.
  • Oversteer – If this is your complaint, it’s probably because you are mashing the throttle while holding the wheel in one place. Open the steering wheel just before adding throttle and keep opening it gradually while you add throttle. If you run out of track, your idea about the corner geometry was off.
  • Twitchy – Cars slip around at the limit in real life too. It’s easier to go beyond the limit in a simulator where you don’t have Gs you can feel and where your survival instincts aren’t telling you to slow down. Learn to drive the limit in iRacing and it will give you the confidence to drive faster in real life.

How has iRacing changed for the better?

There’s a lot more free content than there used to be. When new models of cars/tracks supersede others, they make the older ones free. So even if you don’t buy any cars or tracks, there’s plenty to keep you busy for months. While I didn’t get to try much of the new dirt tracks, I thought Daytona and Phoenix were really fun. Balancing dirty traction in the MX-5 is sort of like driving on a really wet track in the real world. The dirt model in iRacing is pretty darn good.

How has iRacing changed for the worse?

Nothing is really worse, but like a shark, if you don’t keep moving forward, you die. Not that iRacing has any chance of dying anytime soon. The competitors are so bad at match-making and custom games, that iRacing continues to have a bright future. So even though some parts of the service are worse than its competitors, iRacing is still winning the esports racing scene. So what parts of iRacing aren’t moving forward?

Website

The home page looks like it was built in the early 2000s. Aside from the look, there are many silly errors and inconsistencies. It’s like they don’t have any QC/QA personnel. Or they don’t care. Or they don’t have time. Whatever the cause, the UI makes for a pretty amateurish user experience.

Tires

The tire model is still a problem. They have the most grip within the first 5-10 minutes, after which, the grip gets worse. As soon as you heat a tire over X, it will never have optimal grip again. In the real world, not all the tires have the same properties, yet it appears they do in iRacing. It’s also harder to control a drift in iRacing than in other simulators or in the real world. Is this a problem with their force feedback or tire model? I don’t know, but I’m lumping them together and saying that whatever model they have for grip and grip feedback is bugged. It’s not completely useless, but some other simulators are both more fun, and more realistic in my experience.

Content

Where are all the low performance cars? Also, where are the front wheel drive cars? I don’t own many iRacing cars because I don’t like the selection. I do own a lot of tracks though, and that selection is very good because everything is laser scanned. I wish they had more of the tracks I visit in real life, but I would say that about every simulator. It doesn’t really bother me that cars and tracks cost money. All of this shit is so much cheaper than real world racing.

When Will I Return?

I’ll renew my subscription again…

  • If I’m going to a track in the real world and only iRacing has it
  • If my real life racing buddies want to do endurance racing online
  • If I want to do a simulator shootout
  • If a long time passes and I want to check in on it again

Until then, I’m off to drive other sims. Check back soon for some of those stories.

Tiernan’s Sim Rig

Racing buddy Tiernan and I recently put together a sim rig for him. Like race cars, sim rigs are never truly complete, so this post is really just documenting version 1.0.

Seat

An authentic sim rig needs an authentic seat. So we went to Pick-n-Pull and started picking and pulling. Some of the seats we didn’t choose had water damage from open windows. We eventually found a nice clean seat from a Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Triple Monitors

The first thing you have to decide is what kind of monitors you’re going to use.

  • Single screen
  • Triple screens
  • VR goggles
  • Projection

I use a single 2560×1080 screen. It’s basically a typical 1080p monitor that is 50% wider. My previous monitor was a 1920x1080p, and it was great. The extra width adds a tiny bit to the immersion, but not that much.

I had an Oculus Rift, but it made me motion sick, so I stopped using it. The sense of immersion was amazing though. When I tried a triple screen setup at Turn2 Racing, I was shocked at how similar triple screens are to full VR. It’s very good and doesn’t give me motion sickness.  Projection screens aren’t mainstream, but I can imagine they could be even better.

We decided to build a triple monitor rig.

Computer

To make life simple, you should have 3 of the same monitors, and all of the cabling should be the same type. While you can mix HDMI, DVI, VGA, and Display Port, it’s a pain having multiple adapters. Also, mixing analog and digital signals is not recommended. So the first order of business was to match monitors and graphic card ports. Since this was a newly built rig, it wasn’t hard finding a cheap-ish computer and cheap-ish 1080p monitors that played well together.

The computer is a SkyTech Blaze (R3 1200, 8GB RAM, RX580 GPU), and the monitors are Dells. The RX580 has 3 Display Ports, so the cabling is 100% Display Port. The monitor stands came from Amazon, and the fancy power strip was something I picked up at a secondhand electronics store.

Cockpit

Before building the cockpit, we took various measurements of Tiernan sitting in an ideal driving position. Then we drafted some plans to put that into action. Half way through construction, we realized we had cut one piece of plywood incorrectly, and it would require actually purchasing plywood to continue (we were using scraps from an old Lemons theme when the Miata was outfitted as the Can’t Am). So we just said fuck-it and started eye-balling every measurement around a 2×4-inspired design. It turned out pretty robust as the 2x4s were connected with grade-8 transmission bolts picked up at Pick-n-Pull.

Controllers

I had an extra G25 and DFGT wheel lying around, as well as a G25 shifter and G25 pedals. The pedals have an AP Electrix load cell on them and Bodnar cable, so they feel much better than stock and can be connected independently of the wheel. That’s good because G25 pedals are much better than wheels. I really don’t like Logitech wheels with Assetto Corsa. Thankfully, Tiernan found a Thrustmaster T150 on Craigslist for $30. It came with a shitty 2-pedal system. So we mixed-n-matched to arrive at a pretty good setup.

Summary

The project took a couple weeks to build because our schedules didn’t mesh well. I’m sure we could build another one in a day. The all-inclusive cost was about $1250, and most of that was because of the new computer and monitors. With some patient hunting on Craigslist, the price could be cut in half.

 

Test Drive

I just returned from a visit with Tiernan and got to try out his rig in Assetto Corsa and Forza 7. So how does it work? Pretty darn good. Here’s my report card.

  • Cockpit 4/5: This is as good as a static rig needs to be. Sure, the extruded aluminum rigs might look more high-tech, but this does the same job for a fraction of the price. To get a higher rank it would need a button box and cup holder.
  • Monitors 4/5: Once the sim is running, it’s very immersive. I thought I had VR goggles on.
  • Sound 1/5: The mono speaker isn’t great. A $20 headset would make this a 4/5.
  • Wheel 2.5/5: While the T150 wheel is definitely a step up from the G25 and DFGT (in AC at least), there’s a big gap between a T150 and a TS-PC Racer. You can definitely have fun and learn tracks with a T150, but as a tool to train your muscle memory, it’s only okay.
  • Pedals 3/5: The AP Electrix load cell brake pedal is better than a spring-n-potentiometer, but it doesn’t have the feel of my PerfectPedal hydraulic unit. The load cell works, but its dynamic range is small. The clutch and throttle are decent.
  • Shifter 4/5: I used the paddle shifters on the T150. I actually like paddle shifters on a sim rig. I don’t get much immersion from a fake stick shift.
  • Forza 7 3/5: I hadn’t tried it before. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. The graphics are really good. The force feedback is plausible. The track I tried was Laguna Seca, and it was definitely not laser scanned. I can’t believe they are allowed to use the Laguna Seca branding on a track that is so horribly inaccurate.

2.0?

Here’s how I would take this rig to the next level.

  1. USB headset.
  2. Thrustmaster wheel base, wheel adapter, and eBay wheel. I like having a full-size steering wheel, and it’s cheaper to go this route than getting a Thrustmaster wheel. The downside is not having any buttons. But it’s pretty trivial to make a button box with a $20 Amazon kit and if you want shrink-wrapped solution, a numeric keypad is just $8.
  3. A PerfectPedal kit is $250 and turns the G25 into a top-of-the-line pedal. But for $250, one can also get a Fanatec pedal set. Hard decision.

DIY: Camera Mount and Sequential Shifter

Camera Mount

I normally mount cameras to the roll cage. It’s stable and I like having the camera positioned in the center of the car. In a car without a roll cage it’s more of a challenge, and one solution I’ve seen is to mount a camera support to the headrest. I looked at several designs and decided I could make one. I came up with the design below because I had some box section aluminum and RAM mounts lying around. I got the J-hooks and twist knobs at the local Ace Hardware. Wingnuts would have been much cheaper, but I hate twisting those things. The hooks were a bit long, so I trimmed them with an angle grinder. Overall, it’s very sturdy, and inexpensive.

Sequential Shifter

My G25 shifter is old and having problems. So I decided to build my own shifter from an arcade kit. The last time I built a USB controller it was a lot more expensive and complicated. The one I got was $22 and included the stick, 8 buttons, and a USB board. I mounted the stick and one button to a scrap of bamboo flooring. The shifter works okay, but I wish the return spring was a bit more robust. Ultimately, it works just fine, and it was a fun project. However, if I was doing this again, I would look for something more robust.

Sim rig updates

Recently, I made a few improvements to my 2×4 sim rig in order to give it more of a car-like feel. Here’s the rundown.

Steering Wheel

Most simulator wheels are much smaller than the steering wheel in your car. I’m not sure why this is, but they tend to be around 10-11″ while cars are 13-14″. For reference, the stock NA Miata wheel is 14″. The wheel in my Yaris is a cheap eBay wheel measuring 350mm or about 13 3/4″. I want my sim rig to be as similar to a car as possible, so I bought another eBay wheel. These things run about $35 and the quality is good enough for racing. For another $35 you can get an adapter that will allow you to mount a standard 6-hole steering wheel onto a Thrustmaster base. You can buy a Thrustmaster base without a wheel for about $200, so $270-ish for a high quality wheel is a good deal. The only downside to this is that you won’t have a bunch of buttons on the wheel or paddle shifters. That’s okay because I don’t have those on my real vehicles.

 

Button Box

Since I lost some steering wheel buttons, I wanted to replace those with a button box of some kind. What do you use a button box for? Ignition, windshield wipers, lights, pit requests, etc. While you can use a keyboard for that, it’s usually not within easy reach while driving. For that reason, many sim rigs have dedicated button boxes mounted like a dash. I salivated over button boxes like the one below from DSD. I even contemplated building my own using a USB chip from Bodnar (I’ve done that before for flight simulation).

In the end, I let my frugal side win and bought an external numeric keypad from Amazon for $8.99. I put a RAM mount on this and position it just left of my wheel.

Hand Brake

I wasn’t sure if I would like a hand brake, so I ordered one from Amazon because they have a convenient return policy. I was expecting it to act like an on-off switch, but it outputs a range of values when operated. You can mount the handle horizontally or vertically. Mine is horizontal, like in most cars. Is it worth $90 for a hand brake? If you do a lot of rally driving, yes. Otherwise, no. Since DiRT Rally is one of my favorite titles, the answer for me is yes.

Shifter

I’ve had a Logitech G25 shifter for a while, but it isn’t always connected to my rig. I started using paddle shifters when I got my Thrustmaster wheel, and they take up less desk space. But now that I don’t have paddles, I have to go back to the shifter. I don’t have that much of a preference either way. I feel like the shifter is the least important part of a sim rig.

Completed

In the picture below, you can see the current setup. The curved monitor is 2560×1080 at 144hz. There’s also a tiny 1280×720 monitor below on the left. I use that with DashPanel to monitor tire temperatures and such. Just below that, behind the steering wheel you can see the numeric keypad. Both the mini-monitor and keypad are attached with RAM mounts because I mount everything with RAM mounts. The hand brake is visible at the bottom.