Ever wish you could go racing every single day? So do we. But racing takes a toll on your car, especially if it’s your daily driver, and it generally isn’t cheap. Track day expenses, gas, tires, and everything else that goes along with racing can add up, making routine racing unrealistic for most people. But what is realistic is building a virtual racing simulator at home and enjoying games such as Gran Turismo 7 or Forza Horizon 5 from your living room. Sure, it’s no substitute for the real thing, but it’s as close as you’re going to get.
Virtual racing simulators have come a very long way over the last decade and even Porsche offers its own Simulator Lab at its Porsche Experience Centers. Now, those racing simulators probably cost more than a used Porsche, but it is possible to put together your own home setup for even under $1,000.
Like many things in life, how good of a driving simulator you can build is largely dependent on the amount of money you’re willing to spend. In this guide, we’ll offer several recommendations for different budgets, so you can build what you can afford. We’ll also go in detail about the different platforms you can virtually race on, and the best racing games each platform has to offer.
Despite what the internet might have you believe, the platform you game on largely comes down to personal preference. I personally have a custom built gaming PC (seen above) where I do the majority of my gaming. But I also own a PlayStation 5 and a Nintendo Switch for their exclusives. And that’s one of the main factors when choosing your platform — the racing games you’re interested in.
Now, if you know absolutely nothing about gaming and have no personal preference when it comes to franchises, here’s a breakdown of the platforms, the available games, and some advice on how to choose.
Unlike the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X consoles, the entry price of PC gaming can vary wildly depending on the hardware setup. There are definitely affordable PC gaming setups out there, but you’ll still need to invest into a good monitor. And that’s before spending any money on the actual racing simulator hardware. One of the biggest advantages of PC gaming are higher refresh rates, assuming you also get a capable monitor. In addition, games are often on sale and playing online doesn’t require a monthly subscription. As for disadvantages, PC gaming isn’t as easy to setup as a console. Getting a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S/X means plugging it to your TV and a power outlet, turning it on, putting in the game disc (or downloading the game), and hitting play. If you aren’t experienced with using a PC, there is a bit of a learning curve compared to a console.
If you’re still interested, here are some recommendations to get into PC gaming:
CyberpowerPC Gaming PC
While I personally like to build my own gaming PCs, I know that’s not realistic for most people. If you want to get a pre-built gaming PCs, there are several companies out there to choose from. One of the easier options is through CyberpowerPC, which has a few different options for decent gaming PCs at a competitive price. But honestly, if you have the budget to go this route, I highly recommend learning how to piece together your own system!
When it comes to choosing a monitor, there are dozens of options to pick from. I personally use the Dell S2721DGF because it offers amazing performance at an affordable price. It’s a 1440p (2560×1440) monitor that is FreeSync and G-SYNC compatible, offering a refresh rate of up to 165 Hz. It’s an HDR IPS panel, but I wouldn’t recommend it for HDR use.
Given the price of the Dell S2721DGF, there are obviously better and more expensive options out there. But I have no complaints with the S2721DGF and have used Dell monitors most of my life with no issues.
PC racing games
The only popular franchise you’re really missing out on by gaming on PC is the Gran Turismo series, which is exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation. Microsoft’s popular Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon games are on PC and Forza Horizon 4 and 5 are currently available on Xbox Game Pass, a monthly subscription that gets you access to hundreds of games. You won’t be able to play any of the Mario Kart games, since that’s exclusive to Nintendo — but those games aren’t realistic driving simulators with real cars.
If you’re planning to game on PC, do yourself a favor and get your games on Steam. There are often sales with huge discounts on popular games.
What about VR?
There are quite a few racing games on PC that support virtual reality (VR), including Assetto Corsa, F1 22, and Project CARS. VR racing on PC isn’t cheap, since you’ll need a fairly high-spec gaming PC (like my recommendation), but it’ll deliver the ultimate virtual racing experience. I personally have the first-generation HTC VIVE headset, but if you are interested in VR gaming on PC, I’d recommend the latest HTC VIVE Pro.
It’s still not easy to get one, but the PlayStation 5 will get you access to the Gran Turismo series. The latest entry was released in March 2022 and is also available on the PlayStation 4. Choosing PlayStation means you won’t be able to play Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon, so the decision largely comes down to you. Most of the other popular racing series are multi-platform, available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox.
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While the original PlayStation VR headset is compatible with the PlayStation 5, I recommend waiting for the PlayStation VR2 that is due in early 2023. Unfortunately no racing games have been announced just yet for the PS VR2, but it’s very likely something is in development. If you don’t want to wait, the original PS VR does support some racing games, including Gran Turismo Sport.
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Xbox Series S/X
If you’re trying to setup a virtual racing simulator on a budget, the Xbox Series S is the console for you. While it’s obviously not as powerful as the more expensive Xbox Series X, you’ll still be able to play to all the same games. It is a digital-only console, which means you’ll have to download all your games — something to consider if you have a monthly bandwidth cap with your ISP. Joining the Xbox family lets you enjoy the Forza series games, as well as the robust Xbox Game Pass subscription.
|Check Price on Amazon (Series S)||Check Price on Walmart (Series X)|
What about the Nintendo Switch?
Honestly, the Nintendo Switch is not the console you want to get if you’re looking for realistic driving simulators. Plus, it doesn’t have as much support from steering wheel manufacturers, which we’ll get into soon. But hey, if you want to play Mario Kart over anything else, then you’ll want to get a Switch and the HORI racing wheel.
|Check Price on Amazon (Switch)||Check Price on Amazon (HORI)|
Racing simulator seats and cockpits
There are a lot of different racing simulator seats and cockpits available, and choosing the right one for you depends on your actual setup, mainly how much room do you have to accommodate the cockpit? And like shopping for a racing seat for your car, comfort plays a factor in choosing the best option for you. I personally own an older version of the Playseat Evolution, which I feel is a great choice on a budget. The seat is admittedly not the most comfortable for long gaming sessions, but the quality is nice, everything fits together well, and it has enough adjustability to get everything right where you want it. Playseat offers a wide variety of racing cockpits so you’ll likely find what you need.
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Steering wheel and pedals
Arguably the most important component in building a home virtual racing simulator is the steering wheel and pedal setup. And there a lot to choose from. As you can tell by my first photo in the post, I personally own an older Porsche setup from Fanatec, which I imagine is what a lot of FlatSixes.com’s readers will be interested in. It’s very similar to the Porsche GT2 race wheel that Andrew Granieri reviewed here at FlatSixes.com over 11 years ago.
Fanatec has some of the best racing wheels and if you’re looking to built the ultimate racing simulator setup, it’s worth shopping through all the company’s options. It offers numerous Porsche steering wheels, including the 911 GT3 R one you see above. Keep in mind you’ll also have to purchase the pedals and shifter to complete your setup. If you decide to go with a Fanatec product, make sure you’re getting something that is compatible with the platform you intend to play on. It’s definitely not cheap, but if you want a true Porsche racing simulator experience, this is how you get it.
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Logitech G923 racing wheel and pedals
If Fanatec’s offerings are out of your price range, I recommend this setup from Logitech. It builds on the successful G920 and offers an impressive list of features for the price. Using what Logitech calls TRUEFORCE, the G923 offers amazing force feedback, processing at 4,000 times a second on supported games. You can configure the wheel’s sensitivity, force feedback levels, and customize all the button customizations on PC. The pedal setup features a progressive spring for the brake pedal, which mimics the performance of a pressure-sensitive brake system. The build quality is nice too, with brushed metal and hand-stitched leather.
It’s available for PlayStation, PC, and Xbox, just make sure you select the right one for your platform. You can also bundle in a shifter to fully complete the package.
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What racing games do you recommend?
If you’re looking for an accurate and realistic driving simulator, I still prefer Gran Turismo over Forza Motorsport. At the time of publishing, the latest entry in the Forza Motorsport series is Forza Motorsport 7, which was released in 2017. The next game in the series is due sometime in Spring 2023 and since it’ll be developed for the Xbox Series S/X and PC, it should see some great improvements in both fidelity and gameplay. But right now, Gran Turismo 7 has the edge in my opinion. The Forza Horizon series is more about having fun than realistic simulation and it won’t offer a lengthy list of real tracks like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. But if you want a racing simulator that has a variety of gameplay and is less about taking laps around a real track, check out Forza Horizon.
While Gran Turismo and the Forza games are arguably the most well-known when it comes to racing games, especially on console, there are a few other series that are worth playing. Project CARS 2 (not 3!) and Assetto Corsa Competizione are both fantastic, realistic racing simulator games. If you want to try out rally racing, the DiRT series gets my recommendation. And then of course there are the F1 games, if you’re a fan of open-wheel racing.
Your guide didn’t make it any easier to choose a platform, please help!
Choosing a platform can be difficult if you are just now getting into gaming. If you don’t have any previous gaming experience and don’t have any allegiances to the brands, it can be confusing to choose just one, especially if you’re reading the internet. If you’re looking for my opinion, this is how I would summarize it:
If budget isn’t an issue and you want the ultimate gaming experience, choose PC. You’ll have to invest more, but you’ll be able to play online without having to incur a monthly subscription fee, and games are often on sale on PC. You’ll get more access to customization options and peripherals, but it’s not as easy to setup as a home console. If you’re the tinkering type, then go with a powerful gaming PC that also gets you access to better VR experiences, at least until the PS VR2 is released. Just keep in mind that opting for PC means you won’t get access to Gran Turismo, although it’s entirely possible Sony will eventually bring it over to PC as it has recently done for some of its first-party titles.
If you’re gaming on a budget, then I would recommend getting an Xbox Series S and a subscription to Xbox Game Pass. That will get you access to hundreds of games for a monthly fee, including Forza Horizon 4 and Forza Horizon 5. Just keep in mind that games get cycled in and out of Game Pass each month, but Forza Motorsport 8 should be available on the service once it’s released.
As for the PlayStation 5, I recommend it if you plan on playing more than just racing games. I still find PlayStation’s exclusives to be better than what Xbox has to offer, from games like The Last of Us to God of War. But if you only care about racing games, then Gran Turismo is really your only exclusive on the PlayStation. PS VR2 is worth considering if you’re interested in virtual reality, but that won’t be released until 2023. And there’s also the ongoing issue that the PlayStation 5 is still hard to buy.
Like I mentioned before, I wouldn’t seriously consider the Nintendo Switch if you’re mainly interested in realistic racing games. The system isn’t very powerful, although it has the benefit of being a portable handheld you can take on the go. You just won’t find comparable driving simulation experiences on the Switch.
Updated (2:18 p.m. EST, 02/16/2023): Swapped out the photo for the custom PC with a more recent image. Removed the iBUYPOWER PC recommendation due to controversy surrounding the company. Replaced it with CyberpowerPC. Added additional shopping links for some of our recommendations.