5 Things We Take for Granted as Sim Racers

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While Sim Racing is a great way to get the thrill of racing wheel-to-wheel from the comfort of your home, it is not able to fully simulate all of the nuances of real life racing. While that can be a detriment (for example, sim racers can’t feel the full g-forces of a race car), we are fortunate not to have some of the more… negative parts of real life racing. Here is a list of some of the top things I feel that we, as sim racers, take for granted.

1. Sim Racing is Inexpensive Compared to Real Life

As with any hobby, sim racing can become quite the investment. While the entry point can be inexpensive, if you want a full motion setup, you can put tens of thousands of dollars into your sim racing setup. For example, the SimXperience Stage V Racing Simulator retails for $22,500.

One of the most common questions a person would then ask is “Why don’t you just buy a used Miata and race it?” However, let’s break that cost down:

Miata

I found a Spec Miata on Craigslist for $6,000 in fairly decent condition. Since this is a salvage title vehicle, I would need to buy a truck and trailer for the car (maybe around $5,000?). Not factoring in damage, I would estimate around $1,000 per race weekend in tires, fuel, and travel expenses. Comparing to a SimXperience Stage V, the $22,500 budget would allow for 11 full race weekends.

Some people may say those 11 race weekends may provide a more fun experience than sim racing. However, in my mind, sim racing provides greater longevity. I have invested around $3,000 in my setup over 8 years, which has made for hundreds of enjoyable races.

2. You Can Travel Around the World With a Few Clicks

Let’s continue on with the Spec Miata example: in my area, there are around 3 major road courses in Northern California:

  • Sonoma Raceway
  • Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
  • Thunderhill

Three more are in Southern California:

  • Auto Club Speedway
  • Willow Springs
  • Buttonwillow

Sonoma Raceway is about a half hour drive from my house, but Thunderhill, the next closest track, is 2 1/2 hours away. Auto Club Speedway is 7 hours away, which would be a full day’s worth of driving.

However, in sim racing, I can go from my home track all the way to the Nurburgring Nordschleife in less than a minute! We have thousands of tracks available at our disposal spanning multiple racing simulations, allowing us to go to any track instantaneously. No long drive, no paying for gas money.

3. A Ton of Different Cars

In real racing, you’re generally limited to just one car. Maybe, if you have an larger budget, you can swing both karting and road car racing on the hobby side, like my friend Matt O’Donnell (also known as True Racer).

However, on the sim racing side, there are likely thousands of cars available. In rFactor alone, there are 505 different mods, quite a few of them with multiple cars. Even on the “expensive side”, iRacing has around 60 vehicles available. With a few clicks, you can jump from a Skip Barber Formula 2000 to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Chevrolet SS. The variety available in sim racing is simply staggering, and I think it’s one of the things sim racers take for granted the most.

4. Minimal Consequences for Crashing

Crashing is a part of racing and, like it or not, you’ll eventually wreck. As sim racers, we really take crashing for granted. There were two specific instances this past month that really cemented this point for me:

  • A few weeks ago I went with a friend to Sonoma Raceway, to check out Cameron Racing. The crew was working on repairing an Audi R8 GT3 race car, which had encountered damage during the previous race. The damage was relatively minor, with the front right suspension and bodywork being damaged. Talking with Steve Cameron, he talked about the financial side of repairs. The grand total for the repairs tallied $30,000! Imagine if you had to pay to repair your car after a typical iRacing GT3 race!
  • Watching the Indy 500, there was the first caution, involving Takuma Sato and Sage Karem. However, that wasn’t the part that resonated with me: the part that came to mind was the incident involving Juan Pablo Montoya and Simona de Silvestro. Montoya’s rear wing was damaged during the caution laps, and had to replaced during a pit stop. I know the front wing for an IndyCar cost around $15,000, so I’d assume the rear wing would cost more.

On the sim racing side, we never have to deal with the financial repercussions of racing. We never have to pay for the gas that goes into our virtual cars, like how we never have to pay to repair our virtual cars. iRacing comes close with “Safety Rating” working somewhat as a currency system, but sim racers have never had to pay real life currency to repair a virtual car.

5. The Community

One part of real racing that actually is quite similar to sim racing is the community side of things. However, sim racing allows us to engage in a community at a global scale. Many sim racers that are my friends are from Europe, ones who I’d likely never meet at Sonoma Raceway.

The community also extends beyond just fellow racers. One major element of the sim racing community is the hardware side. Sim racers love to discuss and share information about what they use. In addition, hardware manufacturers have a near-unprecedented level of communication with sim racers. Last time I checked, you don’t exactly get a chance to carry a conversation with the head of MOMO, but you can get the opportunity to chat with Chris Considine of CXC Simulations.


These are some of the things that I feel sim racers take for granted. What do you think sim racers take for granted? Let us know in the comments!

  • Mat Holloway

    Two things that immediately come to mind are time and the ability to change conditions for testing.

    Time is critical in real racing as we can all understand factors such as weather or daylight when attempting to complete a program. Then there is the preparation between runs, the incidents, the damaged parts of the vehicle you have no spares for…

    Within one hour, we can test suspension on a bumpy track, aero on a speed circuit, grip in the wet or offroad, combine all of the telemetric data come up with a baseline setup for a brand new car. This kind of testing and information dissemination will take weeks/months for a real team.

  • Trevor Snowden

    Nice find on eBay! a 6k spec Miata can easily be refurbished into a top level racer for a few k more, still coming in cheaper than a “clean” spec Miata (range 8-10k)

    But there are ways to lighten to cost burden on real racing, for instance anyone who owns a spec Miata will get immediate sponsorship for parts at wholesale cost. And speaking from experience, very few parts on the spec Miata cost over $100, except that 1k hard top… Even a new transmission (the 90’s weakness of the Miata, they break, a lot) is $120. If you crush a quarter panel the panel is only about 80, but the paint is twice that and you must satisfy the 50/50 visual rule. And then there is the gear… You’re not getting out of less than 2k when you include a Hans or Neckgen, helmet, fire suit, gloves and boots… Yeah, there are cheap packages to be had but those aren’t always within a groups spec. Not to mention suits and helmets have a “shelf life” imposed by regulations, not because they eventually fall apart.

    Though I would personally prefer the real thing, it is a LOT of work to keep the car up and running and going from place to place with it… You spend 80% maintaining and only 20% actually driving so you better like to turn wrenches.

    Another way to look at it is from an “Arrive and Drive” POV. You just show up with your gear and their is a crew and the car ready to go for the weekend. That cost minus hotels and travel is about 1500 per race weekend, WAY higher if you buy racing insurance. you can participate in up to 3 sanctioned events on certain SCCA/NASA weekends so that’s a good amount of track time including practice and qualifying.

    Personally, real racing has made me MUCH slower in sims, it’s a weird affliction that a few of us have but my biggest recommendation is if you are a huge sim racing fan, keep dreaming about real racing, maybe take your own car to a track day, go to the Nurburgring for a few laps (it only costs as much as a single race weekend with royal treatment there) but the reality of real racing is very carnal and raw, the noise, smells, discomfort, heat, and very real perpetual sense of danger is a sensation that’s almost masochistically intoxicating… all before you even turn a lap. If you feel like you have something to prove in life, the temptation of using a race car as a means to do it is more intense than narcotics. I’ve been racing for 30 years, mostly sport bikes but age put me into cars… And I still have no idea what I’m trying to prove beyond a lack of awareness to my own self preservation. We all joked in the bike days about the only thing any of us racers had in common was having the same screws loose in our heads…