When guessing when things were envisioned or invented, we often think most advancements took place in the late 1990s. Many people wonder the same about cockpit simulators and sim racing rigs.
If we asked you when the first racing simulator was made, you’d probably think it was sometime around 1995. However, you’ll have to go a few decades back to find the actual time when simulators were introduced.
Below, we take you down memory lane to explore the evolution of cockpit simulators and sim racing setups.
1. Early Days of Racing Simulators
If you’ve been interested in racing for a while, you must have heard about Lotus. It’s a famous British automotive company that made its name in the racing world, especially with regard to Indy and Formula One. Back in the 1960s, Lotus was excelling at innovation, to the point where they dominated the racing world.
The interesting part is that Lotus did not limit itself to the racing field. Instead, the company was also making sim racing products. In 1966, Lotus introduced its racing simulator.
At that time, the racing simulator was built on the same model as aircraft simulators. It had the Lotus 31 chassis minus the gearbox and the engine. There were several sensors to measure brake inputs and steering throttle.
Later, Lotus made some changes to its original design. Instead of using the real racing car frame, Lotus began using a light gauge. The change was probably made to reduce the weight of the simulator since heavier builds were harder to carry and transport.
Working Mechanism of Lotus Racing Simulators
The Lotus racing simulator operated with a relatively rudimentary design compared to contemporary counterparts. Seated within a frame equipped with a steering wheel and pedal mechanism mirroring that of a real racing car, the driver’s interactions were translated through a 3-D disc representing the circuit. A camera monitored the disc’s movement, projecting the driver’s position onto the screen in front of the simulator. The lateral movement of the disc corresponded to the driver’s steering inputs, creating the illusion of turning left or right. Additionally, engaging the brakes caused a deceleration in the disc’s rotation, while pressing the throttle resulted in an acceleration effect.
Shift to Arcade Simulator Era
Before the emergence of a clear distinction between arcade-style racing and simulation racing, early attempts to offer driving simulation experiences were found in arcade racing video games. A notable example is Pole Position, released in 1982 by Namco and publicized by Atari for its touted “unbelievable driving realism,” providing players with a Formula 1 experience through a racing wheel interface.
The groundbreaking game introduced features such as AI-controlled opponents, realistic crashes resulting from collisions with other vehicles and roadside signs, and the concept of a qualifying lap, requiring players to complete a time trial before entering Grand Prix races.
Pole Position also played a pivotal role in shaping the gaming landscape. It pioneered the third-person rear-view perspective, a viewpoint that has become a standard in most racing games.
The game’s graphical innovation included a swaying vanishing point on the track, simulating the forward movement into the distance, a technique widely adopted in subsequent racing titles. Reflecting on Pole Position in a retrospective review in 2007, Eurogamer described it as “a simulation down to the core,” acknowledging its dedication to realism.
They noted that while dedicated players could eventually achieve success, the game’s difficulty might deter many from fully immersing themselves in the simulation experience.
2. The Konami WEC Le Mans
Konami released the WEC Le Mans in 1986. It was a car driving simulator in which the car jumped up and down. The vehicle would also go back and forth and could do a 180-degree spin.
There was also more emphasis on gear shifting, braking, and acceleration. Interestingly, this simulator also has a day-night cycle, simulating Automobile Club de l’Ouest-approved courses.
You can also say this was the early era of force feedback since players could ‘’feel’’ road vibration through the steering wheel’s vibration.
3. Transitioning to Modern Racing Simulators
A modern sim racing rig doesn’t look a lot like what players back in the day got. Over time, the sim racing landscape has advanced a lot. Here are some features you can expect to have in your modern sim racing setup:
- Realistic Graphics: Modern sim racing simulators have high-quality, detailed graphics that can mimic real-world environments to the tee. You enjoy effects like shading, particle effects, advanced lighting, and so much more.
- Physics and Dynamics: The physics in modern cockpit simulators is a lot better. It’s closer to realistic vehicle behavior, with features like proper weight distribution, aerodynamics, suspension, and tire grip.
- Vehicle Selection: Back in the day, players did not have a lot of vehicle selection. However, modern racers are spoilt for choice. You can find different vehicles for different types of racing, such as rally, GT, open-wheel, Formula, etc. Modern cockpit simulators also have customization options to modify or tune your vehicles.
- VR Support: Today’s sim racing setup can also integrate with VR technology to offer an immersive experience. Some notable features of this tech duo include realistic cockpit views and head tracking to make you feel like you’re in the car.
- Hardware Support: If you buy a sim racing cockpit for any brand like Logitech or Next Level Racing, there’s a high likelihood that it will be compatible with multiple pedals, peripherals, shifters, wheels, and wheelbases from other brands. The gear also comes with force feedback systems for an efficient tactile sensation.
4. Progression From DIY Rigs to High-End Setups
Back in the day, you’d have to put together a whole sim racing rig from scratch. Many peripherals that are available today weren’t even present. That has changed now.
You can buy a sim racing cockpit with all and every feature you can think of — from a seat that moves with the motion simulator to customizable pedal sets and steering wheels.
Sure, you’d have to spend thousands of dollars, but the experience is worth it. Let’s look at a few examples of both configurations.
Nowadays, we have the concept of sim racing ”bundles.” Basically, you get everything you need to plug and play. But, a few years back, before sim racing went mainstream, it wasn’t that easy. You’d have to buy each part separately and then put it all together.
An example of a handy bundle is the R9 V2 and RS V2 Bundle from Moza Racing. It includes the RS V2 steering wheel along with the R9 V2 wheelbase. While the wheelbase brings 9 Nm of torque, smart temperature control, and wireless power to the sim racing setup, the steering wheel has an ergonomic design with a forged carbon fiber build for durability.
Even though it’s a bundle, it still requires some DIY skills to put together and set up properly. For instance, you have to buy pedals individually. Similarly, if you need a shifter or handbrake, you’ll have to buy them, too. But, compared to the old days of sourcing parts from different places, it’s a breeze.
High-End Ready to Race Setups
In sim racing, we have advanced to a point where you can buy the whole sim racing setup from the same place. You don’t have to place separate orders; everything you need comes in one box, ready to be set up and used.
One such example is the Track Racer Ready 2 Race TR 160 racing simulator. Here’s what the bundle includes:
- NM Racing pedals – 3 Pedal set (VNM-PE01ST3)
- VNM Shifter – H-pattern Manual or Sequential Gearbox (VNM-S01BUN)
- Recline Seat (SA-08)
- TR160 MK4
- Integrated Triple Monitor stand (MS-CM-SIN-TR)
- TR ONE wheel mount
- VNM handbrake V1 (HBRK01) + Handbrake Mount – TR80-HB4
- Rexing Wheel
- Pre-drilled pedal plate
As you can probably tell, this bundle is perfect for the serious sim racer who wants a high-end setup.
Another similar bundle (but at a lower price point) is the Track Racer TR8 Pro Racing simulator. It’s their Sport Bundle and is geared toward those who want a quality setup without breaking the bank. The bundle includes:
- Trak Racer TR8 Pro Racing Simulator (TR8PRO)
- Integrated Single Monitor Stand
- GT Style Fixed Fiberglass Seat with seat brackets (SA-10)
- Simucube 2 Sport Direct Drive Wheel Base (SC2SPORT)
- Universal Direct Motor Mount (TR-DDBRDDM)
- Simucube Tahko GT-21 Wireless Wheel (SWTGT21-AAAA)
- VNM Racing pedals – 3 Pedal set (VNM-PE01ST3 )
A quick look at the evolution of racing simulators and associated tech tells us one thing: we’ve come quite far. Ten years down the line, we’ll see even more advancement in this space.
AI and VR are getting even better with every passing day. We can expect to see more realistic graphics and physics in racing simulators. Who knows, your next sim racing rig might even include haptic feedback suits and smell-o-vision for a truly immersive experience.
But here’s the thing: as cockpit simulators get more advanced, they will also become more expensive. So, if you’re an avid sim racer, this might be the right time to start a sim racing fund for your dream setup.