Best Direct Drive Sim Racing Setup
Direct drive force feedback technology is the pinnacle of sim racing. It directly connects your steering wheel with the motor, giving a true 1:1 connection. This allows for more strength and fidelity in the force feedback that you’ll feel.
Typically, direct-drive wheelbases have commanded a high price tag due to their large motors and more industrial build style. However, Fanatec has come in and changed the game completely with the new budget-friendly direct drive CSL DD wheelbase.
In this sim racing setup build guide, I’m going to run through the best complete setup for a perfect direct drive sim racing build. I’ll include everything you need to go sim racing, including a racing wheel, pedals and sim rig.
The sim racing products that makeup this rig build
Jumping straight into the products that make up this ultimate direct drive sim setup build. The very first decision you’ll have to make is which wheel base you are going to opt for. You can go two routes here; The newer, budget-friendly CSL DD wheelbase. Or you can opt for a more powerful but more expensive wheelbase such as the Fanatec Podium DD2 or SimuCube.
While the CSL DD is a remarkable wheelbase, I’m going to opt for the latter option. For a true ultimate direct drive experience, I would want the strongest direct drive wheelbase I could get hold of.
I’ll run through a few different product options below when I take a deeper look at each part of this sim racing build, as there isn’t a single best route for this build. However, below is my ultimate recommendation. If I were building a direct drive sim racing setup I would spec out the options below.
- Fanatec Podium DD1 – $1199.95 / €1199.95
- Fanatec Podium Steering Wheel R300 – $499.95 / €499.95
- Fanatec ClubSport V3 Pedals – $359.95 / €359.95
- SimLab P1-X – €749.00
- SimLab Speed1 Seat – €379.00
Total – $/€3,187.85
Why choose this direct drive sim racing setup build?
Most sim racers will start their racing journey with a humble belt or gear-driven racing wheel such as a Logitech G923 or Thrustmaster TMX.
I started my journey with an older Logitech racing wheel and I had it attached to a desk with a clamp. And that was enough to spark my love for sim racing. From that point, I slowly started upgrading my sim racing setup. I purchased a wheel stand, and then a full cockpit while upgrading my racing wheel to a more powerful Fanatec wheel.
I slowly got to the point where I wanted the best sim racing equipment I could afford, and that came in the form of the Fanatec Podium DD1 paired with a SimLab 8020 extrusion cockpit.
This journey is one that many sim racers will follow. To feel the best force-feedback from your sim of choice you really need a powerful direct drive wheel. And to be able to support a direct drive wheel you need a solid cockpit, most commonly in the form of an aluminium extrusion rig.
If you are looking to build the ultimate sim racing setup, or upgrade your current setup, this guide has my full recommendation. This is one of the best overall sim racing setups you can build.
Fanatec Podium DD1
You may think that the Podium DD1 is a strange choice of wheelbase. I did say at the beginning of this guide that you should look to purchase the strongest direct drive wheelbase you could afford. So why didn’t I choose the more powerful DD2?
Quite simply, after years of racing with both the DD1 and DD2, I believe the DD1 is the better choice!
Podium DD1 vs DD2
While the DD1 does lack some of the top-end torque output that the DD2 has. It still has more power than most sim racers would use, and the cost difference between the DD1 and DD2 is substantial.
If I was creating a money no object build, then yes, I would include the DD2. However, for most sim racers it is hard to justify the price difference for relatively little usable gain.
The Podium DD2 outputs up to 25Nm of torque, compared to 20Nm from the DD1. While racing with both of these wheels, I rarely exceeded 10-15Nm of torque through longer race sessions.
If you have ever raced with the DD2 at full power, you will know just how tough it is. The wheel is so strong, you come away after just a few laps feeling like you’ve had a full workout.
The price difference between both wheelbases is around $/€300. That pretty much covers the whole cost of the pedals or racing chair! For the most bang for your buck and most efficient way of spending your money, the DD1 is the better choice in my opinion.
What about a SimuCube wheelbase?
SimuCube wheelbases are a great alternative to the Fanatec Podium range. There are three wheelbases currently for sale;
- The Sport which produces 17Nm of torque
- The Pro which produces 25Nm of torque
- The Ultimate which produces 32Nm of torque
The Sport and Pro are relatively comparable to the DD1 and DD2, and doo come in a little cheaper. Both are great wheelbases, you can read my in-depth review of the SimuCube 2 Sport here.
The SimuCube 2 Ultimate is a mighty wheelbase producing an eye-watering 32Nm of torque. However, it comes in at a butt-clenchingly high price of roughly $/€2700. That price tag puts it well out of the running for this build, as I’m trying to keep costs realistically affordable.
During my in-depth review of the SimuCube 2 Sport, I did give it the same review score as the DD2. See what that score was in our sim racing ranking comparison table.
However, my preference for this build would be the Fanatec Podium DD1. The reasoning behind this is due to the Fanatec product ecosystem, and compatibility.
Fanatec has a huge range of first-party compatible steering wheels, button modules and peripherals. Whereas with a SimuCube wheelbase, you have to find steering wheels from other manufacturers. Many sim racers would prefer this as you have a slightly more open route for customisation. But I do value the convenience of purchasing first-party hardware.
Then secondly, the DD1 is compatible with Xbox consoles should you be a console sim racer. This is invaluable, as currently, no SimuCube wheelbase is console compatible.
The Steering Wheel
Fanatec Podium Steering Wheel R300
Pairing a steering wheel to the direct drive DD1 wheelbase is very important. You’ll want a wheel that can handle the direct drive power and one which is equally equipped for long race sessions as the wheelbase is.
The Podium Steering Wheel R300 ticks all of those boxes. It comes with a large feature set and a high-quality design and finish. And it can be used across a wide range of race disciplines.
You’ll get the Podium Advanced Paddle Module included with this bundle which is Fanatec’s most premium paddle shifter module. Its claim of being the most authentic paddle shifter on the market can be believed once you’ve raced with it.
There are six high-quality paddles in total, giving you plenty of options for customisation. And the shifters themselves feature a magnetic mechanism that imitates a real-world race car. The contactless hall sensors mean that over time you won’t feel any degradation in the performance.
Also included with the R300 is the ClubSport Button Cluster Pack which adds extra face buttons for use during racing, and the Podium Hub.
The Podium Hub sits at the heart of this sim racing setup, as it acts as the quick-release between the wheelbase and steering wheel. Build quality is extremely high with all Podium series products, but especially with the Podium Hub. It uses automotive grade materials for ultimate performance and durability and is widely compatible with most of Fanatec’s product lineup.
Alternative steering wheel for open-wheeled sim racers
If you are a sim racer who prefers racing open-wheeled cars, you may also want to consider the Fanatec Formula V2.5 steering wheel. The Formula V2.5 or V2.5X is one of the best formula steering wheels I’ve raced with. It is hugely versatile, looks and feels great to race with and has so many configurable inputs.
The Formula V2.5 and V2.5X do away with the circular steering wheel design and closer mimic the designs of open-wheeled steering wheels.
It has slightly smaller dimensions than the R300 coming in at just 270mm wide compared to 300mm of the R300. This makes the wheel feel lighter and more agile than some of the larger circular wheel designs.
Check out the Formula V2 wheel here.
Fanatec ClubSport V3 Pedals
Your pedal choice for this direct drive sim setup comes down to a couple of things. Do you have specific console compatibility in mind, and do you want to stay within the Fanatec ecosystem?
If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then the ClubSport V3 pedals are easily your best choice. The ClubSport V3’s are the best pedals that Fanatec currently offer. They’re packed with technology with an aim to replicate real-world cars as closely as possible.
You’ll find an extremely attractive looking set of pedals, with completely metal aluminium construction, with hints of red all over. From the front and side, these pedals look stunning.
Under the hood, or behind the pedals you’ll be treated to a huge amount of technology. There is a 90kg load-cell aimed to replicate a real-world brake pedal. The pedals use magnetic technology along with contactless sensors on the throttle and clutch.
There is a huge amount of adjustability to be found, from interchangeable pedals to customisable pedal positioning and adjustable brake pressure. The ClubSport V3 pedals are as good as they come and highly recommended.
Alternative option – Heusinkveld Sprint Pedals
If you don’t fancy a pedal set from Fanatec, your next option should be the Heusinkveld Sprint Pedals. These pedals are so good they could almost be ripped directly from a real-world GT car. The Sprints are the natural progression up from the Fanatec ClubSport V3 pedals.
They offer more customisation than the Fanatec pedals due to each pedal being mounted separately. This gives you much more control over how you position and set up your racing pedals for perfect heel and toe action.
The Sprint pedals also feature a stronger load-cell brake. The load-cell in the Sprint pedals is rated at 120kg, which is getting into real-world race car territory. That equates to around 65kg of actual force at the brake pedal plate.
The main downside of any Heusinkveld pedals is both price and console compatibility. First of all, there is zero console compatibility. All Heusinkveld sim racing pedals are designed for PC sim racers only.
Then there is the cost. For just the two-pedal set of the Heusinkveld Sprint pedals, you will be looking at around $/€590 depending on the retailer. That is rather a lot more than the ClubSport V3 pedals.
If you are interested in the Heusinkveld Sprint pedals, check them out here.
To really be able to support a strong direct drive wheelbase such as the Podium DD1 or SimuCube 2 Sport, you really need a sim racing cockpit that can handle the forces generated. A budget or mid-level racing cockpit may struggle to support a Podium series direct drive wheelbase, and may flex as the torque builds up.
This means you will potentially need to look for a sturdier sim rig. Your best option would be an aluminium extrusion rig. This style of sim rig utilises thick pieces of aluminium extrusion to essentially build a chassis.
Many 8020 aluminium extrusion rigs are highly customisable. As you can simply add extra pieces of extrusion to the rig as you add more peripherals.
SimLab is widely known to produce some of the best 8020 sim rigs on the market and is even the official e-sports supplier for the Mercedes AMG F1 team.
The P1-X sim racing cockpit sits at the top of SimLab’s product lineup. It is a sim rig that is designed to handle the most extreme forces. It will support almost all direct drive sim racing wheels without any flex.
Every part of this sim rig is adjustable, from the pedal distance and angle to the steering wheel mounting position. This is a sim rig that you should never have to replace. The P1-X includes a side mount as standard allowing you to attach accessories and extra peripherals such as shifters.
Check out the SimLab P1-X here.
Rounding out this direct drive sim racing setup is our choice of racing seat. The SimLab P1-X doesn’t come with a seat as standard, giving you the option to choose whichever seat you fancy. The P1-X is widely compatible with most sim racing and some real-racing seats from brands such as Sparco.
The seat I’ve chosen for this sim rig build is the SimLab Speed1. Being made by the same manufacturer, we can guarantee the perfect fitment with the P1-X, and the design of the Speed1 is stunning.
It comes in a few different colour variations, with blue and black being my favourite. What really convinced me with this seat is just how comfy it is over long sim racing sessions. After spending hours and hours at a time in the Speed1, I can easily say it is one of the comfiest genuine racing seats available.
It features a fibreglass bucket seat for a true racing experience and is padded with memory foam to ensure comfort. This seat is designed to be a genuine racing seat for sim racers, and even includes the correct design to add a 5 point racing harness if you wish.
The seat itself is lined in a mesh fabric to ensure you don’t get too hot during long race sessions and even features a mobile phone holder!
If you are interested, check out the Speed1 racing seat here.
How well does this direct drive sim racing build perform?
With all of the products covered in more detail, let’s look at how this direct drive sim setup performs together.
Due to the high-quality design and manufacturing from SimLab, the 8020 sim rig is relatively easy to put together. It will take some time to assemble but that is usual for any aluminium extrusion rig. There are pre-drilled mounting holes for both the Fanatec DD1, and the pedals making mounting an easy process.
During hard sim racing sessions, the quality of each product really shines through with this sim rig. Under maximum load from the Fanatec DD1, the P1-X rig doesn’t flex in the slightest. I feel you could hit this sim rig with a tank and it wouldn’t budge!
There is also no noticeable flex from the pedal plate. And when you stamp on the load-cell brake hard, the seat doesn’t move either due to its fibreglass bucket design. A common problem with some reclining racing seats is that the chair back will often move under heavy braking. But that issue is certainly not a worry here.
Overall, this is a sim racing setup build that will last you many years. Once this rig is assembled, you shouldn’t need to replace or upgrade any parts in a hurry. And for the price, around $/€3,000 you would struggle to find an equally good direct drive setup as this.