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Sim Racing vs. Real Racing: The Ultimate Comparison

Sim Racing vs. Real Racing: The Ultimate Comparison

Sim racing and real racing are two of the most popular forms of motorsports today. Both offer a unique and exciting experience, but they also have their own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will compare sim racing and real racing in terms of the physical experience, risk and safety, accessibility, learning and improvement, realism and authenticity, and community and social aspect. I've had the pleasure of doing both (at least on two wheels so far). Here's my take on the biggest differences between the real and virtual world!

Audi R8 Rossi

Physical Experience

In real racing, drivers experience the raw physicality of controlling a powerful machine. The G-forces, vibrations, and sensations of acceleration and braking are all part of the exhilarating and sometimes demanding experience. The upside is that your overall senses pick up on a lot more things that you lack in sim racing. The physical connection between yourself and your machine creates a unique insight into what's really happening underneath you. Things like wheelspin, tire locking, or overall instability are transferred to you in a raw and clear way. That's a massive advantage, although sometimes a downside too. Imagine riding at 200mph, and your head is shaking violently because of track surface imperfections. You don't suffer from that online, nor does your physical ability to cope with it come into play.

Sim racing, on the other hand, lacks the physical intensity of real racing. While simulators can provide some feedback through force-feedback wheels and motion platforms, they cannot fully replicate the physical forces felt on a real track. On one hand, you don't feel the car or motorcycle, which means you miss vital information. But on the other hand, you're not faced with the difficulties that things like shatter or heat bring along. It's easy to just turn on the AC in your room and drive for hours on end without breaking a sweat.

Spa rain

Risk and Safety

Real racing involves real risks. Drivers face the possibility of injury or worse in high-speed accidents, adding an element of danger to the sport. Safety measures, training, and experience are crucial to minimize these risks. It's one of the factors that hold back a lot of amateur racers. In order to be the fastest version of yourself, you have to be on the very limit. But dancing on that limit makes it easy to overstep and crash. No matter the vehicle, crashes are expensive. Both in monetary value and, in some cases, there's a physical price to pay too. Imagine having to call your boss and tell them you'll be out for a month because you broke something. Not many drivers or riders are willing to take those risks, which results in them holding back on track. In fact I once almos got fired for getting into a heavy crash during my day off.

Sim racing offers a safer alternative to experience the thrill of racing without the inherent risks of real-life crashes. While there are no physical dangers, sim racers still need to be cautious, as reckless driving can lead to penalties or disqualifications in organized online races.

But that safety net still means you can slam your car into a wall at full speed, hit restart and try again. It's much easier to find your limit without the possibility of financial or physical pain. This makes training and finding the limit much, much easier.

In rare cases, sim racing can cause injuries too. For example, when a direct drive wheel catches a wrist or thumb, fractures can occur. But that's rare...


This is by far the biggest difference. Participating in real racing requires significant financial investment, including the cost of a race car, safety equipment, entry fees, and ongoing maintenance. This often limits access to the sport for many aspiring racers.

Not only do drivers pay an entry fee, but they also have to cover damages. And have you ever seen an amateur race? Every single car on the grid gets battered. Again, the fastest drivers can push the car to the limit. But if overstepping will cost you tens of thousands of dollars, you'll hesitate if you can't afford to.

Sim racing provides a more accessible entry point into motorsports. With a PC or gaming console, a sim racing wheel, and a racing simulator software, enthusiasts can experience the joy of racing at a fraction of the cost of real racing. And you don't need an expensive PC to run most games either. All you need is a racing wheel or a gamepad, and you can start exploring. If you spend more than $1,000 on your setup, you'll have a good base to start from. In real racing, that will buy you about 20 minutes on track.

Online, you can literally pick a $500,000 car and start trashing it at any track you like. In real life, you're facing driving costs, travel costs, damage coverage, insurances, ... The logistic side is enormous.

To drive these kinds of cars, you'll also need a proven level of skill and success. On top of that you'll need to be in great shape to race. You shouldn't be overweight or injured, because racing drivers are expected to be top athletes. 

Huracan EVO II Misano 5

Learning and Improvement

Real racing demands hands-on experience and training. Aspiring racers must invest time and money in karting, lower-tier racing series, and coaching to develop their skills and climb the racing ladder. Not many drivers are fast purely from talent alone. It all comes down to track time. If you're able to spend hours on end on track, improvements will come naturally. If your time is limited, so is your progress. Again, costs are a significant factor in this regard. The more time you spend on track, the more you'll have to repair and replace things. If money isn't an issue, and you can push as hard as you need to, progress can actually happen faster than it does in sim racing.

Sim racing offers an opportunity for continuous learning and improvement in a cost-effective manner. Drivers can practice and race on various tracks, experiment with setups, and receive instant feedback, honing their skills without leaving their homes. The upside is that you can also switch vehicles and tracks within minutes. Most real-life racers are 'stuck' with one car or motorcycle. If for some reason you're not fast with the tools you've got, jumping ship is hardly ever an option. Professional sim racers can encounter similar limitations if they race for an official team.

Realism and Authenticity

The sights, sounds, and smells of real racing are unparalleled. The authenticity of roaring engines, the smell of burning rubber, and the cheers of the crowd create an immersive and unforgettable experience. One day on track will make you linger for more. Marco Simoncelli once famously said: "You live more for five minutes going fast on a bike like that, than other people do in all of their life". Everything else in life seems simple and boring...

While sim racing has made significant advancements in realism, it cannot fully replicate the sensory experience of real racing. However, advancements in virtual reality (VR) technology are enhancing immersion and bridging the gap. But the sound, feel, and smell won't be replicated any time soon.

One of the most distinguished feelings I got in real life was how spectators treat you. In your leathers or driving suit, you suddenly become something like a gladiator. A man on a mission. People have respect for what you're trying to achieve. When you tell somebody you're sim racing, their first thought is that you're just good at playing video games...

The vibe at a track is second to none.

Spa Francorchamps

Community and Social Aspect

Real racing events provide a unique social experience, bringing together drivers, teams, and fans from around the world. The camaraderie and sense of community are an integral part of the amateur racing culture. Take it up a step, and you'll find that everybody is your competition. It's difficult to find friends or people that are willing to help you because... you're racing for the same goal. Even in amateur racing, there's plenty of dirty looks and criticism in the paddock. Some consider themselves 'better' than you, while others envy your speed and dedication. That last part is another big difference. Not everybody in the paddock is dedicated to racing. For some, it's just fun. And for a large part, it should be for you too.

Sim racing has a thriving online community, allowing racers to compete against each other globally. Virtual racing leagues and tournaments provide opportunities for friendships, rivalries, and a sense of belonging within the sim racing community. It's easy to race with friends, which makes it fun and relaxing. Even if your friends aren't looking for a serious racing career. In real life, you hardly carry over friends from real life.

Another advantage of sim racing is that plenty of competitors will try to help you. If you join a Discord or Reddit community, there's plenty of tips and guidance from the community. ACC, for example, has plenty of training servers where you can try and improve your skill without anybody looking down at you for trying.


Sim racing and real racing offer distinct but complementary experiences. Real racing provides the thrill of genuine competition, while sim racing offers accessibility, safety, and the chance to refine skills from the comfort of home. Ultimately, both forms of racing contribute to the passion and excitement that make motorsports a beloved pastime for millions. I know people who absolutely love sim racing but hate the thought of going on an actual track because of the dangers and physical challenges. If you like sim racing and you have the means, try a track day for a change. You'll be able to experience firsthand what the differences are and where the similarities lie.

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