Which PC racing sims are a good choice for getting started?

I've mentioned previously that you can get valid driving practice from good driving simulators, and how to build a low-budget PC out of an ex-business desktop (several links provided above and below if you're reading this in the Life & Style section online). So let's discuss a few of those driving sims.

If this will be your first ever racing sim for PC, the demo version of LFS is a good place to start.

If this will be your first ever racing sim for PC, the demo version of LFS is a good place to start.

LFS - If you're starting from scratch, and have never done the training exercises in any sim or game, then get Live for Speed. The base program (demo basically) is a free small download, and you get three cars and one track, along with the first 18 training exercises (including a FWD on tarmac, a Formula BMW, and a RWD rallycross). You only pay for LFS if you want to unlock more content.

First released in 2003 and still being updated in 2021, it's easy on hardware (in fact, that budget PC is overkill) and setting up your wheel is easy (although I'd recommend dialing down the 'spring' and 'damper' in your wheel's control panel for all titles, in some cases to zero). Once you dial down the steering feedback strength adequately as well (35 percent in-game for my T300RS) you'll get a feel for force feedback (FFB) detail that you can take into other titles (especially those with more FFB settings to fiddle with).

RBR - Another title that offers training, and works on very old machines, is Richard Burns Rally released in 2004. It's developer went defunct in 2006 and its publisher in 2009, however a strong (mostly European) modding community is continuing to update it with physics tweaks, additional cars and tracks, and a multiplayer online platform.

If you can find a copy of the base game first, it's worth installing even without mods (and another one where wheel setup just works straight away). In fact, even professional sim racers still rate it quite highly. Start RBR with the standard game's Rally School and you'll learn all sorts of tricks to use in slippery situations (that you can also apply and practice on a closed-course in the real world).

AMS - There are many titles that have been based on Image Space Incorporated's isiMotor2 gaming engine, the first of which was the original rFactor in 2005. I reckon the best one to get however, is Automobilista Ultimate Edition, completed in 2019.

AMS will also run on an older machine (just don't use windowed mode), and the RealFeel steering is really good. Mostly offering tarmac circuits it also has some drift cars plus rally events with dirt or snow. It also has everything from karts to racing trucks. Whatever you drive on whatever surface, AMS will let you practice sliding and recovering. There's no training mode, but there are Time Trials (and it appears that I, SAM12H, still have a global ranking in the top 10) to test yourself in any car and track combination offered by the sim's creators, Reiza Studios.

There are also loads of community-made tracks (including a few wet ones) and cars to add, and (for any that you're not planning to use online) you can mess with some of the mod cars' data (like power and weight) just using Notepad (backup the original file first). Also use Notepad to adjust the RealFeel steering values for some of those added cars (check the readme.txt provided with the cars you download) and set your wheel's 'spring' and 'damper' to zero. The only downside worth mentioning is the need to mess with every car's ***_cams.cam file to tilt the in-cockpit (or any other) viewing angle.

AC - The original Assetto Corsa is the most popular PC racing sim. Released in 2014 and completed in 2018, it too has an active modding community adding thousands of cars and tracks (including wet ones) plus apps and plenty of visual enhancements for those with the processing power to enjoy them.

With low settings it too runs fairly well on older machines, and being made by Italians it has what can only be described as exquisite steering feel. Turn on the 'enhanced understeer' effect and the steering will get light when the front can't hang on, and if you dial down the 'spring' and 'damper' in your wheel's control panel you'll easily feel the mild countersteer real cars often have when the back can't hang on. Grip here is also very dependent on load transfer, so practice it.