While sim racing hardware is still relatively new, we are seeing a wide abundance of advances in sim tech. On the wheel side, we have seen systems go from no resistance, to bungee cords, to gear drive, and then even advancing to belt and direct drive systems. On the pedal side, we’ve seen some similar advances, going from potentiometers to Hall Effect sensors, and also Load Cells and hydraulic systems in the brake pedal.
The brake pedal is one of the most important parts of a sim racing setup. For that reason, the brake pedal has seen the most advances, attempting to recreate the feeling of a real car’s “slow-down pedal”. In this post, I want to take a look at the 3 primary technologies utilized in the brake pedals, and give you an idea of how they function.
PART ONE: PROGRESSION IS KEY
One of the biggest questions you have to ask when regarding the brake pedal is, “What exactly makes one better than the other?” I would say that the key to an authentic brake pedal is progression.
If you drive a car with a hydraulic brake system, when you first press the brake, there will be some give, and then it gets harder to press as the fluid is displaced. I’d say the goal of higher end pedal sets is to recreate that feeling, to make for better modulation. There are quite a few ways to replicate progression in sim racing brakes, so without further ado, let’s take a look!
PART TWO: POTENTIOMETERS AREN’T AS BAD AS YOU THINK
With the latest advances in pedals, some people have regarded “potentiometer” as a bad word of sorts. However, at the same time, some people do not realize what a potentiometer is, so let’s first take a look at the tech behind a “pot”.
A potentiometer converts linear motion, be it sliding or rotational force, into a percentage. The most common example would be a volume dial on a sound system. As you rotate the dial to the right, the volume increases because you’re increasing the voltage in the system.
On a pedal system, that translates into linear motion in the pedals. While that works alright for the gas and brake pedal, that doesn’t translate into an authentic brake, IF it uses a conventional spring, that is. There are ways to emulate a real brake with modifications. The Logitech G27 pedal set with the Nixim mod, is a popular system, and some swear by the GTEYE springs. The Thrustmaster T3PA also features a conical brake mod, which I have felt to provide some solid progression.
While they may not be as advanced as the alternatives, potentiometer-based systems are still not bad, and they can be made even better with some modding.
PART THREE: LOAD CELLS ARE A SOLID SYSTEM
Load cells have been around for a while, and are commonly regarded as the standard for budget-friendly realism. A load cell based pedal will feature an exponential increase in voltage based on pressure. That means the harder you press on a load cell, the higher the voltage, and higher percentage. The most common example of a load cell application is a bathroom scale: it converts the pressure on the scale into a readout, either in pounds or kilograms.
In sim racing, a load cell pedal works well because it allows for proper pressure-based modulation without modifications. However, where a load cell can struggle is in the displacement department. While you do have the pressure, lower end load cell systems can be very stiff once you hit the cell. Higher end pedals improve on this, but they don’t fully simulate the feeling of hydraulic displacement.
Also keep in mind that load cells, especially the ones used in Fanatec products, are meant to bend under pressure. That means, over time, they will get weaker, and can break. Replacements generally aren’t expensive, but keep in mind that you would likely have to replace it yourself.
PART FOUR: HYDRAULIC SYSTEMS – ULTIMATE REALISM
If you are wanting the ultimate sim racing experience, there is arguably no system that’s better at replicating braking forces than a hydraulic system. Pedal sets such as the HPP PHT Pedal Set utilize an enclosed hydraulic system to bring uncompromising realism in the brake department.
The most realistic pedal system does come at a cost though, with pedal sets generally starting around $650+, and can reach over $1,000. Some people have developed DIY systems, even repurposing real life pedals to fit sim racing applications! Be aware, that sometimes when dealing with pressure, things could go wrong. Don’t get me wrong, anything can fail, but in when hydraulic systems are concerned, some of the failures can be spectacular.
The beauty of sim racing is that it is accessible to everybody. You can go for a budget beginner’s setup, or you can go all out in the name of authenticity. Here would be my recommendations for people looking for a decent pedal set:
- Budget/Modder Friendly: Logitech G25/27 Pedals – Can sometimes be found in the Buy/Sell Section in our Forums.
- Under $100: The Thrustmaster T3PA is a great budget pedal set, with some solid progression that can be fine tuned to personal preference. Note that they only work with Thrustmaster wheels out of the box.
- Under $200: The Fanatec CSR Elite Pedals are the least expensive load cell pedals you can purchase, and feature some solid progression in the brake as well. Note that the majority of the components are plastic, so reliability could be a concern.
- $200-$300: The Fanatec Clubsport Pedals V2 has the sub-$300 category locked down, and it’s a pretty solid piece of kit.
- Mid-High End Load Cell: The Derek Speare Designs Wilwood Pedals may not be for everyone, but they’re real life pedals made for sim racing, what more can you ask for? Check out our review here.
- High End Load Cell: Racers in the community are swooning over the Heusinkveld Engineering Pedals, which features load cells for all three pedals.
- Hydraulic Pedals: Mark Hargett has the HPP PHT Pedals, which features an enclosed hydraulic system, which doesn’t require fluid lines.
It is worth mentioning that a high end pedal set will not necessarily make you a faster driver. What it will do is give you a more realistic experience. Some of the premier sim racers in the world actually run with Logitech Driving Force GT pedals. The key is making full use of what you have. Once you adapt and grow comfortable with your setup, that will be when you really start running fast.
What pedal set are you using in your setup? Let us know in the comments!