Taking my sim-racing experience to the next level

Last updated on: November 25th 2020

Fanatec ClubSport Steering Wheel BMW M3 GT2


Thought it would be fun to make a few vids and share my experiences so far.

2019-06-09 ~ PixTV - Episode 6 - Next Level Racing GTtrack with Fanatec Podium DD2 Review

Hello and welcome to episode 6 of Project Immersion TV.

Today I am going to be showing you the latest additions to the rig I have deployed to aid with my ongoing quest to be fully immersed in my hobby, sim-racing. Things have changed quite a bit since my last recording so I wanted to give an update and a bit of a review of those changes, starting with a bit of a confession.

After many years away, I have got back in to iRacing for the 3rd time, there I said it!

One of the reasons leading to this is the stability of VR in this sim. Another probably more universal and compelling reason is that no other title to date has the setup where I can go online and know that there will be a races, in multiple classes and depending on how I’m feeling, I can jump in a great selection of road cars, open-wheelers and GT style track cars to name but a few. I tend to stick to road-racing and I am having a real blast with the MX5 in the advanced series and also with the Skippy.

Anyway, iRacing meets most of my needs and the forcefeedback isn’t bad at all, the motion output is very good and as I said the VR is stable as I could ever want. Yes it can be expensive if you want to race seriously, but iRacing isn’t really what I wanted to talk about today.

I want to tell you all about this amazing rig I’m sat in, the Next Level Racing GTtrack, some of the differences to the Next Level GTUltimate v2 and how it fares with my new (ish) Direct Drive wheel, the recently released Podium DD2 from Fanatec and along the way, I’m probably going to mention the Oculus Rift S, which I’ve recently upgraded to from the CV1, yes, I said upgraded- IMHO!

So lets take a look at how I got here before diving in to the details. During 2018 Fanatec teased then announced that they were releasing a Direct Drive wheel series. I had been very satisfied with the ClubSport Wheel v1 and 2, but had managed to ‘get a go’ on an Accuforce DD wheel whilst out and about and noticed that the fidelity was so much better and the strength of course, but that part was not of direct interest for immersion purposes. I had looked up and down the market and as some of you will know from previous episodes, I no longer have the time to sim-race DIY due to life getting in the way, so most of the offerings that meant building it myself were off the table right away. I’d also invested heavily in Fanatec gear so wanted something that didn’t mean I had to start again and knew that the vapourware from Fanatec around DD wheels was going to condense and eventually turn solid.

Despite not being interested at all in the added force that the DD wheels are capable of and really not caring too much if it was 8 Newton Meters, 15, 20, 25 or even 30+ I did have a more major concern about the additional stresses on the Next Level Wheel Stand that I had as part of the GTUltimate v2 rig.

I contacted Hess, the CEO and founder of Next Level Racing in Australia with my concerns. He confirmed quite quickly that the Next Level Wheelstand would not be suitable and told me that they were launching the GTtrack very soon and this was built with a much tougher construction, designed specifically for serious sim racing with Direct Drive wheel and motion in mind and that it would also be totally compatible with their upcoming and soon to be released Traction Plus slider system add-on which gives another axis - lateral movement - it will feature yaw, sway, understeer, traction loss and power slides, something missing from my current v3 NL Motion setup. I can’t wait!

I pre ordered the GTtrack so I would be ready for when the Fanatec DD wheel was expected to arrive in early December. Unlike the DD wheel from Fanatec (the less said about this particular disappointment - the better), the GTtrack arrived a week or so before Christmas.

Unboxing, the first thing I noticed was how well manufactured and industrial each component of the GTtrack felt, even before assembly. Next Level have really upped their game in this department over the years with much improvement in manufacturing standards. Every part is finished in satin black, so blends really nicely with most sim racing peripherals. It’s a really good looking rig too, and looks very neat, not some Frankenstein’s creation. I’m not knocking the 80/20 crowd as if I had the time I would have probably gone down this route, but like a lot of you out there and for whatever reason, I just want to race in the little spare time I have nowadays rather than spend time designing, altering, tweaking, constructing and maintaining. The GTtrack ticks this box as once assembled it’s rock solid and needs no further tweaking past the initial set up of getting the distances perfect to suit my body, arm and leg lengths.

Until the Traction Plus system is released, there are 2 options currently for the undercarriage, some nice sturdy static feet or a set of 8 castor wheels with locking mechanisms and I decided that for the time being, I would use the wheels to help me move it around for the review and for changing over when the Free Standing Single Monitor stand was released a little later on. There is an option for triples too as a separate item.

There is a stack of adjustments that can be made, the height of the wheel stand components can be raised and lowered, the angle of the wheel plate can be adjusted and at foot level the angle and position of the pedal plates can both be adjusted and made even more solid with extra support bolts. The seat position forward and backward has a few options too. The majority of the frame is made from 40mm box section and the welds are full, not tacked on. Once all the bolts are tightened, there is virtually no movement, no flex and a great feeling of rigidity throughout. This rig is built to last and withstand the forces of motion and the power of the direct drive wheels.

The wheel table comes with a shed load of predrilled mounting holes to suit all the major named wheel bases out there and my CSW v2 bolted on right way without the need for the angle plate underneath. The wheel table is very sturdy and feels great, there is even enough room to add a couple of fans to help with HMD cooling!

The castor wheels are very robust taking my 97kg weight easily. I am 181cm tall and fit in the chair easily with plenty of adjustment either way for longer or shorter body and leg lengths. Just like a car seat, adjustments forward and backwards and back rest tilt angle can be made on the fly as it is on rails which is handy when changing between drivers of different lengths when entertaining. The seat which is made of PU leather, fits me snugly and the sporty bucket style design keeps me firmly in the seat without having to use the included 4 point harness.

I find the seating position very comfortable for extended periods of time, and it didn't take too many attempts to get the wheel table just at the right height. I can get in and out of the seat very easily indeed from the right hand side (I'm a 'pommy' so drive in a RHD configuration regardless of the car I am virtually driving.

Cable management is a breeze and using the bundled Velcro straps and a few meters of my own from a spool I think have managed to make the rig look very tidy indeed.

My trusty NL Motion v3 bolted straight to the frame and the seat to that, a lot easier too than attaching to the GTUltimate v2, which to be fair has done it’s duty very well indeed, it’s just that the GTtrack is better all round and can accommodate the Direct Drive wheel forces. My Buttkicker bolted on unobstructed at the back for added tactile feedback.

Since first setting it up, I have had the Freestanding Next Level Racing Monitor stand delivered following it’s release and have transferred over my TV lift to this by making a few modifications. This too is of a very sturdy industrial spec and I can put my 65” TV right to the top of the TV Lift’s extension and it is as strong and stable as when it is in the lower position. It’s probably fair to point out that the TV lift addition is my modification and does not come with the stand, but it means that I can raise the TV above the rig and watch films or play virtual golf from the comfort of the sofa behind or drop the TV to below the wheel height when using it for non-VR racing (which is becoming very rare for me).

Finally after a short delay since pre-ordering in July, the Podium DD2 arrived at the end of April and it bolted straight on. In fact there are 5 bolt holes in the bottom of the base and Fanatec recommend using with the 3 hole pattern synonymous with the ClubSport Wheelbases or there is a 4 hole pattern for more strength. I opted for all 5 holes to be on the safe side although it’s probably a little overkill.

I have mounted the KillSwitch on the underside the wheel table with sticky back Velcro so that I can hit it with my knee if needed as a safety feature.

I have mounted the DD2’s Power Supply Unit to the front of the rig along with a mains power extension to keep them out of the way and for tidiness overall.

There is a universal Shifter mount included with the rig and I have mounted this to the left hand side as I mentioned earlier, I’m in the UK and it feels more natural to me. Unlike the GTUltimate rig, there are no thumbscrew style knobs that you can use to undo parts of the rig and move them around, this of course makes the rig less prone to things becoming loose as all bolts have ‘bite’ washers to make sure they don’t come adrift in use, but it does mean that once in a configuration, it’s not that easy or convenient to change things, such as moving the shifter to the other side. It’s a con and pro!

I have replaced my ClubSport Pedals v3 with the v3 inverted and whilst at first the pedal positions felt incredibly alien, I have now adjusted then so that they feel much more natural with road cars.

In use the rig is truly amazing, it feels so solid. Even with the CSW v2 I felt more immersed because of the rigidity, but now with the DD2 in play, it has come into it’s own. The combination of the GTtrack rig and the direct drive wheel gives me the fidelity I have been looking for. As said previously the rig is off the shelf, ready to assemble in less than an hour and it’s no monstrosity to look at either providing a pleasant, professional aesthetic that blends well in to my man cave.

I’ve added my 5.1 speakers to the rig for when I have company over as I tend to use the Rift S when racing on my own and just want to explain my earlier statement when I said I had upgraded from the CV1.

Oculus are claiming it is not an upgrade, more over a more modern replacement. I have been using the Oculus earbuds on the CV1 and have added earbuds to the S too as I really want to block out outside noises to get the best immersion when racing on my own… the native audio on the S is awful, but with earbuds, it’s great! The visual clarity alone compared to the CV1 is worth the money asked for the unit, it is very good indeed. In iRacing it is a game changer although some other titles such as the recently released Assetto Corsa Competizione need to evolve in the VR department to look as clear as iRacing does. That said, I had a few ACC races in VR the other day and despite the jaggies in view, I felt really immersed in the rig overall.

There is very little flex in the rig, it feels very solid indeed and most of the subtle movements you see in the videos are mainly because I have the rig on the castors rather than the static feet. To be fair, I never felt any flex in the GT Ultimate v2 until I got my hands on the GTtrack and now I have this experience, I could not go back. It’s close to perfection, and I’m sure that I if I had the hours to spare I could make something with zero flex out of 80/20 but the design, R&D and engineering work has been done for me, all I needed to do was unbox and assemble following the clear instructions.

In conclusion, the GTtrack, combined with the NLM v3, a Direct Drive wheel and VR is giving me the most immersive experience I have ever had.

Well done Next Level Racing! I can’t wait for the release of the Traction Plus!!

2017-02-18 ~ PixTV - Episode 5 - Next Level Motion v3 (mini) Review

This review concentrates on the differences between the v2 and the v3. Next Level have listened to the feedback from the v1 and v2 users and made a lot of subtle but major improvements, some of which I will go in to detail about here, particularly the ones that affected me during my 9 months of the v2.

The v3 is a 3rd generation, really compact, easy to install motion platform that increases immersion comnsiderably.

Some of the new features include:

  • adaptive fan speed control
  • industrial grade position sensors
  • reduced noise of operation
  • redesigned spring holders
  • super smooth operation and advanced actuator speed management

  • All of these combined and the feeling and experience I have with the v3 leads me to a phrase I passed back to the developers back in December... Sophisticated Immersion! If combined with VR (not shown here), it's incredible.

    2016-04-17 ~ RaceRoom Racing Experience ~ Formula RaceRoom Junior

    With a random grid of 24 Rookies, I struck gold, yes, fool's gold no less and got 21st slot outside the pit entrance! I had a lot of work to do ahead of me if I wanted to be holding a trophy!

    I got off to a great start and I managed to pull a few places before the first few bends were rounded and then I slowly chipped away at the pack, taking my chances at Paddock Hill, Druids and occaisionally Graham Hill Bend with the odd bit of luck around the outside just after Surtees... lap after lap making my way past the slower drivers and hearing the squeals of the tyres as I went rubber to rubber with the opposition around many corners.

    About a third of the way in to the race I managed to get to 3rd place, those little tweaks I had made in the garage were making all the difference and I pulled in to first place before half of the race was done.

    I'd bumped up tyre wear and they had started to play up as I had been pushing hard, but I knew if I pitted, I'd be the only one to do so and etting back the places would be very difficult, so I persevered, trying to take it easy, but my adversaries were still right on my tail.

    At about two thirds under my belt smugness took over and disaster struck and I understeered off the track at Clark into the grass and gravel letting 5 cars past. I remained in 6th place for quite a few laps until I had a sidewall clash and gained a place at Clark. I pushed on and got past another. I could smell the podium and there were only a couple of laps to go, I grabbed at 3rd place round Druids and kept it until the end of the lap and race.

    I got a trophy, but lost out on the one I could have had if I had kept concentrating on the race. The race is not won until it's over!

    I have to say that the recently released Formula 'Rookie' in the often under rated RaceRoom Racing Experience is the most fun I have had on my simulator since getting the Next Level Motion v2 and I look forward to many races in the near future. The force feedback is superb, the sounds are fantastic, probably the best out there and the AI at 100% are fun to race against and very fair.

    2016-03-28 ~ PixTV - Episode Four - Next Level Racing Motion v2 Review

    Introduction and My Impressions
    Welcome to Episode 4 of Project Immersion TV. Today I’m going to be talking about the long awaited Next Level Motion v2, finally released in the middle of February 2016.

    In this episode I’m going to take the unit through its paces, show you how tuneable it is via the options in the software and sim profiles. On top of that, I’ll be showing you what it looks like when racing from the subtlest of profiles to something quite violent so that you can see and hear what it sounds like too.

    In summary, the Next Level Motion v2 is compact and relatively quiet, it’s not totally silent though.

    It’s all contained within one unit, no external power supplies or control boxes are required so cabling is minimal and easily tidied out of the way.

    Side panels are included that are tailored for adding the unit to the Next Level GT Ultimate range of seats, but there are no rubber grips on the bottom so make sure you have it attached to the wheel stand to prevent slipping!

    Half an hour installation time to add to a Next Level rig! You need muscles though as it weighs a tonne, well 21Kgs, so reassuringly heavy and this shows how solid it is!

    Your whole body is moved to simulate the G-forces that would be applied to you if you were in a real vehicle, but the wheel, pedals and screen cannot be moved with this solution.

    Adaptation for your brain is instant, as soon as you start your brain gets it!

    Tactile feedback is already included and part of the solution through the 2 motors and 2 DoF and you can easily add a Buttkicker to the platform easily on the included post.

    It takes a while to understand what is what with the profiling software, and which effect controls which movements. It’s not always the obvious one! Speed, intensity of effects and extent of motion is fully customisable once you have grasped it!
    Some of the early firmware updates have needed the custom profiles to be started from scratch, which takes away the racing time. That said, things are now getting to the point where they are pretty good out of the box and only minor changes are needed to suit the person, vehicle and track for each title.

    ForceSeatPM is a simple software interface with half a dozen sliders that you can use for ease of adjustments once you grasp what each effect does and how it is interpreted by the platform.
    It could be argued that a DIY system is less than half the cost, which is great if you have a lot of engineering experience, can provide your own hardware support and want to use open source software the community itself supports AND have a lot of time to invest. The Next Level v2 comes with 2 years warranty in the EU, email based support, professional level software and you can be up and running in the time it would take to have a single GT3 race around Brands Hatch Indy!

    So, thumbs up to Next Level for developing this great platform with MotionSystems EU to deliver probably the most compact motion platform out there that will fit under most racing rig seats and increase the racers immersion instantly.

    The full review transcript can be found on my rig setup blog

    2016-03-02 ~ Dallara DW12 Indycar @ Silverstone GP

    SMS launched the US car pack recently but it came with no extra tracks, so I invited 15 of the pCARS Awkward Individuals (AI) over to just outside Towcester in Northampton along with their DW12 Indycars to have a bit of fun on a British Grand Prix circuit, thinking I would blow them away as they were used to different climates in the US.... boy was I wrong!

    I started 12th on a random grid, full of confidence having put in 3 or 4 laps on my own.... in hindsight, I should have practiced more!

    I made easy ground straight off from the lights, boosting my way through the pack and then slowly but surely picking each one off until I lost it going round Luffield on Lap 4 and then again on Lap 5. I lost a couple of places due to pushing a bit hard and it served me right I guess.

    I managed to gain back a few places over the next couple of laps and was in P4 by the end of lap 7. I went round the outside at Farm Curve to put myself on the podium and nearly managed a cheeky pass on the Wellington Straight, but by the time we had gone round Luffield I was at a disadvantage and was still in 3rd place. I hung in there and got squeezed out at Copse (or maybe I was a little too aggressive, but I was pushing hard and didn't care too much, he went wide and off track, I slowed to let him back, but he had already been overtaken so I pushed onwards for P2... there was no sense coming 4th if I didn't have to.

    I have still heard nothing from the Stewards or the Race Director, so I can only assume my little incident on lap 8 was put down to a racing incident and I'm happy to collect the second biggest Cup with my Champers!

    The Awkward Individuals have invited me over to their homeground for the next round at Watkins Glen or COTA... not sure which yet, so I look forward to meeting them again soon.