Watching the V8's in Hamilton the other weekend I was reminded of an experience I had a few years ago where I had the privilege of being taken for a hot lap around Pukekohe Raceway in a very fast V8 supercar.
The pants-browning sensation of hitting 180Km/h down the straights is right up there on the Awesome List with sky-diving and bungy-jumping, but I would have much preferred to get in behind the wheel myself.
For some reason I wasn't entrusted to pilot a quarter-million dollar feat of engineering, however this week I've had the chance to experience the next best and slightly less pants-browning thing - the Logitech G25 Racing Wheel.
If you're not familiar with Racing Wheels, they're a fairly self explanatory thing: a steering wheel you plug into your PC or gaming console and use to control your vehicle in racing games. Sounds pretty straightforward, but there's a plethora of products on the market ranging from sub-$100 plastic fantastics to multi-thousand dollar customised setups. The good thing about the G25 is that it sits nicely in the middle at $399, and even though this model was released three years ago, it's still the pick of the bunch.
They call it a racing "wheel" but it's more like a complete racing set-up. You actually get the wheel, a separate gear stick and a floor panel with three pedals for acceleration, brake and clutch. Just add seat, desk and PC. For the serious enthusiast, all three parts have threaded holes for mounting into specially built frames.
The steering wheel itself looks and feels just like the real thing, being made from solid stainless steel and encased in hand-stitched leather. Behind the main wheel on either side are two sequential shift paddles and these are made of stainless steel as well.
The separate gear stick also has a leather casing for authenticity, and can be used in either a up/down sequential shift mode or full 6-gear plus reverse H-style shifting pattern. Behind the shifter, you'll find a directional pad and eight assignable buttons.
To top off the heavy-duty theme, the floor panel also features three stainless steel pedals, all with different levels of resistance just like the pedals in a real car. Plus, to stop you putting holes in your wall, there's a handy carpet grip system on the bottom to stop the pedals sliding around when you have the unit on carpet.
Mounting the system to your desk is easy as pie, as the shifter and wheel unit have plastic clamps on the underside which you just slide onto the edge of your desk and screw down, and the floor unit obviously sits beneath you on the floor. After mounting it all, just install the software drivers and plug it in. The shifter and floor pedals plug into the main wheel unit, as does the external power adaptor. During driver installation it will guide you through calibration, and once that's all done you're ready to go with basically any racing game.
The first time I loaded up RaceDriver 3 for some old-school V8 action it automagically recognised the G25 and stepped through setting up the buttons and everything. Couldn't be easier.
Playing racing games with a wheel like this makes the entire experience infinitely better. Short of actually driving a Supercar, it's as good as you're likely to get. The one feature that is central to this experience is force feedback. There are two motors inside the main steering wheel unit which provide resistance and feedback to the wheel so that it behaves as a wheel in a real car would, reacting to what's happening on the road and the giving a sense of weight to the car.
Operating the shifter and the floor pedals becomes second nature after just a few laps, and if you're using an in-car view in manual gear mode it really is just like driving a car. Personally I prefer using the sequential shifters rather than the H-gearing but that's just me.
I was blown away by how much fun this steering wheel was. I've been an avid gamer for years and had never bothered to try one out, and I'm so glad I did. If you're a racing fan to even the slightest degree I highly recommend getting your hands on a set.
The Logitech G25 is compatible with PC and PlayStation 2 & 3. Our thanks to PlayTech for providing the review sample.