Over the last few years Fanatec has been carving out a reputation as the premium vendor when it comes to sim racing hardware. Last year saw the launch of their highly anticipated ClubSport base and rims, with initial demand so high it crashed their website for two weeks and saw the first batches sold out instantly.
Fast forward to today, and supply has stabilised, drivers matured, and thankfully for us Aussies, stock is now shipped locally, so Atomic F1 finally takes a look at the wheel everyone is talking about, the Fanatec ClubSport.
Comparing the ClubSport to any of the Logitech or even Thrustmaster products is like comparing night from day. While Logitech has done a wonderful job bringing cost effective and affordable wheels to market, and Thrustmaster has looked to cater to the more series market recently with their T500 offering, the ClubSport is on another planet completely.
From the bespoke aluminium design to the Alcantara cloth used on the rims, every aspect of the ClubSport demonstrates a high attention to detail with no skimping on quality. Every toggle switch feels solid, the gear shifters on the rims give that satisfying mechanical click, and there is almost no plastic to be seen. For use of a better description, the ClubSport really is sim racing art.
The Formula rim is the original wheel announced for the ClubSport on launch. As the name suggests it’s modelled on similar wheels used in formula and open wheel categories. Made entirely from metal, the rim is trimmed with Alcantara making it both comfortable and durable. It has a 10 light LED rev counter, with a 3 digit LED display that has the ability to show not just speed but other configurable options like telemetry.
The rim comes with 11 buttons, 6 of them within thumb reach, perfect for F1 where you need quick access to DRS and KERS. It also comes with an anolog joystick and 7 way encoder allowing you to make in game adjustments.
BMW GT2 rim:
The BMW rim is the first officially licensed rim to come out for the ClubSport base. This isn’t just a rim licensed to have a BMW logo, it’s a direct replica of the wheel used in the BMW M3 GT2 touring cars. Fanatec is famous for its YouTube video showing a BMW touring car driver pulling up to his garage, detaching his GT2 rim, walk up to were a sim cockpit is setup and plug the same GT2 rim into a ClubSport base. You can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enuhpqGwOCs
The first thing you’ll notice with the GT2 rim is the size. Comparing it to a G27 wheel, you’ll quickly realise how much it dwarfs it. I’ve come to realise just how undersized a G27 rim is compared to actual real world ones. This size does have one small disadvantage in the fact that most buttons on the wheel do require you to remove your hand from the wheel to press them.
Just like the Formula rim the BMW has 11 buttons, including an analog joystick and a 7 way encoder switch which allows you to once again change settings on the fly without leaving the game.
The paddle shifters are adjustable, or if you prefer are completely removable. You can also adjust angle, distance to rim and travel of the paddles to really fine tune the feel.
Installation & Configuration
Mounting the base was for me, a straight forward process as my racing rig (you can read a review here) had appropriate mounting holes already present. If your unlucky not to, or have a rig that is custom, you may need to do some DIY to mount your base.
Fanatec pre-installs a plate that tilts the base slightly up if you have a rig that’s uses a more upright seating position, or you can remove it to make the base horizontal (important for those with F1 style cockpit setups).
While we cannot fault the quality of the product, one aspect that does require some serious attention from Fanatec is the utter lack of documentation. The included ‘quick install guide’ while adequate to get the wheel connected does little else but tell you to go to the website to download the latest drivers before connecting to your PC. Generally that would be fine, if their on-line documentation went into further detail on how to fine tune and understand the setup basics of your wheel. If your planning on mounting this to a desk be warned, the ClubSport base includes no clamps or other such mechanisms for attaching this to a desk. It really was always designed for those with rigs in mind. One of the more adventurous members of Atomic F1 had to resort to drilling holes in his desk to mount their base.
The online manual is simply a PDF of the same quick start guide they put in the box. We had to resort to googling and asking other Fanatic users on how to do some of the most basic things, like calibrating the wheel and there really is no excuse not to include better documentation, especially considering the cost.
The good news tho, is that there is a large dedicated community of users, websites and forums now centred on Fanatec products. Getting help or advice is generally just a google search away.
At the heart of the ClubSport system is the base from which you can attach either the Formula rim, or the BMW M3 GT2 rim. These connect to the base via a quick release mechanism that is identical to the type used in real professional motorsport. A nifty feature as a result is that the rims can be hot swapped mid game if necessary.
Fanatec has promised that even more rims will be released in the future, giving you the ability to customise your driving experience not just based on the game, but even the type car you’re driving.
They’ve also thought ahead for future expansion possibilities with additional data connection ports on the back of the base and extra mounting points at the front were add-on devices could be added to further expand the functionality of the base.
We tested with a number of games including but not limited to F1 2012, NFS: Shift, RaceRoom, Simraceway, and rFactor. We found no major compatibility issues
All assets of force feedback, wheel rotation, shock and vibration and much more can be set and configured directly from the wheel rather than having to go through any menu, or utility. Up to five preset configurations can be saved, giving you the ability to adjust your setup on the fly without having to leave the game or even change menus.
Force Feedback is handled by dual 120W motors which utilise a belt system rather than a cog one like other wheels. The result is smooth and precise feedback, giving accurate and predictable handling. You can really feel when the car is getting away from you and subtle tiny corrections are possible. You really feel every bump and crevice now and there really isn’t a wheel on the market that matches it for force feedback.
There’s no question that this is the wheel to have if you’re serious about your sim racing. While it won’t necessarily improve your lap times, the level of immersion and realism the ClubSport gives really takes driving to a new level.
The stars here however are the rims. While the base does its thing, it’s the rims that give that feeling that you’re not holding a toy in your hands, but something to be taken very seriously.
Obviously this is not for the budget conscience, at close to $1200 (AUD) for the whole set it’s certainly a lot of dollars, but for that you’re also getting a whole lot of wheel. At the end of the day you’re not just buying a piece of hardware, but a piece of sim racing art.
The initial frustration of the appalling lack of documentation or setup information, quickly disappeared as we were quickly lost in the sheer enjoyment of driving, and really at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.
The ClubSport is compatible with a wide range of pedals including of course the ClubSport pedals, or even your G25/G27’s via a small adapter ($4.95 AUD). As is usually the case with these kind of devices, the PC and Playstation 3 are fully supported, but sorry XBOX users, this one won’t work with your console.
- Build quality is exquisite, this really is a thing of beauty. It’s as close to the real thing as you can get.
- Plethora of customisation options for just about any setting you can imagine.
- Expansion options and future new rims will keep the product fresh.
- Price. It’s not cheap, but qualify comes at a cost and you certainly get what you pay for.
- Almost no documentation, you’ll be spending a-lot of time googling things to work out what do. Much more in-depth documentation would have been warranted.
- The buttons on the GT2 rim can be hard to reach.
Where to buy?