Hey all. As one or two may recall I recently won a GON competition and received a Fanatec Porsche 911 GT3 wheel. I've now been using it for a couple of weeks and thought I might write up a bit of a review for the racing forum to give my thoughts on it. The original GON review can be read here.
So I was sitting at my desk at work on the last day there before I'd have a few days off for Christmas when I was told a package had arrived for me, I went and grabbed it and ofcourse already knew what it was. I spent the rest of the day absent mindedly tapping away at my keyboard, waiting to get home and give it a go.
Finally the day was done and I rushed home with it and tore open the box and took out all the parts. The first thing I noticed was how big the wheel itself was, much larger than my Thrustmaster Momo that I'd been using for many years. I could tell it was well built already, so I checked out the base/unit, it was actually quite small and compact, good news I thought.
The bright orange paintwork was smart and also showed up the lone hair that was on it. I've assumed it was Bennetts and kept it framed on my wall ever since (just kidding...maybe...).
This is when I met my first, and only snag. The power plug connection was not our standard connection, I guessed it was for a German connection and knew I didn't have any converters sitting around. Luckily I have a friend who'd just been to Germany and a quick query on Steam confirmed he did have a converter I could use. Crisis over!
Once that was sorted, installation was a breeze. The first game I naturally tried was iRacing, and in fact, besides a few minutes in F1 2010 it's the only game I've used the wheel for so far. I'd not being using force feedback with my Momo, it was just totally rubbish, so I was making quite a step here.
The first few laps basically blew my mind. I was rubbish slow, but had a huge grin on my face. It was epic. Everything was so smoothe and just felt natural. Going through the Becketts/Maggotts complex at Silverstone in the Star Mazda was a joy. I felt that instead of reacting to the car, I was going with it.
It wasn't like the feedback on my Momo (when I had attempted to use it), it was subtle and smoothe. Hooking a wheel onto the inside grass would alter the FFB instantly, there'd be a slight wobble through the wheel before a more decent thump as my inside tyre hit the start of the kerb. You could easily sense the back end stepping out. I'd never used FFB for more than a lap and I could immediately tell the difference between the back and front of the car losing grip.
The strength of the feedback could be felt when you lock the fronts at turn in, soon I could feel it coming through the wheel before the normal visual queue of a blocked tyre would warn me. I'd then have a chance to release brake some brake pressure and the moment would be over before it even begun. Just as easily the subtle effects of the back end getting light over a crest were handled with no problem, and the transition between the two was natural and easily accomplished by the belt system.
The subtlety of the wheel is excellent when it comes to oval racing, when you're on cold tyres it needs to transfer all the information it can to you, about what the back end of the car is doing, and this wheel does it no problem. It's especially helpful on cold tyres before the pressures come up, as the oval racers will know you set the car up to be initially loose and there are some hairy moments after restarts, but they're easier to tackle now. The additional size also helps me a lot I've found, I can make more accurate adjustements.
The wheel wasn't at all noisy, I generally have the sound turned up quite high so I can hear the tyre squeal and not here other background noise outside, so I had no problem. It was comfortable and felt great in my hands, my only complaint was some pain on the longer stints in my shoulders, unused to the wheel doing anything beyond turning where I wanted.
That's easily solved however, with a couple of button presses down the straight the FFB can be turned down on the fly, and as the longer races go on I've found myself taking it down 10% every 5 or so laps in the back end of the races.
Theres a lot of buttons that can be programmed, and one of the lower buttons is actually a hat switch, which is very handy. Given the 6 I usually had on the Momo the 16 or so buttons that can be pressed it easily enough to handle most key functions for racing games I've played.
Still, there are a couple of issues some may have with the wheel, and they deserve to be mentioned for the price you're paying. The clamp system is good, but even when I have it as tight as it will go on my desk there's still a bit of play in the vertical, almost like the steering column of a Williams at Imola in '94. People with cockpits and who use the mounting bars will have no drama here I'm guessing.
I tend to tuck my thumbs around the wheel just above the top left/right buttons, and theres no 'rest' there for the thumbs, so I find myself accidentally pushing those keys (they're my look left/right keys) when I'm really gripping the wheel. The buttons themselves also have a bit of play as well, they're not buttons in the Momo sense, but pieces of plastic that can be pushed at the top or bottom for different keys.
Theres a slight hum when it's on as well, nowhere near noticeable in game, I've actually found it as a good thing, as it reminds me to turn the unit off when I'm done.
The shift paddles are nice to use, I've only missed a few shifts on my first day when I didn't press enough, and none since. The paddles are quite long which is good, so you can reach them at different positions. There is a problem there though, I find it really hard to shift if I press the very tops or bottoms of the paddles, the paddles just flex and don't press in properly. This only happens on the extreme ends of the paddles though.
Also, theres no pedals or shifter obviously, I never used my shifter on the Momo (other than for brake bias adjustments, so I could feel like Michael Schumacher) so I have no issue with that. I also have a set of Advantage 1 pedals already, so I was lucky to be already set.
So, this has ended up quite long, I suppose because it's hard to convey something as obtuse as "feeling" to people in this form. But all I can really say is, this is one epic wheel, and my times are already below where they were just a few weeks ago. I'm spinning less, going faster, and because I'm not staring intently along the top of the nose trying to figure out if I'm sliding or not, but instead am just feeling what the car is doing, I've been able to raise my eyes and look down the road a lot more. Invaluable when you find yourself in the pack.
Obviously it's quite exy, and whether it's worth it or not is hard to say, especially considering I got it for free! But, I think it's safe to say, it's now on the list of the things to grab if my apartment catches fire, alongside a pair of pants and my wallet.