by Andrew Cunningham of Zarfo.com
There’s something a little funny about men isn’t there? Whether they’re 5 years old, 35 or 50. There’s a part of them that just never really grows up. Think back to when you were 10 and had a billy kart. You know the one? When your dad put wheels on it from an old shopping cart or pram and added a milk crate for a seat and length of rope to steer it. The first time you jumped in that baby was the best feeling of your life.
Jump 25 years ahead and the feeling is much the same. The first time I stepped in my Next Level Racing GTPro 2 was the new best feeling of my life….. except my Wedding Day of course, dear.
This is the best racing simulator cockpit domestically available for the price. Of course you can purchase high-end cockpits which range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars but if you’re looking for something around the $500 mark which you can buy online and with ease then this is the one.
I had a simulator before this one and to be entirely honest, it was an absolute piece of crap. It flexed and moved around and was painted in a horrible yellow colour. It made me feel like an adult playing with a childs toy. The GTPro 2 is not that experience.
It’s shipped in a large box with everything very neatly packed. It’s well sorted and the build instructions are very good. I wouldn’t say excellent, but very good. It still requires some thought and process when putting it together but lets be honest, if you’re someone who is going to own once of these then chances are there’s a little bit of geek in you and you’re used to putting things like this together. Maybe even a lot of geek.
The first night I received shipment, I was busy at home and it sat in the corner of the lounge room where I could admire it and consider the possibility that lay in that oversized, TV view blocking box.
The second night I rolled my sleeves up and the un-boxing began. It’s packed well with styrofoam so that nothing will move around in transit which was great to see. I read online that a couple people managed to put it together in about 30 minutes. Unfortunately it took me the better part of an evening to casually put together. That said, I thought through every step and went through every process meticulously to make sure that I was building it to a specification which would suit my body frame and also my friends body frames. Because if you can’t show off a toy like this and have your taller mates be able to jump in it then what good is it?
So after assembling the unit you get a feel for just how sturdy this rig is. It has a seat like a normal car which you can push backward and forward depending on people heights. This is a big advantage over its rival rigs which don’t have this feature. It means my wife can jump in it after me without me needing to rebuild the chassis. And no, my wife isn’t planning to take an M5 around the Nürburgring Nordschleife anytime soon…. but at least I know she can. There would be nothing more annoying then saying to one of your mates “hey jump in and check it out” and their knees are coming through the holes in the steering wheel and they just look at your like “yeah you know what, this isn’t as much fun as you said it would be on the phone”.
After a couple hours it was bolted together and ready to run.
One of the key differences between the GTPro and the GTPro 2 is that the Pro 2 version has support braces which travel vertically down the rig from the steering wheel bracket to the frame on the ground. I honestly wonder how they managed to have the first version without the support braces because I jumped in it before adding the supports and the whole thing was flexing all over the place and would have been completely unusable, particularly for the way I move around in a Ford Falcon GT at Bathurst! Had I bought the previous version without the ‘add on’ support braces I’m pretty sure I would have been rather unsatisfied.
Now that the rig is setup and ready to go, it’s time to add a pedal set and steering wheel. I chose the Fanatec CSR Elite series. This is professional equipment hand fabricated from Germany. The detail simply blows you away. You can keep your Logitech G27 as it’s not coming anywhere near my rig.
My Fanatec CSR wheel and pedals came from Germany through America and finally in to Australia because the company doesn’t ship direct to Australia. Of course, you can now get them from Australian distributor Pagnian Imports however when I spoke to them at the time they were about 6 months away from bringing in stock from Germany. Not their fault, Germany was having enough trouble supplying their home country and the USA. I could not wait that long so I paid over the top to have them take a tour of the world before arriving at my door step. It was fun watching each leg of the journey on FedEx.
All up there’s about two thousand dollars invested in this rig. Now I really hope my wife doesn’t read this review.
Anyway, we’re digressing a little, let’s get back to the review. From the first time you slide in to the GTPro 2 you get an understanding of just what a professional piece of equipment this is and how everything you have stepped in to before now is just a toy in comparison. The seat itself is very, very comfortable. Somewhat more comfortable than the seat you have in your car. Now I know that’s quite a bold statement, but it’s a true one. I’ve already put in a couple of two hour plus sessions in this unit with this seat and I’ve had no issues at all sitting in it. Well, I can’t say the same thing about driving in my Ford Focus for a couple hours. You know how you’ve got to get out of the car, stretch your back…. straighten up a little…. go for a walk down the road. If you don’t know this yet about driving distance then you’re probably not 35 like me and you’ve got that yet to look forward to. So the seat is extremely comfortable and I’m really appreciative that they’ve spent some time making a great seat for this unit.
If you purchase the GTPro 2 I highly recommend you also purchase the matt which sits beneath it. This helps hold the rig steady and saves damage the floor beneath the unit as it does carry some weight, including your own.
Now that we’re got it running and it’s setup let’s get in to a bit more depth with the actual rig itself. One thing I will say is I’ve connected it to a 32” screen at the moment and that’s sitting on a coffee table right now. I do find that the steering wheel itself does come up a little high. It covers the bottom of the screen and I am not sure that the screen is too low to the ground. With my previous rig on a similar setup this height was no issue. In fact, my wife has said when she sits in it that the steering wheel comes up far too high for her comfort. She could drive but it would not be overly comfortable for her and she is an average height woman. This gets me thinking whether shorter guys may share the same issue as her.
I do understand some people have longer legs and that could be a factor in this, however I’m a pretty average height person and I would have no issue with it dipping down an inch or even two. This leads you to needing quite a high TV screen setup. You can purchase from Pagnian Imports as an ‘add on’ a monitor stand which connects to the front of the unit, however to be completed honest I didn’t believe that you could connect a heavy screen to the unit and not get any flex from that. It didn’t make sense for me to compromise the stability of the structure by adding a screen on a metal stick to the front of it.
The unit itself comes with a gear stick attached which can go on the left or right hand side. I love that they have about 8 different sets of bolt holes along the bottom of the frame which you can connect the gear shifter to. This ensures that the gear shifter is set perfectly for your reach which I can only assume adds to the experience while driving. Unfortunately though, the clamps and bolt holes from my Fanatec CSR don’t match those of the gear tray. So I can’t easily connect them up and instead need to use the mounts on the side of the steering wheel which is not a great solution. I would hazard a guess that this rig is made for the more accessible Logitech G27 wheel which can be bought in just about any games shop. Frustrating, but generally understandable.
The pedal tray has pre-cut bolt holes for Logietch and Fanatec pedals as it states in the instructions and online prior to purchase. Unfortunately this is not the case for the Fanatec CSR pedals. It would appear that the pre-cut holes are for the earlier edition Clubsport pedals. This was frustrating as it said on the box I could connect up with no problems, and I couldn’t. This needs to be updated by Pagnian Imports on their web site as they’ve been selling the Fanatec CSR range for over a year now themselves.
In the GTPro 2 box however you will find extra nuts and bolts to connect your steering wheel and pedals. They don’t have to do this, but they do. It’s a great touch. When you’re bolting your system together and you’re a few bolts short for the steering wheel I can only imagine it would be frustrating as anything! Sure the bolts are somewhere in your house left over from when you bought your wheel, but where? Looking for those is probably the last thing you feel like doing when in your head you’re about 10 minutes from knocking out a couple hot laps of Monaco in your Mercedes F1.
Perhaps the thing I most love about the GTPro 2 is that, unlike competitors such as Playseat, they run steel chassis mounts around the outside of your legs and not between them. Most rigs in the same price range run a steel mount from the steering wheel right down to your pedals and through the middle of your legs. Why is this an issue? Because people who buy rigs like this don’t do it to play Mario Kart. They play Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo and F1. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mario Kart but there’s a time and a place for it and this is neither. When I play simulator racing games I use the clutch pedal and right foot brake a lot. I also like to heel/toe with my right foot on both the accelerator and brake pedal. With a piece of metal re-enforcing rod between my legs this would be impossible and take a lot of the joy away from my driving experience. Metal rod between my legs… hehehe.
The first game I played on the rig was Forza Horizon linked up with Brad from Techwebcast. Yes, I played on Xbox Live against somebody the first time I ran the whole unit together. And I won. Well, we each won a game but I chalked that up as a win for me considering I’d never played that game before and never driven in the rig before.
Horizon is a fantastic game and I highly recommend you go out and buy it if your platform of choice is the Xbox 360. If you’re on Playstation then obviously you would be driving on Gran Turismo which is also a fantastic driving simulator. Horizon is a festival of cars and motorsport. I’m actually rather enjoying it which surprises me. Usually I just want cars and tracks… and lots of them. But Horizon is more of a story where you start as a rookie and try and work your way up to be the festival king. Usually I would not have the patience for this game, but sitting in the rig as opposed to using a hand controller, makes the whole thing feel a little more relaxed and real.
The GTPro 2 is matt black in colour and looks very, very cool. It means it will go with just about any décor that you have in your house. This may not concern you but it will be important if you have someone of a female nature sharing your house. Thankfully, it does still have that grunty and powerful look you want and expect from a racing rig. No, it’s not bright yellow like my previous one. What was I thinking?
The GTPro 2 is supplied in Australia by Pagnian Imports and Hess down at Pagnian is extremely helpful and supportive throughout the process of purchasing your unit. In addition to the GTPro 2 Pagnian also supply Fanatec steering wheels and pedals which I very highly recommend if you purchase this rig. It’s too good to just use with a Logitech G27 wheel.
I highly recommend the Next Level Racing GTPro 2 to any discerning driving game enthusiast who is wanting to take their experience to the next level. This is without any shadow of doubt the best rig available under a thousand dollars on the Australian market; and most probably the world. I really doubt the next experience up from here is accessible by the average working bloke.
I give this racing simulator a 9.5 out of 10. Go out and buy it now, you won’t regret it!
Review by Andrew Cunningham.
Founder and CEO of social video startup www.zarfo.com.