Way back in 2016, rumors were swirling among sim racing enthusiast forums that Thrustmaster was preparing to announce that they were working on their first-ever direct drive racing wheel. Shortly after these rumors began to circulate, Kazunori Yamauchi of Polyphony Digital (developers of the Gran Turismo series of PlayStation console racers) confirmed that Thrustmaster was in fact working on a direct drive wheel and that it would be coming to consoles – and by extension Polyphony Digital’s impending Gran Turismo Sport.
Gran Turismo Sport was delayed for a while but was released in late 2017, but a new Thrustmaster direct drive wheel was not along for the ride and was seemingly no closer to consumer availability as the company had remained silent on the potential product all this time.
Thrustmaster did however launch a wheel alongside Gran Turismo Sport, the eponymous Thrustmaster T-GT featured Gran Turismo branding, new tech and was generally well received by consumers and reviewers alike. Many were left scratching their heads though, as this was expected to be Thrustmaster’s big debut into the burgeoning direct drive steering scene.
The year is now 2021 and Thrustmaster has yet to release or even officially announce a direct drive steering wheel, and racing games fans have been left wondering if they ever will. Did Thrustmaster mothball a near-complete product? Was Kazunori Yamauchi mistaken, or possibly mis-translated? Will Thrustmaster ever release a direct drive wheel – or do they even need to?
We won’t pretend to have access to any insider information regarding these queries, but we have spent countless ours pondering them and decided to roll up our sleeves and scour the internet for answers. Today, we’ll be looking into Thrustmaster and competitors’ steering systems in hopes of helping our readers answer at least some of these burning questions.
Thrustmaster’s Current Drive Systems
First and foremost, we must establish precisely what constitutes a direct drive system as simply and concisely as possible:
- A direct drive system is one in which the load (in the case of racing wheels, the load is the wheel rim) is directly driven by the electric motor.
Sounds simple enough, but why are so many folks so smitten with direct drive wheels and for that matter, why are so many sim racing enthusiasts excited for a Thrustmaster sim racing wheel that features this technology?
- DD systems transmit torque without any gearing reductions, which translates to extremely powerful feedback and resistance that is more realistic and akin to forces felt by real drivers in real race cars.
- Less moving parts means more torque is transmitted to wheel rims per unit of power used by the motor. Greater efficiency doesn’t necessarily make a product more desirable, but in this case sim racers want to get as much power as possible from their steering wheels.
- DD implementations by rival manufacturers (more on these later) have received broad acclaim, and Thrustmaster-loyal sim racers would like to see their preferred team’s brand of DD come to fruition.
What about Thrustmaster’s current offerings? What sort of drive systems do they use, and do they meet consumer demands despite lacking the trendy DD labelling and inner workings? Let’s break down the company’s offerings by drive type and investigate:
Gear-driven force feedback steering wheels have the distinct appeal of being the cheapest wheels available to computer and console gamers. Despite the limitations of these small, relatively weak motors, manufacturer’s such as Logitech have become quite adept at making solid, compelling products in this category; Thrustmaster also has a history of making some of the best – such as the TMX Pro and T150.
Belt-driven force feedback motors, often referred to as servo motors and denoted as being “brushless” amongst other distinguishers, are a dramatic step up from gear-driven wheels in terms of power, feedback fidelity and price. Thrustmaster is a leader in this category as well, and all of their recent flagship products have featured belt-driven motors. The TX, T300RS GT especially the aforementioned T-GT are all fantastic upper mid-range steering wheel products that feature brushless servomotors.
While Thrustmaster has yet to release a DD wheel, and we’re quite skeptical that one is even in the oven at this point, we think it’s worth considering the following question: why does Thrustmaster need to make a DD wheel when they’ve already made some of the best, most responsive wheels on the market despite not including that technology?
The T-GT, for example, has a zero-friction belt system that is virtually lossless in its transfer or torque to the wheel rim – would a DD motor be a distinct upgrade for this particular wheel, or would it be overkill? Would it even make a difference? Engineering a wheel from the ground-up is matter of taking various considerations into account, from driving feel to power consumption to use case variety to driver preference to… you get the point.
We’ll stop short of calling direct drive a novelty, but it is certainly fair to say that there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, and there is more than one way to offer a compelling wheel for racing sims; the drive motor is simply one aspect, and an expensive one at that.
It cannot be denied that the absolute best, most vaunted wheels on the market do feature direct drive systems, but the increased cost is simply not worth it for the vast majority of users, and this isn’t even taking into account the additional mounting and use considerations associated with the heaver and more cumbersome wheel bases!
When Will Thrustmaster Relase a Direct Drive Wheel?
It would not surprise us to see a DD Thrustmaster wheel hit the scene tomorrow, nor would we be surprised if they never released one at all! Unless there is some sort of official announcement, we’ll remain highly skeptical of any rumors or “leaks” to the contrary.
Alternative Direct Drive Setups
While things remain quiet on the Thrustmaster front, a gamer in search of great direct drive wheels from other manufacturers is in luck; there are a handful of stellar products available right now. Due to a combination of of hands-on experience and glowing user reviews, our favorites are the Fanatec DD2 and its forebear, the Fanatec DD1. Other great DD wheels include the Simucube 2 Sport and AccuForce Pro V2.
For more recommendations and information regarding direct drive wheels, check out our handy guide here!
We may never truly know if Thrustmaster was ever working on a direct drive wheel, but chances are very high that they were. That said, if it’s still in development, we don’t expect it to drop any time soon.
Last Updated on April 22, 2021