>Is a console controller with analog triggers a decent enough starting point if you can't budget for a wheel?
The controller is better than nothing but you should invest in a wheel with good feedback and a stick/pedal combination when you can.
>Can you point to any online resources to get started with sim racing?
I don't know of any off the top of my head but iRacing has a pretty autistic community. Figure out where they hang around it's probably reddit
>How is the AI for single player?
AI is typically shit and always follows the best racing line. They don't drive like real people meaning they won't do bump and run or adjust to block you
>Would you recommend any community made content for the games?
I don't use any aside from paint schemes
>Is there DLC that you would consider necessary or good to have?
If you play iRacing you'll need to pay extra for certain courses and cars. Buy the ones in the the series you want to git gud at.
>Do the games also handle non-paved roads well or should I consider a rally sim for that? If so any recommendations?
iRacing handles dirt tracks pretty well and I think further improvements are coming. Dirt is hard to emulate so I don't think it'll ever be perfect.
>From a quick search the most current sim racers seem to be Assetto Corsa, Project Cars 2, rFactor 2, Iracing and Raceroom.
iRacing is the best racing game I've ever played. The tracks are as close to the real thing as possible because they use lasers to map them. No idea if the others are any good because I haven't played them. Before getting into iRacing the last Sim racer I'd played was GT3. I don't suggest any GT game past that one. My friend plays Forza and it's supposed to be pretty good but you'll be stuck on Xbox or Windows 10
If you're looking to become an actual race car driver in the future just stick to iRacing. That's where all the real drivers are and they're moving up players to actual cars now. Several series sponsor drivers on there and you can win good money if you manage to work up to the higher ranks. It is a bit costly though and I wouldn't suggest playing it without
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