Until recently, sim racing hasn’t enjoyed a comfortable status in the world of motorsports. Often questioned and occasionally derided, games like Assetto Corsa and iRacing have only recently been seen as the wonderful training tools they are. Nowadays, they’re considered crucial for the ambitious driver who wants to familiarize themselves with a new track or a new car before it actually counts.
Sim racing has also helped launch a few talented sim racers into professional motorsports. With ever-growing scholarship prizes, sim racing has proven to be a new jumping point for drivers looking to make a name for themselves in racing, but lack the necessary funds to climb the conventional rungs of the racing ladder.
Britain’s James Baldwin was one of those drivers who struggled with the finances. Though Baldwin had some experience in karts and Formula Ford, he, like so many drivers, had to hang up his helmet when he could no longer secure funding. With empty pockets, Baldwin got his fix through sim racing. Excelling in the virtual realm, he never lost his drive to succeed.
Eventually, Baldwin noticed an opportunity to return to the real thing.
Baldwin’s latest achievements might get more budding racers to take a serious look into pursuing the digital alternative to karting, as his most recent achievement is remarkable. After the ten-day, 12-race California Dreaming finale to the World’s Fastest Gamer competition, Baldwin won the largest prize in eSports history: a $1,000,000 contract helping him towards a bright future in the big leagues.
The 2019 World’s Fastest Gamer competition took ten gamers from PC, console, and mobile platforms with the goal of finding the quickest racer — regardless of the platform. This year’s competition was the first to have the winner graduate to a real-world race seat.
In the final race, Baldwin started second and quickly passed polesitter Mitchell de Jong before building a ten-second gap. The victory was the last piece of information the judges needed. After spending the week demonstrating a willingness to learn, high overall speed, and a great attitude, the judges and teams had no difficulty picking their favorite.
The all-star lineup of judges included two-time Indy 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya; World’s Fastest Gamer Season One winner, Rudy van Buren; Japanese Super GT star and former gamer Jann Mardenborough; World’s Fastest Gamer founder, Darren Cox; plus surprise guest judge, F1 legend Rubens Barrichello. With that sort of talent looking to sim racing for genuine talent renders the questionable status sim racing once suffered a thing of the past.
With the support of greats and over a million in his Nomex-lined pocket, Baldwin will soon begin a rigorous training program to sculpt him into a professional racing driver.
“The last 12 days have been an absolute pressure cooker. But, that’s the point of it; to train you to be a racing driver. It’s also been amazing even off-track because I was able to meet some amazing people, the other competitors, of course, and the production team and everyone involved in World’s Fastest Gamer. Plus meeting my hero, Juan Pablo Montoya, it’s just been a dream come true,” Baldwin reminisced.
With teams looking outside the regular ladders to pick the next talented driver to go professional, those young hopefuls without the means to sit in a racing car ought to consider taking the digital route. Those whose dreams aren’t deflated by the realities of funding ought to consider the World’s Fastest Gamer, where they stand a chance against the children of moguls and magnates who can afford to scrap a chassis every weekend.