So, we hear that your racing background is a little different from that of most racing drivers.
“Well yes, I guess it is. I started my car racing career in the 1990s on a Playstation, playing Gran Turismo. I got pretty good at it, through competing in local and then national championships. I became one of the fastest guys in the world on both Gran Turismo and Forza on Xbox. In 2011, I went to iRacing—the online simulator racing game. Things got pretty serious when I started racing professionally as an eSports athlete in 2013, and then I won the iRacing World Championship in 2015.”
But this was still in the virtual world, right?
“Yes, but when I became the iRacing world champion, I earned a place in the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. That’s real racing, on a real track. I’d had a couple of days on a circuit with an instructor in 2011, but apart from that, nothing. So the Road to 24 shootout was my first actual race in the real world.”
How was it making the transition from online racing to real racing?
“It wasn’t easy. I think around 95 percent of what you need to know about racing a car can be learned before you hit the track, there are things that the simulator can’t teach you. Like G-forces, the feel for the tires, the feel from the seat. The science of racing you can learn, but having a “feel” for the car is a natural thing. That’s what gets you into the competitive gap.”
You certainly got into the competitive gap at the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout…
“I did, but when I first got out on track it was raining, and at that time there were no wet conditions in iRacing [laughs]. But the mental strength I picked up from iRacing paid off and I set the fastest wet lap time of the day as well as winning the Shootout. The outcome of the win was a $100,000 racing scholarship from Mazda and a seat in the MX-5 Cup series for 2016. I became the first pro-gamer to become a pro-driver. So, all in all, it was a pretty good day.”
In the iRacing world, you’re known as an ‘Alien’. What exactly does that mean?
“Haha. That’s a term that’s given to simulation drivers—or ‘sim-racers’—with seemingly “inhuman speed”. I don’t know if I’m that fast [laughs] but I’m certainly not slow.”
What are your future plans on the track both in the virtual and real world?
“I’m still a professional sim-racer, driving in the Blancpain GT race series online. As far as real world ambitions go, winning the MX-5 Cup championship this year would be good! Beyond that I’m looking at possibly moving up the race ladder into the Mazda Road to Indy. A big goal would be to race prototypes and Indy with Mazda. Ultimately, It would just be great to be the very first pro gamer to get to that level.”