Tim Heinemann: From Sim to DTM - and the Top of the Standings

Tim Heinemann DTM Oschersleben 2023 Toksport WRT.jpg
When the DTM held its season opener in Oschersleben this past weekend, not many would have bet on Tim Heinemann emerging as the championship leader from the two races - but two second places on his series debut put the 25-year old on top of the standings. It is a high point of a career saved by sim racing.

Image credit: Porsche Newsroom

Making his first appearance in Germany's premier sprint racing series, Heinemann immediately made his mark in the first of two races at Oschersleben, starting in seventh but gaining two positions at the start already. Even after having to hand back fourth to Jack Aitken after his overtake on the Brit was deemed too aggressive, Heinemann continued his upward trajectory and finished on the podium on his debut. The manoeuver on Aitken "was definitely not the smartest move, but if you want to play with the big boys, you simply have to take risks."

Tim Heinemann Christian Engelhart Toksport WRT DTM Oschersleben.jpg

Heinemann (l.) and Engelhart celebrated a 1-2 for Toksport WRT and a podium sweep for Porsche in race 2 of the DTM season opener in Oschersleben. Image credit: Porsche Newsroom

Just a day later, Heinemann proved that his result was not a fluke by putting his Porsche 911 GT3 R on the second step of the podium again - and unlike in race 1, which was won by Franck Perrera in his Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO 2, this meant a 1-2 for not just Porsche, but Toksport WRT as well as Christian Engelhart crossed the line first. Thomas Preining and Dennis Olsen even made it a quadruple victory for the legendary manufacturer. "What a brilliant Sunday for Porsche and a great race for Toksport WRT", rejoiced the 2020 ADAC GT Masters champion.

"Still a bit surreal"​

Meanwhile, Heinemann could hardly believe his successful debut. "We couldn't have imagined that it would work so well. I'm super happy with my performance and that I'm leaving Oschersleben as the championship leader - that still sounds a bit surreal to me." Considering the career path of the two-time DTM Trophy champion (2020 & 2022), this is hardly surprising.


Heinemann did show promise in his karting days, winning the 2009 Rotax Max Junior Club championship - but as is often the case in racing, money is the decisive factor for progressing to the next step. Instead, Heinemann took to virtual racing, which would prove to be an important decision a few years down the road.

The list of successes on virtual racing tracks grew quickly: Following his 2011 RaceRoom Challenge victory, Heinemann continued to be one of the best sim racers in RaceRoom, winning the ADAC SimRacing Trophy in 2014 and 2015, taking the DTM Virtual title in 2015, and taking successive titles in the AMG eRacing Competition. Additionally, Heinemann is the 2021 European Digital Motorsport Cup champion as well as the 2020 German RaceRoom Championship winner.

Sim racing success revives real career​

These successes led to testing days in real GT4 and GT3 cars, where Heinemann impressed a certain Bernd Schneider on one occasion, being very close to the five-time DTM champion's lap times. Aided by Schneider, Heinemann found his way back to real motorsport, entering the GT4 European Sprint Cup in 2018, ADAC GT4 Germany in 2019 and then the DTM Trophy in 2020. He moved up to GT3 vehicles in 2021 and has raced in the Nürburgring 24 Hour Race in a KTM X-Box GTX and GT2, also competing in the Nürburgring Langstrecken Serie since 2022.

Tim Heinemann DTM Oschersleben 2023 Finish Toksport WRT Porsche (3).jpg

For 2023, Heinemann signed with Toksport WRT to drive a Porsche 911 GT3 R in the DTM. Image credit: Porsche Newsroom

His 2023 DTM Porsche as well as his race suit bears "From Sim to DTM" branding, highlighting the long way Heinemann has come to fulfill his dream of becoming a racing driver. A big achievement - but leading the DTM standings after the first weekend of the season probably would not have been on anyone's mind when the series headed to Oschersleben. Is Heinemann's victory just a matter of time? It could be - considering that without the penalty in the first race, he might have already gotten it.

Your Thoughts​

Have you watched the DTM season opener? What do you think about Heinemann's impressive journey and debut weekend in the series? Let us know in the comments below!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D

Comments

many of the sim racers who "made it" in real life had a real life career before sim racing. Sim seems to be a good way to draw attention to yourself, which is great. I seem to remember he was not universally liked as a sim-racer, other players complained about his on track behaviour but maybe that was just jealousy.
 
many of the sim racers who "made it" in real life had a real life career before sim racing. Sim seems to be a good way to draw attention to yourself, which is great. I seem to remember he was not universally liked as a sim-racer, other players complained about his on track behaviour but maybe that was just jealousy.
I'm a big advocate for giving simracing talents their chance, but at some point, if you want to do the "real" thing, you have to actually touch the thing. You can take a simracer who never had track experience before, but you need to make sure they'll have the necessary physical endurance and allow them an acclimatation period. There are some talents out there that can be made operational very quickly, but someone has to give them support. Biggest obstacle right now being team owners still being mostly old fashioned and closed to change. But talent detection through simracing is the future, it's cheaper and provides you with a way bigger pool of people to look at.
 
I'm a big advocate for giving simracing talents their chance, but at some point, if you want to do the "real" thing, you have to actually touch the thing. You can take a simracer who never had track experience before, but you need to make sure they'll have the necessary physical endurance and allow them an acclimatation period. There are some talents out there that can be made operational very quickly, but someone has to give them support. Biggest obstacle right now being team owners still being mostly old fashioned and closed to change. But talent detection through simracing is the future, it's cheaper and provides you with a way bigger pool of people to look at.
Cheaper for who?

For the team owners is a lot better to pick someone from real racing rather than sim racing. They will be more up to speed, having spent their own money and time up until then. Why would a real team or organization go fishing around people from simracing, who still need to build themselves in a real car, not to mention the fact that then it won't even be clear if they can cut it in one, rather than pick someone with credentials in a real thing?...
 
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Cheaper for who?

For the team owners is a lot better to pick someone from real racing rather than sim racing. They will be more up to speed, having spent their own money and time up until then. Why would a real team or organization go fishing around people from simracing, who still need to build themselves in a real car, not to mention the fact that then it won't even be clear if they can cut it in one, rather than pick someone with credentials in a real thing?...
Because it's way easier to get actually talented drivers from the pool of simracers.

If we're talking very high budget, top profile teams, they run detection and academy programs already, going through simracing would allow them to cut a lot of costs as you could avoid the financial support of several seasons of racing, and have a more tailored training program that would stay located in a restricted geographical area.

If we're talking regular GT privateer team, then they have the choice of either picking up an unknown guy or rich old geezer to fill the seat unpaid, pay an established GT driver who took years to get to their level and don't have much more left in them, or get a young guy from simracing that will have the ability to adapt much quicker to anything - because that's a common skill shared among top simracers - who will not be asking for big compensations, if at all, at the begining. And if they're coming from an esports team, you might get some sponsors as well along the way.
 
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Heinemann.dll

I don't think I've raced against many other simracers with the amount of controversies as this guy. Bans for cheating etc.

Nice to see people that are known for simracing getting results in the real world, but just like with Stoffel Vandoorne... It's not all sunshine in the simracing-story :p
Ah yes, the Touring Pro Series Porsche Supercup springs to mind! I remember Risto Kappett won the championship after Heinemann was removed. I sneaked second overall as a result
 
Because it's way easier to get actually talented drivers from the pool of simracers.

If we're talking very high budget, top profile teams, they run detection and academy programs already, going through simracing would allow them to cut a lot of costs as you could avoid the financial support of several seasons of racing, and have a more tailored training program that would stay located in a restricted geographical area.

If we're talking regular GT privateer team, then they have the choice of either picking up an unknown guy or rich old geezer to fill the seat unpaid, pay an established GT driver who took years to get to their level and don't have much more left in them, or get a young guy from simracing that will have the ability to adapt much quicker to anything - because that's a common skill shared among top simracers - who will not be asking for big compensations, if at all, at the begining. And if they're coming from an esports team, you might get some sponsors as well along the way.
Will have the ability to adapt? What if he turns out to be useless on a real car? You do realize that you being good at a video game doesnt necessarily mean you have the stuff to handle a real car at speed, with all the things that it entails? There is no shortage of guys who tried a real car and fell short, much more than the few very padded cases of success.
 
Staff
Premium
Ah yes, the Touring Pro Series Porsche Supercup springs to mind! I remember Risto Kappett won the championship after Heinemann was removed. I sneaked second overall as a result

Yup.
Cannot remember exactly what it was, but something is telling me no fuel usage and no tyre wear. So, could race with 1l of fuel the whole race.
 
Will have the ability to adapt? What if he turns out to be useless on a real car? You do realize that you being good at a video game doesnt necessarily mean you have the stuff to handle a real car at speed, with all the things that it entails? There is no shortage of guys who tried a real car and fell short, much more than the few very padded cases of success.
It's not about the majority succeeding, but the best ones succeeding. The pool of talented simracers is huge in comparison to pretty much anything else, and it's quick and easy to figure out if one can make the transition. Which is honestly not hard for the talented ones as long as they're physically fit enough. Remember GT racing fields are field with old geezers with beer bellies. If teams actually gave simracers fair chances, a lot of current drivers would be out of a job.

Regarding the ability to adapt, simracers can drive lots of different cars in different conditions with virtually unlimited practice time. Some are even able to sim hop and adjudt to different physics on the fly - James Baldwin being a prime example of that, and by experience I've seen quite a few others with a similar ability.
 
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It's not about the majority succeeding, but the best ones succeeding. The pool of talented simracers is huge in comparison to pretty much anything else, and it's quick and easy to figure out if one can make the transition. Which is honestly not hard for the talented ones as long as they're physically fit enough. Remember GT racing fields are field with old geezers with beer bellies. If teams actually gave simracers fair chances, a lot of current drivers would be out of a job.

Regarding the ability to adapt, simracers can drive lots of different cars in different conditions with virtually unlimited practice time. Some are even able to sim hop and adjudt to different physics on the fly - James Baldwin being a prime example of that, and by experience I've seen quite a few others with a similar ability.
Ah yes, i forgot, simracers are special, they literally the only people that go from playing a game to the real thing seamlessly right?...

Ah yes James Balwin, isn't he back playing video games for a living? And why you keep talking about "old geezers" in GT racing? You do realize that those guys basically pay to race right? And the teams WANT them for that right? They don't want some broke spotty kid, even if he would be faster. They want someone with MONEY. Are you that out of touch with real racing and how it works?...
 
Ah yes, i forgot, simracers are special, they literally the only people that go from playing a game to the real thing seamlessly right?...

Ah yes James Balwin, isn't he back playing video games for a living? And why you keep talking about "old geezers" in GT racing? You do realize that those guys basically pay to race right? And the teams WANT them for that right? They don't want some broke spotty kid, even if he would be faster. They want someone with MONEY. Are you that out of touch with real racing and how it works?...

I've never said the process was seamless, that's precisely my point, people are still too afraid to try it right now. But those who dared got great results out of those drivers, main issue so far has been the lack of long term backing due to the lack of funds engaged by simracing sponsors, and frankly too many communication operations academies when not enough seats were available to fill in the long run (GT Academy absolutely wasted an insane number of talents, they ran for so many years while in reality they only planned to sustain a couple seats in the long run). But this is changing, some sponsors are starting to follow racers from their sim career into their real cars career, while we see "normal" teams starting to try out simracers. It's still a slow process though.

James Baldwin right now is an example of another issue from the academy programs we've had until now: people being directly thrown in a great car in a top team with good shots at winning, getting victories and podiums from the get go, and then being dropped after a year to make room for next year's program. If tomorrow, RedBull dropped Max Verstappen and his only offers were Williams or McLaren, do you think he'd settle for this? Well, that's the same for these guys. They tasted the glory of fighting for a championship, so now they're not interested in joining a team that will bring them nowhere. One of the GT Academy winners actually resorted to buying his own race car instead after the Nissan LMP1 fiasco.

Now of course customer teams are not always wealthy, hence why I've mentionned teams who want to get results. Even then, some are still ending up with gentlemen drivers in their lineup, because good drivers usually don't stay bronze for too long - which is another way simracers can come into play. You can basically end up with a Pro quality Pro-Am lineup with them.
 
James Baldwin right now is an example of another issue from the academy programs we've had until now: people being directly thrown in a great car in a top team with good shots at winning, getting victories and podiums from the get go, and then being dropped after a year to make room for next year's program. If tomorrow, RedBull dropped Max Verstappen and his only offers were Williams or McLaren, do you think he'd settle for this? Well, that's the same for these guys. They tasted the glory of fighting for a championship, so now they're not interested in joining a team that will bring them nowhere. One of the GT Academy winners actually resorted to buying his own race car instead after the Nissan LMP1 fiasco.
What? No no, thats not at all what happened. Both James and that other bloke would KILL for a seat, any seat, they just don't have the money! (well the second one had, from his own pocket). THAT's the reality of racing!

Max Verstappen is a supreme talent on a REAL car, so thats why he is where he is, and it helped that his father was an ex racer himself and his family had the means. Still, Red Bull rather pick guys like him, who drive REAL cars since they are basically children, rather than kids who just drove video games.

And this is exactly why, you are comparing someone who only drove a video game to someone who basically is driving since they can barely walk or run. It will always be skewed towards real life experience, because NOTHING replaces seat time, specially when you have so much since such early age.
 
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Yup.
Cannot remember exactly what it was, but something is telling me no fuel usage and no tyre wear. So, could race with 1l of fuel the whole race.
I got my single TPS win at Oran Park thanks to him cheating, maybe I should be thankful!:roflmao:

I seem to recall he also did a rather unsporty(fairmanship) move at one of the season finales of the RR TC Esport events at the Nordschleife, slowing down and letting some cars pass so someone else would win the title(maybe Keithley instead of Löhner?) since he couldn't win it anymore on the last lap.

Cool that it works out for him in real life(where you can't use hacks), but I won't be his fan and support him.
 
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What? No no, thats not at all what happened. Both James and that other bloke would KILL for a seat, any seat, they just don't have the money! (well the second one had, from his own pocket). THAT's the reality of racing!

Max Verstappen is a supreme talent on a REAL car, so thats why he is where he is, and it helped that his father was an ex racer himself and his family had the means. Still, Red Bull rather pick guys like him, who drive REAL cars since they are basically children, rather than kids who just drove video games.

And this is exactly why, you are comparing someone who only drove a video game to someone who basically is driving since they can barely walk or run. It will always be skewed towards real life experience, because NOTHING replaces seat time, specially when you have so much since such early age.
It's exactly what happened for many of these people, I know and talked to some of them, that's a very common sentiment. I know the prices for some seats, one of these guys was asked 150k € for an ELMS LMP3 season with ARC Bratislava. James is trying to raise 200k £ and aims for a GT3 seat, national or european. That's definitely top team prices.

Max Verstappen literally used simracing to experiment moves he then replicated in real life and amazed everyone with. He doesn't comes from simracing, but it's a tool he uses. Well, technically everyone in F1 uses simulators now, that's the major part of their driving practice actually, but yeah, the F1 ladder is not even comparable. It's the most conservative racing environment by far, has traditionally always worked with drivers that were groomed from their early childhood into being single seater racers, and serious simracing esports didn't even exist when the current generation of F1 drivers started (one could argue it still really hasn't fully started yet). Anyway, that wasn't the point I was making there with the Max example. The idea was: would he settle for a Williams or McLaren in 2024 ? The answer is: absolutely not. Hell, worse drivers with much less achievements than him found themselves without a seat because they refused to take one that was worse than what they had before.

So, back to simracing as a talent detection tool: it's extremely fresh. It doesn't work standalone in F1 right now because it's just too recent. You'll have to wait for a couple decades to see simracers come into the upper tiers of that ladder, but the day will come when someone will have put their child in a sim cockpit from the age of 3, and the kid getting a F4 test in real life at 16 and put out great times. There's at least a couple kids right now that are creeping in top simracing events while they're 11 or 12 years old, because their parents have started pushing them to practice a lot on that a few years ago.

Just as you said, nothing replaces seat time. Well, simracing is seat time, and you can have a LOT more of it. Yes, it's not exactly the same, but it's more than close enough. It's all you need to build muscle memory, and with a simulator, you don't need to spend money and tons of time traveling or managing logistics. The week that karting boy spent on having 2 practice sessions, a qualy session and a race on a single track ? The simracing kid would have been able to do that on 10 different tracks, and still have had more time to study or train physically. The main drawback is they won't be used outright to feeling Gs with their body, but technology is also evolving and will compensate for that in future years, with motion rigs, vibrating seats, VR and so on. All while the kid will have developped prediction capabilities that real life doesn't necessarily encourages as much. Adapting to the real car will feel more like getting used to a different gym routine rather than having to learn something completely new for someone with proper preparation.

Now for GT racing, all the whole "everyone started karting at the same time they started walking" is not a factor anymore, so top simracers now often have more seat time already. The forces in GT cars aren't as high as well, so physical fitness is less of a problem. In fact, all those simracing academy program drivers have had better physical training than 95% of established GT drivers. And as simracing esports develops, pro simracers will undergo full on pro-athlete training programs, like in other esport scenes where teams have their competitors practice 8 hour a day while following tailored diets and gym routines. Meanwhile, race cars keep getting more and more expensive to run, despite the efforts to limit costs in most series. Sims are getting better in the meantime. Some of the hardware is literally getting more evolved that what actual cars are using (Simucube FFB pedals are actually crazy), and doesn't require you to move it with a trailer or truck, respect noise limits and opening hours, and you don't have most parts having between 2 and 100 hours of life in them before you need to throw them out. As a sponsor, you could gamble your money on a single kid that you think will be the best, or run an esport series with hundreds, or even thousands of candidates who will nicely sort themselves out on their own, and then you still have enough money to pick a few of them to put through a training program, while they can already get you a ROI with online activities.
 
So another real life racing driver, that ran out of money, turned to sim racing, then got back in real racing thanks to patronage from one of the big names in German Racing? Well happy for him, but hardly "sim to real racing".
Tim was saying in an interview, that sim racing is a much better school than karting because it's basically the same. The karting probably helped more than he thinks in getting used drive at and over the limit at an early age, but I guess motorbikes could've done the trick as well.
 
It's exactly what happened for many of these people, I know and talked to some of them, that's a very common sentiment. I know the prices for some seats, one of these guys was asked 150k € for an ELMS LMP3 season with ARC Bratislava. James is trying to raise 200k £ and aims for a GT3 seat, national or european. That's definitely top team prices.

Max Verstappen literally used simracing to experiment moves he then replicated in real life and amazed everyone with. He doesn't comes from simracing, but it's a tool he uses. Well, technically everyone in F1 uses simulators now, that's the major part of their driving practice actually, but yeah, the F1 ladder is not even comparable. It's the most conservative racing environment by far, has traditionally always worked with drivers that were groomed from their early childhood into being single seater racers, and serious simracing esports didn't even exist when the current generation of F1 drivers started (one could argue it still really hasn't fully started yet). Anyway, that wasn't the point I was making there with the Max example. The idea was: would he settle for a Williams or McLaren in 2024 ? The answer is: absolutely not. Hell, worse drivers with much less achievements than him found themselves without a seat because they refused to take one that was worse than what they had before.

So, back to simracing as a talent detection tool: it's extremely fresh. It doesn't work standalone in F1 right now because it's just too recent. You'll have to wait for a couple decades to see simracers come into the upper tiers of that ladder, but the day will come when someone will have put their child in a sim cockpit from the age of 3, and the kid getting a F4 test in real life at 16 and put out great times. There's at least a couple kids right now that are creeping in top simracing events while they're 11 or 12 years old, because their parents have started pushing them to practice a lot on that a few years ago.

Just as you said, nothing replaces seat time. Well, simracing is seat time, and you can have a LOT more of it. Yes, it's not exactly the same, but it's more than close enough. It's all you need to build muscle memory, and with a simulator, you don't need to spend money and tons of time traveling or managing logistics. The week that karting boy spent on having 2 practice sessions, a qualy session and a race on a single track ? The simracing kid would have been able to do that on 10 different tracks, and still have had more time to study or train physically. The main drawback is they won't be used outright to feeling Gs with their body, but technology is also evolving and will compensate for that in future years, with motion rigs, vibrating seats, VR and so on. All while the kid will have developped prediction capabilities that real life doesn't necessarily encourages as much. Adapting to the real car will feel more like getting used to a different gym routine rather than having to learn something completely new for someone with proper preparation.

Now for GT racing, all the whole "everyone started karting at the same time they started walking" is not a factor anymore, so top simracers now often have more seat time already. The forces in GT cars aren't as high as well, so physical fitness is less of a problem. In fact, all those simracing academy program drivers have had better physical training than 95% of established GT drivers. And as simracing esports develops, pro simracers will undergo full on pro-athlete training programs, like in other esport scenes where teams have their competitors practice 8 hour a day while following tailored diets and gym routines. Meanwhile, race cars keep getting more and more expensive to run, despite the efforts to limit costs in most series. Sims are getting better in the meantime. Some of the hardware is literally getting more evolved that what actual cars are using (Simucube FFB pedals are actually crazy), and doesn't require you to move it with a trailer or truck, respect noise limits and opening hours, and you don't have most parts having between 2 and 100 hours of life in them before you need to throw them out. As a sponsor, you could gamble your money on a single kid that you think will be the best, or run an esport series with hundreds, or even thousands of candidates who will nicely sort themselves out on their own, and then you still have enough money to pick a few of them to put through a training program, while they can already get you a ROI with online activities.
Been following the conversation for a while, and my general impression is that either you have zero understanding of how real life racing works, or you're simply blindly advocating for simracing.
Organizations choosing simracers over seasoned karting/feeder series talents because they're cheaper?
GT teams going for 50 year old dentists due to their experience and not their pocket money?
Drivers not wanting to settle for anything other than a top seat because "they tasted greatness"?
Dude.
I really hope it's the second case I mentioned earlier, and you're just some simracing event PR who's shilling for a living, because your takes feel completely disconnected from reality.
 
Premium
I used to race Tim in RaceRoom several times, coincidentally.
He IS from another planet! Drinks rocket fuel in the morning and kerosine for lunch.
Great to see him do good IRL too!!
 

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