Despite being a fan of virtual motorsport, our editor Luca had never felt confident enough to compete in sim racing himself. But, that is about to change, as he is embarking upon a sim racing journey.
Image credit: Polyphony Digital
I have been an avid fan of racing games for a very long time, and foresaw the big explosion of interest in competitive sim racing competitions long before the term ‘esports’ was known in the mainstream. Then, when it happened, it was everything I had ever wanted to see. Esports racing is my passion and whilst real life motorsport is great, seeing people do that on a video game felt special to me.
Like all people who have a love of racing and video games, it was inevitable that I got into racing games myself. From a very basic wheel clamped to a tea table that I’d press my knee caps against to keep it steady, to a proper frame and seat so I could enjoy racing in relative comfort. But it never worked out so well for me, for reasons I shall detail along with the opportunity I now have.
After a recommendation from a former colleague of mine, I joined a league community on the F1 game after doing some organised racing on Gran Turismo Sport. I remember my first race was on the Bahrain track and I recall feeling very out of my depth. On the first lap, I went for a move at the T8 hairpin and messed up.
I got my braking very wrong, despite not doing anything different than before, unfortunately I spun someone who wasn’t even involved in the move. Having waited for them, they still were quite rightfully annoyed and I apologised after the race. That kind of set the tone for my experience as a whole.
That particular league ended with a race at Silverstone, I’ll always remember I had pitted a few laps before for hards when a safety car came out and everyone ahead of me pitted. I was vulnerable at the restart and it overwhelmed me as I was hyperaware of trying to not crash into the others and subsequently I got stuck to another driver and made them lose several places. At that point, I got very upset, so I retired from the race and left the league.
Things didn’t improve months later when I moved into Premier Sim Gaming Leagues’ bottom PlayStation tier, despite somehow nearly winning my first race (if I had incurred one fewer clumsy corner cut penalty). A lot of the drivers I was racing against for some reason put me as the favourite to win the title judging by my debut race. They were terribly wrong.
I never got close to replicating my fluke form that I had in that first race, and I just wasn’t able to enjoy it. Teamed with some conflict and my internet connection letting me down more than a few times, I decided once again to remove myself from the league.
I moved around a lot to other communities, where things still really got the better of me. I had some more run-ins with other drivers (both as result of incidents that either were my fault and not) and also some league staff. I still feel immense shame about all of this.
When I switched my focus back to Gran Turismo, I was a lot more capable of being competitive for whatever reason. But I still allowed myself to get overwhelmed once again, trying my absolute hardest not to crash into others and beating myself up when I did. Coupled with a few spins, my frustration often got the better of me and on more than a couple of instances, I would rage quit.
It wasn’t out of a sense of entitlement, more out of self-loathing. The last time I raced in an organised setting, I lost control under braking on the run-up to Turn 10 at the Streets of Willow track and accidentally took someone out. They weren’t afraid to tell me what they thought of it, so I quit the race and essentially had a mental breakdown.
It didn’t help when one of the moderators in the community essentially told me that if I rage quit again then I’d get kicked. I know, of course, that they held no malice towards me. So, I decided to make it easier for them and left, and remained distant from the organised racing scene for a long time. I thought it was perhaps best left to those who could find enjoyment and/or were the best at it.
I avoided participating in organised competitive events for well over a year, even after purchasing a Fanatec GT DD Pro as well as a Sim-Lab GT1 Evo rig. I spent 2022 trying to work on myself and rediscover my love of racing. That would come through high level esports racing events.
My Experiences with Sims
Before the event that signalled my distancing from competitive online racing, I was invited to take part in a major esports racing event. The organisers of World eX asked if I’d like to compete in their 2021 season finale, and I was hesitant at first. I didn’t even have a sim racing PC.
But, I arranged with the great people over at SIMTrack: Driver Performance Centre to use their sim rig and I really enjoyed the experience. For as difficult as it was to drive the eX Zero on rFactor 2, and how far away I was from matching the drivers I was up against (including my future OverTake teammate Emily Jones), something about it felt right.
It was an amazing experience. And the best part? I wasn’t classified last! I ended up ahead of Nicolas Hillebrand, who had admittedly spun off, but so had I when someone forgot to brake. He had won the previous eX event and at the time, he was signed to the racing team ran by our very own René Buttler. Nice little inter-team bragging rights, but I trust René’s judgement since he didn’t sign me.
That was my first experience of rFactor 2, and not 24 hours later I had my first experience with iRacing. I was invited to the McLaren Shadow studio to watch Rounds 7 and 8 of the F1 Esports Pro Championship, and I spent some time on a couple of their sim rigs. At first on F1 2021, but then they loaded up iRacing and I did the grand total of half a lap around Lime Rock in an old IndyCar.
It wasn’t enough to give me a good judgement, but nearly a year later I managed to get a much more extensive session on iRacing. Attending the Apex Racing Team Sim Centre Open Day, I got to drive on iRacing in various types of cars on many tracks, and again for some reason, it felt right. I was enjoying it way more than I ever had on the PlayStation with the F1 game and Gran Turismo.
For the longest time, I assumed if I wasn’t good enough for the supposedly more user-friendly F1 and Gran Turismo games, what hope in hell did I have of being any good on the more advanced sim racing titles? But if anything, I took to them way easier. I spent years convincing myself that it wouldn’t be worth the investment.
These events were truly the catalyst towards me getting more involved in sim racing. Along with a few others I had a hand in creating.
The Start of my Journey
I have forged a strong friendship with the people at VCO, in particular founder Florian Haasper. Believing firmly in the idea of competitive sim racing events that don’t just mirror what is done in reality, conversations we had led to the formation of both the multi-platform VCO Esports Racing League/World Cup and also the 24 hour sprint VCO INFINITY.
These events have such personal meaning to me, and after seeing them prove to be very popular, a part of me wanted to compete in them. That’s where eTeam BRIT come in; a team that provides opportunities for hopeful sim racers with either physical or neurological disabilities. They signed up to ERL for the start of the Spring Cup, and also ran in the first edition of INFINITY.
Being on the autism spectrum myself, this struck a chord with me and I immediately grew to appreciate what they were doing. However, I never tried to join the team, believing I wouldn’t be good enough for them. In the lead-up to the ERL Fall Cup, I reached out to team manager Yvonne Houffelaar to audaciously ask if she’d consider letting me race for them in ERL and the next edition of INFINITY they would be competing in.
Expecting her to let me down slowly, instead to my utter shock, Yvonne said yes!
Rather naively, I tried to arrange with SIMTrack again to use their sim for all three Fall Cup events. When they got back to me to explain it was a little too late in the day and there were conflicts, I realised if I was going to do all of this, I’d have to do it for real. So I put my plans to do ERL on hold and set about trying to get a sim racing PC.
Since then, I have and also joined the team – now called United Sim Team – in an official capacity and have been competing for them. At first, I represented the team in a Gran Turismo 7 competition as a personal favour, and have even been getting up to speed on all three ERL sims: Assetto Corsa Competizione, rFactor 2 and iRacing.
Maybe it’s the added responsibility of representing a team, but along with the upgrades to my hardware (including a new monitor which really does make a world of difference), everything just feels way more enjoyable and I haven’t been letting my frustrations return this time. Fingers crossed that they won’t.
I hope that you will join me on my journey. The culmination of this will hopefully be me racing in VCO INFINITY and the Esports Racing League as part of United Sim Team. I aim to join many of my heroes on the grids of these two landmark sim racing events that mean so much to me.
If you could compete in any esports racing event, which would it be? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!