Very few esports racers have achieved as much so early in their careers as Ulaş Özyıldırım. We had the chance to interview the R8G Esports and FaZe Clan driver.
When the brand new ESL R1 championship was announced, the biggest headlines came in the form of the entries of mainstream esports organisations that had never set foot in a sim racing championship before. These orgs were MOUZ, Heroic, FURIA and perhaps most prominently, FaZe Clan.
The American gaming giants have won 38 championships across the entire scene, with sim racing being their next goal. They do have some strong sim racers (and a COD champion) in their line-up. Tim Jarschel took pole and victory in his quarter final in the second round of the Spring Season Opener in Katowice.
But Jarschel wasn’t their first driver to make it into an R1 final, as that honour went the way of Ulaş Özyıldırım.
The 17-year old Turkish racer should be familiar to fans of all corners of sim racing, as he can be found racing at the sharp end on a variety of different platforms. He’s a part of Romain Grosjean’s R8G Esports team, and in the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual on rFactor 2 back in January, he finished tenth overall sharing a car with Grosjean.
He also currently competes in F1 Esports Challengers on PC. Last season he finished 7th, just one place short of qualifying for the Pro Exhibition. With R8G operating the Haas team and Özyıldırım acting as a development driver, going just one place better may give him a chance at racing for them in the Pro Championship.
Özyıldırım was also the driver that Turkey selected to represent them in the FIA Motorsport Games Esports Cup on ACC. On that occasion, he even made it into the final. Additionally, he took pole position in a BMW SIM GT Cup event on iRacing last year, where he currently has an iRating of 8,500.
All of that should prove that Özyıldırım is one of the most versatile and proven young drivers in the scene. It’s no surprise that he has done well on the currently unreleased Rennsport platform as one of FaZe’s drivers.
We had the chance to interview Özyıldırım before the F1 Esports Challengers season began.
OverTake: How did you discover racing games?
I was watching a Formula One race for the first time in 2018, I had just come home from school and my mum left the TV on so I saw I think the race at Spa. That got me interested so I then bought F1 2018, I first played it with a keyboard, then I got a controller.
I had a message from a Turkish F1 game league who invited me to compete, so I started racing there. I got myself a wheel around the time F1 2019 launched, and I decided I wanted to pursue racing at a high level. I was already practicing a lot and then COVID happened, then I had even more free time.
So I was driving for 10 hours a day on the F1 game. It has paid off, now I’m here.
OverTake: You’re one of the most versatile drivers in the scene. What’s the secret to being quick across a variety of games?
I’d say don’t get too comfortable on one platform, keep switching between them. If I do two hours on the F1 game for example, I will then do the same on Rennsport or whichever platform I’m focusing on for an upcoming race. It means you can get the muscle memory.
It’s very difficult, but I manage okay.
OverTake: You just missed out on qualifying for the F1 Esports Pro Exhibition last year in PC Challengers. Do you believe you can make it this time and who do you think will be your most difficult opponents?
I’m confident it can happen. Last year, I had the pace but made too many mistakes, mainly in qualifying. This year, my main opponents I think will be Rubén Pedreño, István Puki and Ismael Fahssi. Many of the others are good as well, so I’ll need to perform.
Been having to get used to the F1 game again. I have been prioritising both Le Mans Virtual and R1, so I’ve only been practicing on it for a week. But I do think I can get a top six finish in the standings this year.
OverTake: As a FaZe Clan driver, have you noticed any differences between the way the team operates compared to the teams which are solely focused on racing?
You can definitely feel a difference. With FaZe, there aren’t as many people besides me and my teammates than you’d have at R8G – who I am still involved with.
There’s always a big difference between dedicated sim racing teams and regular esports teams, but we have support from the likes of our managers Ryan and Eddie. The team is still building as it is their first year, but FaZe aren’t just involved to make up the numbers.
As us drivers improve and get better, so will the team and it’s a genuine privilege to be representing an org like FaZe. They mean business and are in sim racing to win.
OverTake: Do you think as a brand, FaZe Clan may expand further into sim racing competitions or do you only see them doing ESL R1 for the foreseeable future?
I think only R1 is on the agenda for now as it’s an ESL competition. But they have the resources to expand if they see it being worth the investment. So I wouldn’t rule out FaZe potentially entering other sim racing championships in the future.
OverTake: What would you say your aims are for this year across all kinds of competitions?
My top priority this year is to get into the top six in Challengers which will mean I can compete in the Pro Exhibition. Also I’m hoping I can make it into the R1 Major in Munich, I’m not hugely behind from getting into the top 24.
Later in the year, if I’ve made it into F1 Esports then just get good results there. Hopefully I can also do the R1 Fall Season, nothing is guaranteed at the moment. If I don’t get a place in F1 Esports this year, that’ll free me up to concentrate fully on the R1 Fall Season.
But I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed to do F1 Esports and R1 at the same time, or if I’d be able to balance both championships. So most likely, it will be one or the other.
Do you think Özyıldırım can make it into both F1 Esports and the ESL R1 Major? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!