James Baldwin: World’s fastest gamer to real life racer
James Baldwin’s journey to become a professional racing driver began in a very unusual place.
Not on a circuit driving at over 100 mph (160 km / h), or while traveling the world, or driving for a Formula 1 world champion. Even if all of that would come later.
Instead it all started during a look at PC World.
It has led to a career that not many years ago would have been deemed impossible by motorsport experts.
A career that sees the 22-year-old from Buckinghamshire firmly train his eyes to become one of the fastest drivers in the world.
The second simulated possibility
Most professional drivers start in kart racing.
A world away from the traditional go-karting you might do at a friend’s birthday party, it’s serious and expensive; and the first step towards Formula 1 for the likes of Lewis Hamilton.
James, who has been fascinated by my motorsport since the age of four, was no different. He raced with karts but left the sport at the age of 16 due to lack of funds.
He thought his motorsport career was over before it had even begun properly.
“I went into engineering and I haven’t competed of any kind in my life,” James tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.
“But I think two years after I quit racing, I was at PC World with my girlfriend.
“I remember it so vividly.
“We saw a simulator with a wheel and pedals on sale for around £ 250 and I thought, ‘oh that’s great.’ So I bought it.
“At the time, eSports racing hadn’t exploded at all, so I didn’t have a clue. It was more of a random thing.
“This was where it originated.”
‘The dream was back’
James spent around a year as a casual player until finishing in the top 10 of an event earned him a fully paid trip to Austria to compete for a cash prize.
“I took my girlfriend and I was like ‘what, that’s crazy!'”
He finished second, winning £ 4,000.
“I was completely out of my comfort zone,” James recalls.
“But it was nice. It felt like the dream of being a pilot of some kind had come back which was a pretty weird feeling.”
Continued success has led to more travel and an invitation to compete for one of the biggest trophies and most exciting titles in eSports. The fastest player in the world.
“The competition took place on the west coast of California and consisted of real driving, a simulator guide, physical fitness test and media training, over two weeks.
“It came to a judge’s decision where they announced the winner and the judges were pretty cold.
“Juan Pablo Montoya was one of them and Rubens Barrichello was a coach (both former Formula 1 drivers and multiple race winners). It was a truly unique and special competition.”
The fastest player in the world is now in his third season and is looking for new competitors.
It was extremely competitive, but James says the key to what turned out to be a career-defining victory was remembering to have fun.
“It was very intense. Two weeks of being alone in America seems like a long time. It was definitely a pressure cooker.
“But it was really fun. I think a lot of the finalists forgot they were there to have fun at the same time.
“It was a once in a lifetime thing. They got a little fixated on doing well and I think they missed that fun.”
The million dollar prize
The world’s fastest player award was a million dollar journey in a real sports driver, known as a GT car.
If that wasn’t enough, it was with the team owned by Jenson Button, 2009 Formula 1 champion and British racing legend.
But, like so many things around the world, it is suspended for now due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead James will do not one, but six races in the British GT Championship, starting this weekend, on iconic British tracks such as Brands Hatch, Donnington Park and Silverstone.
Circuits are famous for a reason.
“If you go out, you’ll probably hit something, so it’s pretty risky,” says James.
“And the GT is a big step forward, so it will be madness.”
Running is much more physical than many believe. Pilots need to be super fit as their bodies are subjected to heavy pressures and high G-forces.
“The brake pedal is the biggest difference. It takes a lot of force to lower it.
“If you fall, you have financial implications and you could get injured. In eSports you can push and if you crash, it won’t matter.
“It’s just the dive in a real car. You can smell things you probably don’t hear in the sim.
“The heat is very hot in a race, it takes you by surprise when you get into the real car for the first time.”
“If the goal isn’t bold, what’s the point?”
The six British GT races represent a real chance for James to prove he has what it takes for a long career in real life racing.
However, James is not consumed by his nerves, he is ready to show the world that he is ready.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, the opportunity to race in a large-scale event.
I didn’t think it would happen if I was brutally honest, so I’m not going to sit home scared.
“My highest ambition is to be one of the best racing drivers in the world.
“My goal is pretty bold, but I think if it’s not, there’s no point in actually doing it.
“I’ve always wanted to be a racing driver and I have the opportunity to do so. So I’ll make the most of it.”
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