There’s no denying that, in this day and age, simulators are now a tool of the trade if you want to become a better racing driver. Even the pros use it to either hone their skill or acquaint themselves with a new circuit as track time is, more often than not, very limited and very very expensive. But there are a select few who got into motorsports the other way around.
Through eSports, sim gamers are able to pick up all the fundamentals of racing without even having to set foot on a race track. They can also drive as much as they want, anytime they want, in any car or any circuit that they want. And thanks to events such as the Nissan GT Academy, proved that skills learned in virtual reality can be directly applied in the real world. More tournaments have followed suit in recent years, and with their big budgeted backers, have given some of the best sim racers the opportunity to race in real life.
We’ve selected 8 of our favorite eSports gamers who are now full-fledged racers, which includes 2 special individuals who race under the Philippine flag.
The biggest eSports success story by far must be Jann Mardenborough. At 19 years of age, he became the youngest Nissan GT Academy champion in 2011 and raced at the Dubai 24 Hours as his reward. Since then, the young Englishman has been given the opportunity to race in Formula 3, GP3, GP2, Super Formula, LMP2, and was even one of the drivers of the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Currently, Mardenborough competes in Super GT with Kondo Racing.
Although he did race go karts when he was younger, Ricardo Sanchez never quite had the funding to take up motorsports full time. But he kept his dream alive to become a race car driver by winning the GT Academy in 2014. The big break landed him drives in the Blancpain GT Series and Pirelli World Challenge with sponsorship from NISMO. While that deal abruptly ended in 2019, he’s been able to find a new drive this season with Belgian Audi Club Team WRT.
Given his track record, Enzo Bonito has made a quite name for himself in the eSports community. The Italian won the eRoC and iRacing Season 3 GT3 championships and is also one of McLaren’s Shadow Project drivers for the F1 eSports Pro Series. But he truly sent shockwaves across the motorsports community when he competed in the Race of Champions (RoC) and beat ex-Formula 1 and Formula E champion Luca di Grassi in a real-life race.
4Rudy van Buren
Rudy van Buren was living the dream, racing karts at the age of 8 and winning the Dutch Karting Championship in 2003. Sadly, like a lot of upcoming drivers, he was forced to drop out due to a luck of funds. That’s when he turned his attention to sim racing, where he beat 30,000 other competitors to be crowned as the “World’s Fastest Gamer.” This landed him a job as McLaren’s official simulator driver and even got to drive Emerson Fittipaldi’s championship-winning McLaren M23 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Much like Rudy, Igor Fraga’s career started early on in go karts, before moving up to Formula 3, Formula 4, and USF2000. As with many others, financial troubles slowed him down so he switched to eSports where he joined and won the FIA Gran Turismo Nations Cup. He quickly followed this by winning the McLaren Shadow Series to land a spot in the company’s F1 eSports team. With his successes, Igor’s now back racing in the real world in the 2019 Formula Regional European Championship with sponsorship from McLaren’s Shadow Project and Gran Turismo.
At the age of 18, Brendon Leigh became the very first Formula 1 eSports Series World Champion in 2017. He was quickly picked up the Mercedes-AMG Petronas eSports team and took the title again a year later along with the Constructors’ Championship. He finally got his chance to drive for real at the Race of Champions with Enzo Bonito and now competes in the BRSCC Formula Formula 1600 Series.
Elysse’s love for sim racing landed her a spot in the Nissan GT Academy Finals in 2016 and was the only female driver to do so. She with 5 other Filipino finalists flew to the UK for Race Camp, but was sadly eliminated on day 3. Despite the outcome, the experience would spark her interest for the sport even more and competed in real-world events upon her return under Ribbon Arc Motorsports. She has since stepped up to the Vios Racing Festival and is now on her second season with Toyota Balintawak – Obengers.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Elysse got into eSports, Quattro Adriano was also one of the Nissan GT Academy Finalists that flew to the UK. He stayed for much longer than his better half and fought hard to reach the final race where he shared a Nissan 370Z with fellow Filipino driver Richard Dean Jose. He was recently given the chance to race in the Vios Racing Festival with Toyota North EDSA – Obengers under the same team as Elysse.