From LA to a wet Brands Hatch: 'World's Fastest Gamer' transfers to the trackby James Mills on 12th November 2019
Last month, James Baldwin ('Veloce James') won the World's Fastest Gamer 2 competition in California and a $1m European GT4 drive. Just over a week later, he began his career on track in a skinny-tyred Citroen C1...
Baldwin in action at Brands Hatch Photo: Simon Arron
As the pack of Citroen C1s thrum past like a paddling of ducklings heading to water, it is hard to imagine that in amongst the cheap n’ cheerful race cars sits a world champion.
There is, though. And as James Baldwin lines up another draft-to-pass attempt on the car in front, he’s also taking the first steps on the ladder to his freshly earned, $1m prize of a season’s drive in a European GT4 championship.
Baldwin is the winner of the second-ever World’s Fastest Gamer competition. At the end of October, the 22-year old British driver saw off nine other finalists from America, Chile, China, France, Germany and more in sim racing stages of the competition, held in Los Angeles, and in high-octane real races in Las Vegas, to take the crown.
Little more than a week later, he’s sat speaking with Motor Sport, nursing a hot chocolate after an hour’s stint at a cold and quiet end-of-season Britcar Citroen C1 Challenge race at Brands Hatch.
He’s at the Kent circuit to do what so many aspiring race drivers have done before him and earn signatures on his racing licence to have it upgraded to international standard.
Photo: World's Fastest Gamer
After the glamour, not to mention weather, of California, why would any successful esports racer want to sit shivering on the grid at a soggy circuit and face the very real risks of unforgiving corners like Paddock Hill Bend?
It transpires that Baldwin tried the real thing first and only turned to esports once the money to race ran out. “I was karting from the age of eight to 16, then in 2015 moved into Formula Ford. Our hope was that prospective sponsors would see my talent and get involved, but after three test sessions and two rounds, our budget [provided by his parents] was gone and there were no sponsors. At that level you need more seat time to be at the front.”
So Baldwin turned to esports after spotting a basic sim rig in an online sale, for just £250. “I started playing casually, on Project Cars 2, and entered one competition in Austria, in 2018, and after making it through the heats to the final I was flown out and finished second, and won €4000.”
After that, he was approached by Veloce Esports to join up, and this year he had to choose between an engineering job, at Gibbs Gears and complete with the offer of a sponsored degree course, and sim racing. His parents expressed concern, but once he explained the world of sim racing, and prize funds started coming home with him, they realised there was a potential path for James to become a racing driver.
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Various championships and big wins followed, including victory at the Le Mans Esports endurance event, and €10,000 in winnings, and the eROC competition at the Race of Champions.
Fast forward to Vegas, and taking the World’s Fastest Gamer title. The judges – including Juan Pablo Montoya, Jann Mardenborough and guest Rubens Barrichello – praised Baldwin’s composure and confidence in all situations. What does that mean to him?
“I couldn't believe it. Juan Pablo Montoya is hero of mine since I was a kid; Rubens Barrichello - everyone knows who he is as well. For them to be saying such kind words about all of us, not just me, shows what sim racing can produce.”
Baldwin and co-driver Miguel Faisca, the winner of 2013’s GT Academy, who went on to race in the Blancpain endurance series and European Le Mans Series, qualified second for the Citroen C1 race in a field of 41, and finished fifth, with Baldwin showing impressive cornering speed.
The Portuguese racing driver is on hand to provide driver coaching for Baldwin. Also present is Simon Fitchett, a physical and mental coach (who counts David Coulthard as past clients) who is on hand to ensure Baldwin maintains the mindset of a winner.
The following weekend Baldwin will be out racing again, gaining more signatures and honing his craft ahead of the eventual drive in GT4 car, which is still to be announced.
He praises World’s Fastest Gamer and Darren Cox, its founder, for opening the competition to all platforms, saying it raises the standard of competitors.
“I’ve been positive, kept my physical and mental fitness and believed it would happen ever since my motor racing came to a stop,” says Baldwin, who shrugs off the very present dangers of racing in the real world.
Next year, he says he’ll compete in both the simulated environment and the real world, but the focus is on becoming a professional on the track because “this might be my only shot to be a racing driver”. Whereas in the world of sim racing, another tournament is just around the corner.