• The World’s Fastest Gamer Is Now A Race Winner, In Real Life

James Baldwin won a race in his first weekend of British GT competition

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The enforced stoppage of any and all motorsports-related activities during the global lockdown earlier this year has prompted most high-profile drivers to slide their backsides in sim rigs and duke it out in online racing championships. Now, as real racing has resumed in many places, those drivers get back to work driving real cars and James Baldwin is quick to follow, only he never did this prior to the lockdown.

Gran Turismo showed us all that it’s possible

The World's Fastest Gamer Is Now A Race Winner, In Real Life
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Some 12 years ago, Nissan and Gran Turismo, the landmark Playstation title from Polyphony Digital, organized the first GT Academy competition aimed at taking one talented sim racer away from his gamepad and placing him or her behind the wheel of an actual racing car. 25,000 people took part for a chance to compete in a real, professional championship and Spain’s Lucas Ordonez won it. Others have followed him and, while not all of them have been hugely successful, Ordonez himself is currently a factory Bentley driver while another GT Academy winner, Jann Mardenborough, is still a Nissan works driver and competes in the Super GT series in Japan.

With the instant growth in popularity that sim racing has enjoyed in the past few months, many still question the relevance of driving in a simulator and its usefulness when transitioning to real racing.

Here to counter all remaining critics and nay-sayers is James Baldwin, the winners of the second edition of the World’s Fastest Gamer competition held last year.
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As The Race writes, "Baldwin was one of eight hand-picked racers who joined the Gear.Club qualifier Riley Gerster, and the winner of the rFactor2 World’s Fastest Gamer qualifying race Erhan Jajovski."

These ten youngsters then battled it out in a series of both virtual and real challenges that included driving real supercars around Las Vegas Motor Speedway, rock-climbing in California, and mental tests in the actual Batcave used during the filming of ’The Dark Knight’.

After the myriad of challenges, Baldwin rose to the top and what he won was a prize worth $1 million. However, he didn’t receive the cash in a briefcase for him to spend on anything his heart desires. Instead, the prize is a chance to become a professional racing driver and compete in top-level GT racing. Originally, he was slated to be part of Jenson Team Rocket RJN’s assault on the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup (formerly known as the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup) but those plans were thwarted by the pandemic.

Instead, Baldwin and the team switched focus away from the European stage and onto the British stage as he got his baptism of fire in British GT. The premier GT championship in the UK has been one of Europe’s top national GT series for the better part of two-and-a-half decades and Baldwin’s team-mate, McLaren Works driver Michael O’Brien proves Team RJN isn’t there just to make up the numbers.

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The duo of O’Brien, a GT4 graduate, and Baldwin, whose past experience in real-world racing included some short spells in amateur-level karting and the odd Formula Ford, first raced the McLaren 720S GT3 entered by Jenson Team Rocket RJN at Oulton Park earlier this month. Baldwin had already sampled the car at Paul Ricard prior to the COVID-19 outbreak but the flat French course is worlds apart from the tight, twisty road course in Cheshire.

In the first race of the weekend (the British GT calendar features mainly sprint-style, 60-minute-long double-headers where two drivers share a car), Baldwin started from fourth on the grid behind three other identical McLarens. James had actually reeled in a time good enough for pole but it was quickly erased as he’d done it by exceeding the track’s limits. Still, the gamer-turned-racer kept in touch with the other three McLarens throughout his stint and handed over the car to O’Brien still in fourth.

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Thereafter, McLaren’s protege benefitted from the team’s quick pit work to emerge back on track in third before passing Optimum Motorsport’s McLaren for second on the road. In the latter stages of the race, the leading 2 Seas Motorsports McLaren was handed a penalty for a pitstop infringement and that’s how the white McLaren ended up in the lead of the race. As a side note, the livery is a definite nod to the 2009 Brawn GP F1 car that took Jenson Button to the World Driver’s title that year as Button himself is a co-owner of the team.

Come the race’s final sequences, O’Brien had to overcome a restart following a safety car period but, once that was over and done with, there was no looking back for the Team RJN driver who crossed the line first to score the duo’s first win in GT3 competition. "I can’t believe it,” said Baldwin. "Winning my first race wasn’t part of the script when we got to the track on Friday. Both me and Michael both have a lack of experience in GT3s. I think we have a combined experience of 25 laps in the car – it’s got to be some sort of record for the least experienced duo to ever win in British GT," he added enthusiastically.

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Sadly, the second race of the weekend didn’t go as well as the first. For starters, Baldwin was 10th on the grid at the start and his chances of making up ground early on were thrown away by an incident on the opening lap of the race. As such, seventh in GT3 was the best that the two young chargers could muster given that the end of the race was dominated by a long safety car period following a crash elsewhere in the field.

The team is now looking forward to this weekend’s two races at Donington Park as the former host of the European GP will see no less than three hours of racing between Saturday and Sunday with the first of those two races being two hours long. Later on in the year Baldwin will also contest the grueling Spa 24 Hours.

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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