Fearless esports racers blur lines between games and the real thing | Andy Bull

McLaren are investing in sim racing which, they think, could lead to an F1 champion in the next decade

Last Saturday afternoon a 23-year-old Italian called Enzo Bonito won a car race at the Foro Sol in Mexico City, and when he did it, motorsport shifted, just a little bit, towards a strange new future. Bonito was competing in the Race of Champions (RoC), racing head-to-head in a heat against Lucas di Grassi, a 34-year-old who won the Formula E championship just a couple of seasons back. And then, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, Bonito did it again the next day. This time he beat the 2012 Indycar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. The thing is, Bonito is a sim racer. He learned everything he knows from playing computer games.

“It wasn’t much of a surprise for me at all, if I’m honest,” says Ben Payne, who is the director of esports at McLaren. “But I know it raises eyebrows for a lot of other people.” McLaren are investing a lot of time, effort and money in esports. Bonito is part of their team, along with Rudy van Buren, who won three races at last year’s RoC, in Riyadh. Van Buren was working as a kitchen salesman when he won McLaren’s World’s Fastest Gamer competition, which earned him a year-long job as their simulator driver. Later this year, Payne says, Van Buren will likely make the switch from being a virtual racing driver to a real racing driver.

Related: Simulators, e-gamers and robot-cars: the bold new horizons of motor sport | Giles Richards

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Source: Formula 1

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