Drivers transitioning from esports to real-world racing is no longer a novelty, but James Baldwin’s story still stands out as remarkable. Little more than a year ago, the 22-year-old from Buckinghamshire ditched studying for an engineering degree to become a full-time professional sim-racer. This month, he made his real-world GT debut, driving a McLaren 720S GT3 in the super-competitive British GT Championship – and, paired with Michael O’Brien, won first time out at Oulton Park.

“It was insane, most unexpected,” says Baldwin. “Sure, the luck went our way, but we were on the pace. The first time I met Michael was just two weeks ago for a shakedown test, and we’re getting along just fine so far.”

Gaming as a career

Baldwin did some karting as a child and tried Formula Ford 1600 in 2015. “We did two tests and two races that cost £15,000, which is a lot of money to the average family, so we stopped,” he says.

He turned to online racing and became so accomplished that it would turn into his profession. How does that happen? “It’s quite a rarity at the moment,” he says. “There aren’t many who are full-time. There are a couple of championships in the esports racing world, one of which is the official Formula 1 series. Most of the contracts with F1 teams are paid, so it is a feasible job. I was with Alfa Romeo last year, and that allowed me to throw in the towel on engineering and focus on esports.”

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The next big break was winning the World’s Fastest Gamer competition in the US last autumn. This was 10 days of online and real-world action in front of a judging panel led by former F1 and Indycar hero Juan Pablo Montoya. The prize was a contract with the Jenson Team Rocket RJN squad, which is co-owned by 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button, with an ambition to race in the European-based GT World Challenge, but the coronavirus scuppered that plan. Still, six rounds of British GT is a fantastic platform for Baldwin to showcase his ability.