In his first year of real world motorsport since his career ended after stints in karting and Formula Ford, James Baldwin has had a very impressive debut season in British GT.
The final round of the British GT championship takes place at Silverstone this weekend with Baldwin and his Jenson Team Rocket RJN team-mate Michael O’Brien still mathematically in championship contention.
The pair sit 34 points behind the championship leaders with 37.5 points on offer for the winners of the three-hour race – which you can watch live on The Race’s YouTube channel.
A race win wouldn’t be unprecedented for last year’s World’s Fastest Gamer winner, as he took victory at Oulton Park in the first race of the season.
Since then he and O’Brien have finished on the podium on two occasions with a second place result at Brands Hatch and third on their second visit to Donington Park.
So it’s no surprise therefore that Baldwin is very pleased with how his first year of GT racing has played out.
“Overall it’s gone really well, if you’d have told me in the opening weekend at Oulton Park that I would still be in the championship hunt in the final round I would’ve bitten your hand off,” Baldwin tells The Race.
“The priority this year was to learn as much as possible. And not crash the car – that was another big priority.
“We haven’t done that which is great, so we’ve ticked a lot of boxes in that respect.
“But I think the year as a whole, yes we’ve had our ups and downs – we had the win at Oulton Park which was very unexpected, a massive shock.
“Then we had the lows of Donington in the wet, Snetterton in the wet where I myself, Michael as well probably, haven’t been optimal because it’s our first year in GT3 but the car itself hasn’t been in the right place in the wet as well so we’ve had to learn as a team.
“But overall I’d say when you look at the year I think you’d go ‘wow it’s been a great year’.”
While the championship win may be unlikely, Baldwin and O’Brien are only 22.5 points behind the third placed pair.
Heading into the final round Baldwin’s main target is to try to climb up the championship order as much as possible.
“I think we’ve got to be realistic in the sense that we are the outsiders, we are the underdogs,” Baldwin says of his title hopes.
“We’d need a crazy race given that the championship contenders all score points at every race, for them to all not score points or very minimal points would be pretty outrageous and it all depends on us winning at the same time.
“I’ve no doubt we can finish at the front because the car should suit Silverstone – it’s got wide turns.
“If it’s dry I think that will amplify our chances a bit more because it’s no secret that in the dry we’re quicker than we are in the wet relative to everyone else.
“But in terms of the championship I think if we can jump Phil Keen and Adam Balon, for top three in the championship that would be really good.”
Adding to the intrigue of the Silverstone 500 is that 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button will be joining the grid and racing in a second Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLaren.
“Even if I wasn’t involved in this at all, even if I wasn’t doing British GT, if I saw Jenson Button was doing it I’d be like ‘wow, that’s pretty mental’” :: James Baldwin
Joining Button will be Chris Buncombe, Button’s co-owner in the team that Baldwin drives for.
Having grown up watching Button race in F1, getting the chance to race against him in British GT is an opportunity and “massive privilege” that Baldwin didn’t see coming – and one he hopes to learn from.
“When I was growing up Jenson was one of those drivers in Formula 1 who I was looking up to along with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Juan Pablo Montoya – so to be racing in the same race as him is pretty insane,” says Baldwin.
“That wasn’t on our radar at all throughout the year, I never thought he’d be doing the final round of British GT.
“Even if I wasn’t involved in this at all, even if I wasn’t doing British GT, if I saw Jenson Button was doing it I’d be like ‘wow, that’s pretty mental’.
“It’s going to be an honour and a pleasure to share the same garage and I’m going to try and sponge and learn as much from him as I can over the course of the weekend because it’s pretty invaluable.”
As the 2020 British GT championship draws to a close, naturally attention turns to Baldwin’s plans for 2021.
Jann Mardenborough, another gamer to racer, has gone on to have an extensive and varied real world motorsport career and one of the first series he competed in was British GT and for the same RJN team.
While Baldwin doesn’t have any firm plans for next year right now, he certainly intends to carry on racing and moving up the motorsport ladder.
“It’s all up in the air at the moment if I’m honest for 2021,” he says.
“The overall aim is to be one of the best racing drivers in the world full stop.
“That’s where I want to be one day so to do that I’ve got to carry on racing and I want it to be progressive, I don’t really want to be going down in terms of the level of series I’m competing in.
“So GT is obviously the route to go for me, I’ve learned a lot this year in GT racing I think, there’s a place for me in that if I can make it work.
“I think competing in GT World Challenge Europe, what I was originally meant to be doing this year, would be a great step up.
“Going from British GT to that where there’s more cars, more competition, the best of the best in GT racing are in GT World Challenge Europe, and I think I’m ready for that challenge. Then if I do really well in that then who knows.
“My full focus at the moment is on this weekend, finishing near or at the front, and then after that I can start looking at the other side of it and try and make sure I’m on the grid next year somewhere.”
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