With qualifying for the third season of World’s Fastest Gamer getting underway, a new batch of the fastest virtual racers will get the chance to transfer their skills into a career.
Last year’s winner, James Baldwin, earned a drive with Jenson Team Rocket RJN in the GT World Challenge Europe endurance series.
To win that life-changing prize he had to prove himself to the judges and stand out from the other nine finalists.
The gruelling competition took gamers on a tour across the USA with challenges including real world driving experiences in a range of different cars, physical fitness tests as well as sim races.
The final decision on who should be crowned the winner was left to five judges including World’s Fastest Gamer founder Darren Cox, Formula 1 grand prix winner Rubens Barrichello and two time Indianapolis 500 winner, and head judge, Juan Pablo Montoya.
The other two judges followed the finalists every step of the way, as they were team captains Jann Mardenborough and Rudy van Buren.
“It’s 100% without fail the guys that have done actual real world racing that are the ones that are the quickest to start off with, but that’s not what we’re looking for” :: Jann Mardenborough
Van Buren won the inaugural World’s Fastest Gamer competition and while the format was different when he was a competitor, he doesn’t believe the increased focus on real world driving is what made it so tough on the 10 finalists in 2019.
“Last year doing season two it was different to be on the other side of the camera,” van Buren told The Race.
“Obviously winning the first season I knew what it was like but you experience the whole two weeks differently if you’re a judge.
“But for the guys it was tough, you could see it in their eyes they were shattered after two weeks – just mentally done after being under pressure the whole time. But that’s what it takes to be the best.
“I think the most difficult thing in general is that there’s no room for error, and that brings pressure.
“Of course season two was more focused on driving real world cars compared to season one, but it’s the same for all.
“Everybody gets the same task. It’s just the room for error is not there and then knowing that there are certain things that might be more out of their comfort zone, those things together just make it more difficult and I don’t think there’s a specific task that is a standalone for that.”
Van Buren captained the orange team last season while fellow gamer turned professional driver Mardenborough took charge of the blue team.
Mardenborough kickstarted his real world racing career through winning the Gran Turismo backed GT Academy competition in 2011.
Most of the finalists in World’s Fastest Gamer had some prior racing experience.
That might suggest those competitors had an advantage over the others, but Mardenborough argues that instead meant they had the highest expectations to live up to and the most pressure put on them.
“Everybody behind the scenes knows what each individual participant has done outside of virtual racing and it’s 100% without fail the guys that have done actual real world racing, or track days or just have experience in a real car, are the ones that are the quickest to start off with, but that’s not what we’re looking for,” Mardenborough told The Race.
“It’s the guys that show constant progression throughout the competition and their learning curve can’t flatten.
“If you’re someone that has more experience or is a lot quicker on day one then I’m looking at you more because I don’t want to see you flatten off or get complacent.”
Both judges highlighted the constant evaluating of the drivers as a major factor in determining the eventual winner.
“The first few days you notice people being a little bit more mellow, still about the team spirit and so on but then at some point I expect people to start looking at others and go ‘eh, it’s going to be me’” :: Rudy van Buren
With each test and action being noted down and factored into the judges’ evaluation of the drivers, that leads to a tense environment as no driver can afford to slip up at any stage.
“Mentally it’s very difficult because these opportunities don’t come around very often.” Mardenborough said.
“Also with all the other competitors there you can see how well they’re doing or if they’re doing badly and you can position yourself in the pecking order. Depending on your personality that can either be a good or a bad thing.
“The constant evaluation by the judges and the coaches and always being under scrutiny for how you act, what you eat, how you perform on track, your speed, your attitude.
“So it is a pressure cooker and kind of an extreme situation to be in but we’ve found in previous competitions that the ones that can perform under these extreme situations are usually the ones you want in the racing car doing the business.”
Van Buren, who has seen the competition play out from both the perspective of a judge and a competitor, agrees that the ever present examination is what causes that pressure cooker atmosphere.
“There’s just zero margin for error because everything will be noted down and that just makes it a very tense environment,” van Buren said.
“Of course in the beginning you look around and you’re probably self-confident enough to strike out five of the nine other competitors and think ‘I can probably beat them’, but you do know that at some point it’s going to be tight.
“The first few days you notice people being a little bit more mellow, still about the team spirit and so on but then, and this was something I expected as a judge and a coach, at some point I expect people to start looking at others and go ‘eh, it’s going to be me’.
“That’s the attitude you need: a winner’s mentality.”