James Baldwin rose to the top in the sim-racing community. He has now repeated that success, winning his debut in a real GT3 race car. Baldwin swapped the simulator for the wheel of the Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLaren 720S GT3 and pointed it at the top step during the first round of the British GT Championship.
James, first of all, what an incredible story. How did all this start?
Thank you so much! Actually, I didn’t start my career behind the wheel of a sim. I’ve been karting since I was eight. I competed in various championships until I was 15. I took some time away from motorsport and it wasn’t until 2017 that I stumbled upon sim racing. I thought it could be a lot of fun, so I bought one and started racing in Project Cars. In 2018 I came second in a big Project Cars 2 tournament, and from there I participated in winning “The World’s Fastest Gamer”. From that moment I realised I really wanted to get behind the wheel of a real car.
How did you manage to swap a sim steering wheel for a McLaren one?
During the winter I participated in a series of small competitions, including joining RJN in its Nissan GT4 car. When we were looking into plans for the upcoming season an opportunity arose to join Jenson Team Rocket RJN behind the wheel of the 720S. Originally the plan was to participate in the GT World Challenge Europe, but then the pandemic hit, and everything changed. Our plans moved to British GT, which I though was a great idea. I love racing in the UK and the tracks here are very challenging.
Speaking of the pandemic, how frustrating was it to have that GT3 deal dangling in front of you but not knowing where to start?
I had a rough time during lockdown. To focus my energy elsewhere I tried to do as many sim races as I could and practically felt burnt out from doing that. I was worried about the RJN project; when it was going to happen or if it would all fall apart in the end. The only thing I really got out of it was I gained physical fitness by really taking care of my body. It was even measurable. In the GT3 car the brake pedal pressure is 120psi and during the first test I could barely make 80. After the lockdown I managed to consistently hit 100.
Coming from a virtual background, talk me through the moment rolling that 720S out of the pit lane. What goes through your mind?
Don’t crash… [laughs]. That’s the first thought. Mostly because it’s what they drill into you during the many briefings. To give you an Idea, the front body work costs around £40,000, so they really like you to keep the car in one piece. But on the other hand, you have to show some pace. So, in the end it’s all about keeping the focus on the job and pacing yourself.
Michael O’Brien and you won the first race at Oulton park. Was that a massive elation after a stressful weekend?
We had a great weekend actually. Again, it came to the point of getting the job done. There’s no point showing off during practice. Outright speed only matters during qualifying. So, my fastest lap was set in qualifying. During the race everything went to plan we even gained a place during a pitstop. When we won it was Michael who was behind the wheel and, after seeing the car cross the finish line, it did take a while for the victory to sink in yes [laughs]. I just hope we can continue this trend for the rest of the season.