LONDON (Reuters) – A Dutch sales manager whose teenage hopes of a motorsport career ended when the money ran out won an eSports competition on Tuesday to become a McLaren Formula One simulator driver.
Rudy van Buren, 25, a once-promising junior go-karter, came out on top at the end of a “World’s Fastest Gamer” competition that started in May and drew more than 30,000 entrants.
In the all-Dutch two-man showdown, after a week of tests and virtual races that started with 12 finalists at McLaren’s Woking headquarters, Van Buren beat 20-year-old Amsterdam student Freek Schothorst.
Van Buren had started karting at the age of eight, winning a Dutch junior championship in 2003, but quit at 16 due to a lack of funding.
“Every boy that starts karting dreams about F1, and at a certain point that dream just vanishes,” Van Buren said in a McLaren statement.
“Now by winning World’s Fastest Gamer, I can relive that dream.”
McLaren, the team of double world champion Fernando Alonso and past greats like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, were seeking to tap talent from virtual racing to help them develop their real car.
Finalists were subjected to fitness and mental assessments as well as racing virtually on a variety of tracks, from Indianapolis to Interlagos.
The 12, whittled down over the course of the week, included a Danish doctor, a 41-year-old French father of two and a 23-year-old Briton who had yet to pass his driving test.
Van Buren was one of those with a strong resume from the world of eSports.
“To think that I came to the McLaren Technology Centre for the very first time last week but am leaving here today as McLaren’s newest employee is mind-blowing,” he said.
The competition is the brainchild of Darren Cox, whose Nissan GT Academy initiative took gamers out from behind a console and on to the real racetrack with professional works drives.
“Rudy is a worthy winner and his story of being lost to racing, then rediscovering his passion though gaming and having his talent recognized by an F1 team is almost a fairytale,” said Cox.
McLaren, who have had a troubled three years with Honda in the real world and are hoping to rejoin the frontrunners with Renault power next season, see virtual racing as a growth area commercially.
“With more than 10 million people viewing the competition, we’ve demonstrated the real value of eSports within F1,” said McLaren’s newly-appointed director of eSports Ben Payne.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin,; Editing by Neville Dalton