A near-lifetime as a racing fan, and nearly as long as a driver himself, James Baldwin thought getting back behind the wheel was a pipe dream until World’s Fastest Gamer tapped him to compete against nine other finalists for the chance at racing Aston Martin GT cars throughout 2020 – a prize valued at more than US$1 million.

Baldwin started his journey as a fan—specifically of World’s Fastest Gamer judge Juan Pablo Montoya—when he was just four years old.

“Juan Pablo Montoya was the person that got me into racing, and it’s exciting that he’s one of the judges of the competition! Genuinely my hero,” Baldwin said.

“I remember I was four years old watching the 2001 Brazillian Grand Prix where he overtook Schumacher at turn one. That was my first real memory of watching a race and that’s what got me into it.

“He was very aggressive, obviously very fast, but his driving style—if there were 20 cars in the same livery with white helmets, you’d still be able to pick him out because his driving style is so aggressive. It was unique, and it was cool and when I was a kid I really enjoyed watching him.”

From fan to behind the wheel, Baldwin began karting at age eight. Several years in karts were followed by half a year in Formula Ford in the UK. After that, Baldwin experienced the woe so many young racers do in their careers—the money dried up.

“In 2015 I went into Formula Ford, National Formula Ford in Britain for 6 months.

“We self-funded, but we ran out of money very quickly. As many people know, the world of motorsports eats you up pretty fast if you don’t have enough funding.”

After a year and a half as a race mechanic in Formula 3, Baldwin returned to his love of driving, but this time in the virtual world. It’s been a path he’s been lucky to make a full-time career out of recently that all started with a competition he won in Project Cars.

“I started off in Project Cars, which is quite a small unrecognized game. I was just doing it for a bit of fun, to be honest.

“I won a competition on that, which got me recognized by the bigger esports teams. I joined Veloce after that and they gave me the option to go for all these different games, Formula 1, Gran Turismo—there’s loads of games out there, but I didn’t really know about them too much.

“Winning that championship in project cars, the initial one, was kind of the spark behind everything that happened after that.”

Baldwin turned to esports to fill the gap left when he quit racing in the real world. He still loved the sport, and esports was a way to experience the thrill of motorsports without the heavy investment.

“The esports community is just so competitive. The thing I like about it most is that you don’t need bundles of money to make it to the top.

“It’s pretty much all talent based, which is really good. It kind of stops that limiting factor of money from getting in the way.”

Now, he has the chance to turn that esports experience into a real-world racing drive worth more than US$1 million thanks to World’s Fastest Gamer. It’s a challenge he’s ready and excited for—and has stayed fighting-fit for despite not being behind the wheel of a real-world racing car since 2015.

“I have the mentality of ‘if I ever had the opportunity to suddenly be a racing driver, I’d like to be physically ready now.’”

Whether he takes home the prize or not, Baldwin is excited about the future of sim racing and about the World’s Fastest Gamer experience.

“In terms of the competition, being able to show people that simulators and real-life race cars are very similar entities.

“Obviously, driving the cars is going to be absolutely amazing. And meeting all these people, the competitors as well. I know a few of them, and I’ve met a few of them already.

“It’s quite an exclusive competition, there’s only 10 people, eight were invited. I think everyone will get on really well and it should be an awesome two weeks in America.”