BTCC outfit Group HARD. Racing has re-launched its esports crew for 2023. We sat down with Group Principal Lee Duncan to search out out extra.
Once you consider Group HARD. Racing you consider the British Touring Automotive Championship. Tony Gilham’s squad has been a function within the BTCC since 2012 when it first entered beneath the Tony Gilham Racing moniker.
The crew has since run automobiles within the Ginetta GT4 Supercup, Renault Clio Cup UK, GT Cup and the VW Racing Cup, serving to develop the profession of many a British racing driver, together with 2022 BTCC runner-up Jake Hill.
For 2023, the crew thus far possesses a promising line-up of Bobby Thompson, Daniel Lloyd and Dexter Patterson, all set to drive the crew’s distinctive CUPRA Leons.
In addition to real-world racing, the crew has additionally made tentative strikes into esports.
“We dipped our toes into the world of esports throughout COVID-19 with our esports racing leagues which noticed a number of the UK’s prime sim racers battle it out for prime honours, and a spot on our scholarship programme,” commented Gilham.
“It was an excellent success and one thing we might have beloved to proceed with, however because the British Touring Automotive Championship and different collection received again underway, we needed to re-allocate our sources,” he continued.
After a quick delay, E-Group HARD. Racing made its official bow final month (January 2023), with the promise of some daring plans for the digital squad. We spoke to E-Group Exhausting. Racing’s Group Principal Lee Duncan about his position, the crew’s objectives and a few ideas on the broader world of esports.
Lockdown sim racing
So how did Lee discover himself working with a BTCC squad’s esports crew?
“I’m simply so enthusiastic about it. This all stemmed from watching James Baldwin via COVID, and imagine it or not, my good friend’s son is Lucas Blakely,” explains the Glaswegian.
“After which the subsequent factor I’ve seen he’s doing F1 Esports. And I believed: ‘that is the street esports goes down’.”
Though he began sim racing in 2019 solely for enjoyable, Lee shortly noticed the broader worth in sim racing, working firstly with British GT squad Group Brit in selling its sim racing actions. However his love of the BTCC – and Group HARD specifically – led to him making use of for a place with the crew. The one concern was the position didn’t exist but!
“So I principally approached them. I gave them my 23-page proposal. It was most likely a bit too lengthy, but it surely confirmed my dedication! It was only a case of proving to them how a lot worth is in esports and the way it might develop the crew.”
Well being points inspired Lee to re-focus his life objectives, so providing the experience he’d constructed up in current instances to his favorite BTCC crew appeared like a pure step.
“I wasn’t capable of work full time due to my well being. So, I began off in Gran Turismo and I’m now utilizing PC [based sims], so we’re protecting every part now,” he states.
A sim racing alternative
And organising esports occasions and an E-Group HARD. Racing group is simply a part of the plan, as Lee may even assist arrange 4 simulators on the crew’s headquarters, due to sponsor, SIM Demon.
The sim racing cockpits are set to function MOZA wheelbases and pedals and can be utilized by Group HARD’s drivers and engineers to get their eye in forward of race weekends. Two of the cockpits may even be outfitted with ProSimu T1000 3 movement platforms, replete with triple screens.
The 2 static sim rigs will journey with the crew to BTCC race weekends, the place final yr Lee acquired first-hand expertise of working with the crew on-site, recognizing a sim racing alternative within the BTCC paddock whereas serving to out:
“I solely noticed one rig the entire weekend from Thursday via Sunday – and it was in one of many MINI Problem tents. There was nothing else from any of the [BTCC] groups. I believed to myself, ‘this wants to vary’,” he declared.
And alter it would, as the 2 sim rigs will probably be out there for the general public to check out on-site in any respect BTCC race weekends, serving to promote sim racing, Group HARD and E-Group HARD. Racing in a single fell swoop. And with rFactor 2’s plethora of BTCC content material it’s absolutely an ideal match.
E-Group HARD. Racing in esports
Lee has posted on social media extolling the virtues of the ESL R1 collection lately, so the place does E-Group HARD see itself racing, if not this yr, however sooner or later?
“I do know what I wish to be concerned in: VCO occasions and, finally, the Le Mans Digital Collection,” mentioned Lee, bullishly.
Thus far, E-Group HARD has run a number of Gran Turismo 7 leagues and located success within the iRacing-based VBTCR collection, does this imply digital touring automotive racing continues to be a spotlight for the crew regardless of the curiosity in sportscars?
“Sure – Group HARD is greatest identified for touring automotive occasions, in order that will probably be our primary precedence throughout all video games, from iRacing to rFactor 2.”
And what about their present driving roster? Can we anticipate any big-name bulletins for the crew in 2023?
“Group HARD run their Scholarship programme. Esports will probably be launched into that as properly (alluding to Gilham’s earlier feedback). There received’t be any huge names as of but. Nevertheless, there will probably be lots to maintain your eyes peeled for,” he answered.
So, Group HARD’s esports outfit is trying to the longer term and hoping to develop its personal steady of drivers. Its dad or mum crew has kind by way of driver improvement due to its scholarship scheme. The Group HARD Scholarship programme whittles fee-paying candidates all the way down to a single driver, who wins a drive for the complete season.
The members undergo media, bodily and driving evaluations till a winner is picked (this yr’s fortunate winner will take the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 within the GT Cup collection). A karting scholarship can be in operation, with 13-year-old James Kell successful a fully-funded season within the 2023 Junior Kart Championship.
Two drivers Lee can affirm will probably be a part of E-Group HARD’s plans for this yr, nonetheless, are Daniel Lloyd and Bobby Thompson. Lloyd impressed on his technique to three wins and 10th general within the 2022 BTCC, whereas Thompson improved dramatically all year long. Thompson can be a eager iRacer in his spare time, making him a straightforward match for the crew.
Trying to the longer term
Gilham himself seems to be optimistic concerning the prospect of a Group HARD sim racing group:
“While for now, our esports focus is on competing in opposition to others in established racing leagues, we’re not ruling out bringing our personal collection again to supply a chance for the perfect esports racers to get out on the monitor for actual,” he commented, hinting a digital racer to actual racer-style enterprise is within the offing.
“Over the previous six to seven months Lee has come on board and brought this chance by the scruff of the neck which has enabled us to relaunch in an official capability as E-Group HARD. Racing,” wrote an effusive Gilham.
The ultimate phrase comes from Lee, who completely sums up his current life modifications:
“I’m chasing a dream,” he says, in reference to his unlucky well being troubles and rejuvenating new position with Group HARD.
“And I’m midway there.”