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'World's Fastest Gamer' has its Silverstone finalist

Gaming: Dutchman Rudy van Buren heads to interview for McLaren sim job

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You might have noticed, perhaps as Stoffel Vandoorne’s car was wheeled into the garage for another retirement during Sunday’s Grand Prix, that the current McLaren Formula One car has the words ‘World’s Fastest Gamer’ splashed across the sidepod. The F1 team might be having a torrid season in the real world, but in the virtual world this unique hunt for a talented sim racer is progressing far more rapidly.

The ultimate response to parental accusations that playing videogames will never get you anywhere, the eventual winner of the competition will land a year-long, paid contract as a McLaren Formula One simulation driver, testing components and setups throughout the 2018 season and, hopefully, contributing to a return to form for the team. World’s Fastest Gamer is a collaboration between McLaren and Darren Cox, one of the architects of Gran Turismo and Nissan’s phenomenally successful GT Academy project.

The four Silverstone rounds were run in McLaren 650S GT3 cars on hardcore PC simulation rFactor 2, which is the racing game equivalent of the inside of Stephen Hawking’s head. The nerve centre for the event might have been the pit garages at the Silverstone circuit on a Sunday evening, but the competitors were scattered across the globe, all parked in front of their own PCs. This is ‘esports’ and it’s essentially the same as real sports, only participants can eat as many packets of crisps as they like.

But while plenty of games, including Project CARS 2, F1 2017 and GT Sport are attempting to establish themselves as the home of digital motorsport, Cox reckons as a platform agnostic competition, partnered with a manufacturer who appears in multiple different games, World’s Fastest Gamer has a distinct advantage over other esports offerings.

“It’s champion of champions,” Cox explains. “So we will get, when it gets to the final, the Forza guys cheering for the Forza guy and the Gran Turismo guys cheering for the Gran Turismo guy. There’s a lot of needle between those two and there’s a lot of needle between iRacing and rFactor. So you’ve got these brilliant sub-stories there.”

In the end, it was Dutch racer Rudy van Buren who made a decisive move into Brooklands to take victory in the rFactor 2 qualifying final on the compact Silverstone National layout. He’s earned a spot at the McLaren Technology Centre in November, for the grand final where he’ll face off against players of other games including Forza Motorsport 6, iRacing and, bizarrely, even mobile game Gear.Club. That’s one of those ones that makes you tilt your iPhone to steer, convincing everyone else in the train carriage that you’ve lost your mind.

Once there, Rudy and the other finalists face a yet to be revealed head-to-head challenge across multiple games, but also have to impress members of the McLaren F1 team who will ultimately have to work with the winner. After all, there’s no use recruiting a lightning quick sim driver if they’re also a complete sociopath.

When the eventual victor makes themselves comfortable in a cubicle at the MTC for the 2018 season, it’ll be the culmination of thousands of hours of practice and hard-fought online competition. And we thought sitting across a desk from a bloke in a suit for 20 minutes was a stressful job interview process…

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