I write this blog shortly after completing my second month as an official McLaren driver. Time flies when you're having fun, right?
February was action packed to say the least with the trip to the Race of Champions in Riyadh and another week at the MTC in Woking.
My RoC trip started on Wednesday – my travel day. Flights were smooth and we arrived at the hotel 23:00 local time.
Thursday was practice day. ‘Practice day’ might suggest a day full of laps, testing each car but it wasn’t the case. We had just a few laps to get familiar with the cars and get up to speed – very quickly! I haven’t been in a racing car for eight years (well, not a physical one anyway!). Being faced with six different cars on a slippery track lined with barriers. It was a steep learning curve. But all went well. I kept the cars out of the wall, learned the track and had an idea where to dream about at night and improve for the day after!
Friday was Nations Cup day! The team format meant so that could always mix things up. My teammate for the nations cup was the winner of the virtual eRoc competition, Enzo Bonito.
Before that there was a driver presentation. All drivers were paired up in a car for a formation lap through the stadium. The stadium wasn’t completely full, but we could hear the fans cheering. It gave me goose bumps!
Now time to grab my lid and prepare for some racing!
My first heat in the group races was in a NASCAR against nine-time Le Mans winner, Tom Kristensen! Perhaps not the easiest combination to start the competition with, but I ended that heat only 0.2 seconds behind Tom, which felt amazing. I think this might have been one of the only moments in my racing career that I was happy with a loss!
To be so close to such a world-renowned racing driver left me stepping out of the car with a satisfied feeling.
The second heat was against Lando in the Vuhl. With Lando being my McLaren teammate and the team’s official Reserve Driver, fans were keen to see how we raced against each other. Securing the win felt great, I have to say!
The third heat of the day was against Joel Eriksson in the Ariel Atom. This heat was a short one – Joel made contact with the wall ending his race. Win two of the day for me!
Although I won two out of three of my heats, it wasn’t quite enough to go through to the semi-finals as my results were combined with Enzo’s and we were just shy of going through. We did manage to beat Team GB though!
The last and final day of my trip was the main RoC event. To earn a place in the group stage, Enzo and I competed in a head-to-head race shootout. With a good run in the KTM X-Bow, I took the win and focus on the main event.
The main event started off with a group stage where I had three heats just like on Saturday. My first heat was against former McLaren legend, David Coulthard in the buggy. I felt it was a decent run, but not quite quick enough. I was within a few tenths on the line, but received a five second penalty for hitting a block in the chicane.
My second heat was in the KTM X-Bow against another Le Mans winner, Timo Bernhard. I had a good start, a smooth race and a win!
My final heat saw another race against Tom Kristensen, but this time in the Ariel Atom. I knew that I needed a win to progress further in the event but that would be just one step too far. I gave it my all but ended up just short.
My RoC experience was over, and the only thing left for me was to watch the others do compete. DC’s win might be a surprise for some, but experience is such a big factor in these events.
Overall it was an amazing few days, and I can only be thankful to everyone who made it possible. It was great to hit the track with real cars again after such long time. It did get the inside burn going again to get back to the real track though!
After flying home, I had a quick two days of to settle again before going back to Woking. This time it wasn’t the plan to drive the simulator but to work with the McLaren Applied Technologies team on a personalised fitness program.
The cherry on the cake that week was a visit to Specialized for a bike fitting. It was really cool to get everything measured to perfection to get the optimum bike position. Now it’s time to put some proper miles on it!
It was good being home for a good week, but what was even better was to jump on a plane to Navarra in Spain. In my role as a simulator driver and part of the McLaren team, I was invited to the launch of the MCL33, our Formula 1 car for the 2018 season. Seeing the whole team at work during such day was mind blowing, and the car looked amazing.
Standing on the grid with my McLaren teammates alongside me was a surreal and incredible moment. Winning World’s Fastest Gamer really has been life-changing.
Launch day was my first chance to meet Fernando, having met Stoffel in the factory the week before, and Lando in Riyadh. Shaking his hand felt like completing the final piece of a puzzle.
Back home in my native Netherlands, Sparco Gaming sent me a pair of their new Hypergrip gaming gloves. I had never used gaming gloves before, but I was surprised what a sense of feel they give. The fit is perfect – the gloves are so lightweight you barely feel you have them on. They give you a better grip on the steering wheel which in turn helps you relax. Relaxing isn’t the easiest when you’re in the heat of a race so these gloves really do help!
March looks to be a busy month that starts with a trip to Barcelona for the second pre-season test with the racing team.
More about that in my next blog!