Simulation to Reality: Gamer Sean Johnston Becomes Championship-Winning Race Car Driver
Braselton, GA, Oct. 1, 2012-- There’s a long road between racing video games and winning the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama Platinum Cup championship, but Sean Johnston successfully navigated that terrain in 2012.
Johnston wrapped up the Platinum Cup championship at Virginia International Raceway in September with the season finale still left to run at the Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda.
He is living proof that a dream can be accomplished in one year. Just last fall he had almost no experience in the cockpit of a real race car.
“I’m from a small mountain town in Northern California, and there was no place for me to go racing locally,” Johnston said. “So I turned to racing video games, and luckily Nissan and Sony have started looking for new racing talent in a video game competition called the GT Academy.”
He poured himself into the competition, and ended up ranking 15th in the US in the Gran Turismo 5 video game. Then he raced in the GT Academy Final at Silverstone Circuit.
“The GT Academy Final doubled the seat time I had ever had in a car, and it was an empowering experience for me,” he said. “While I didn’t win, I returned home determined to realize my dream of becoming a race car driver.”
Finding a car to drive is no easy feat. Johnston was faced with the challenge of how to fund his ride after deciding to race in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge.
“The path I chose was Porsche, and the funding came together in a great partnership with Driscoll’s,” he said.
Johnston landed with Ohio-based Wright Motorsports, competing with accomplished teammates Madison Snow, Fernando Pena, Melanie Snow, John Ellis and Kasey Kuhlman.
With backing from a winning GT3 Cup team, Johnston quickly started racking up wins of his own. He collected his first win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and followed that up with wins at the Grand Prix of Canada, Road America and Virginia International Raceway.
“I had always dreamed that I would be able to win races once I finally got into a race car, but I never expected to deliver consistent performances like I have this year,” Johnston said. “What we’ve been able to achieve this year blows my mind.”
Johnston is quick to point out that the strong team supporting him has been crucial to his quick success.
“Wright Motorsports has been the perfect place for me to learn and develop as a racing driver,” he said. “From my teammates, to the crew, to my mental coaches, racing mentors and sponsors, the conditions for success have all been present this year.”
With such a smooth transition from gaming to driving, Johnston may be proof that gaming is a legitimate starting point for a racing career.
“The theory behind what it takes to go fast around a real race track is nearly identical in a game,” Johnston said. “The trajectory you put the car on, how you come off the brakes as you turn a car down into a corner and how you apply the throttle coming out of a corner can all be learned by spending time in a simulator.”
There are some things that can’t be fully understood before sitting in an actual race car, however.
“You can’t hit reset when you crash a real car, and it’s never 130 degrees in my living room like it is in the cockpit of my Porsche GT3 Cup car,” he said.
Others will no doubt follow in Johnston’s footsteps from gaming to real racing, but there is much more to the equation than being a competitive gamer.
“My advice to gamers interested in making the jump to real racing is to become a student of racing on every level,” Johnston said. “Read books, watch videos online, and most importantly, get to the races.”
Becoming immersed in the industry and learning about sponsorship is crucial to moving forward in Johnston’s eyes.
“If you really want to race cars, be prepared to work harder than you ever have, because the work won’t do itself,” he said.
Sean Johnston’s next race and final IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama event of 2012 is at the Petit Le Mans Powered by Mazda on October 17-20. For more information visit seanjohnstonracing.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/seanjracing.
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