Formula One e-sports in Hong Kong – paving the way for budding drivers to pursue a career on a simulator or the road

Sideways racing club in Central offers as close to a real experience of F1 driving as possible, with 15 networked simulators

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 4:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 9:49pm

Hong Kong’s Edgar Lau Shek-fai is among a growing number of racing drivers around the world who made the switch from simulators to real road driving.

The 27-year-old, who drives for TNI Racing in the US Touring Car Championship, started out as a gamer playing Grand Turismo and eventually made the switch to real racing – taking him on a journey that included the Asian Le Mans and Zhuhai Pan Delta Super Racing Festival.

However, he still continued to fine-tune his skills on a simulator, and one of his favourite spots was the Sideways Racing Simulator & Sports Bar in Central, Hong Kong – which is becoming the go-to place for budding e-sports F1 drivers and established pros to hone their skills.

Lau, Darryl O’Young, Matthew Marsh, Matt Solomon and Daniel Bilski are among the Hong Kong drivers who have made use of the centre, which recently moved from Chancery Lane to a bigger space on Peel Street in Central with 15 upgraded simulators.

“The simulators are frequently used by professional drivers to train for world-class race tracks,” said Sideways owner Nick Swanson, a China Airlines pilot who is organising a 24-hour charity race in October to raise money for HandsOn Hong Kong.

“We use the most sophisticated hardware and software to offer an unparalleled true-to-life racing experience. They are designed to authentically reproduce the real-life driving experience with replica Formula 1 steering and braking systems to mimic a real driver cockpit.

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“Although the real F1 drivers are a bit more squeezed into their cars with raised heals, the simulators were designed with the help of V8 Supercar drivers that helped develop and refine the final product.

Currently approximately 21 V8 Supercar drivers own and use these simulators for home use.”

In June, Formula One selected 40 gamers out of 66,000 for the second season of their official e-sports series. A maximum of 27 drivers will be placed into nine F1 e-sports teams who are taking part in the series.

Sideways opened in 2004 and has since boasted more than 40,000 unique customers. It is the only centre in Asia that can race up to 15 drivers at the same time on the same track across a range of cars, including Formula 1, BMW, V8 Supercar, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Porsche, GT and LMP.

The Soho move comes with updated racing software and new hardware such as pedals and steering wheels. Drivers can choose between automatic or full manual transmission with flipper controls.

The steering wheel functions include headlights, pit speed limiter and alerting your crew ahead of a pit stop.

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The charity race will be held on October 6 and 7 with each of the 15 teams coached by professional racing car drivers.

Swanson said his centre organises various e-sport racing leagues for touring cars, GT and endurance, which he hopes can give young talent the chance to pursue racing careers – electronic and real.

“With these events, we have seen some amazing talent been unearthed, driving in simulators like pro F1 drivers, with software that is only bettered by the pro version.

“Because the software is as close to the real racing feeling as possible, it is a great training ground. As we further promote e-sports and build the racing community, we will continue to look further afield with some very exciting programmes expected in 2019.

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“Hong Kong has not traditionally seen a huge motorsport community, but, through venues and sport centres like Sideways, we are introducing the F1 to the wider public. The steps from entry level cars to then driving the F1 cars is an amazing experience. It then translates to a growing interest in the sport.”

Swanson said Sideways is involved in a number of development initiatives such as the O’Young Future Stars programme.

“It has a real impact and shows that more people are finding a growing interest in motorsports in general in Hong Kong,” he said.