Sim Gamer Lands Real Mazda MX-5 Cup Car Test After Winning Hot Lap Challenge
While he didn't know how to drive a car with a manual transmission until the week of the test, Logan Clampitt quickly got the hang of it all.
It's now commonplace for racing teams at every level to place a high value on simulation drivers who can help to develop and test cars and setups, virtually. Series like Formula 1 have turned to eSports to recruit the next wave of star gamers-turned-drivers, and this trend has also carried over into the grassroots scene. Mazda has created a sim racing competition called the Mazda Hot Lap Challenge that awards the winner a test in a genuine Mazda MX-5 Cup car, and the inaugural running of this contest was won by Logan Clampitt, a college student who's normal job is working at his local Five Guys burger joint.
That's part of the allure that comes with sim racing—you don't have to be a full-time professional driver to prove your worth. For many, it starts as a hobby and, until recently, that's all it was destined to be; however, with eSports leagues now opening up to both national and international levels, there's a true market for dedicated gamers.
When he's not going to school or working at his usual gig, Clampitt is driving for Burton Kligerman eSports in iRacing. He was drafted by the team at the start of 2019 and has managed to impress both his team owners and competition in the process.
"Logan's story is pretty cool. We drafted him in the series draft at the beginning of the year. A friend of mine recommended him, and we liked his stats and his attitude," mentioned Parker Kligerman, team co-owner and NASCAR driver who also appears regularly on NBC Sports racing broadcasts. "I've noticed his work ethic is amazing for his age, as he spends hours upon hours doing monotonous testing for each Peak Series race. All while balancing his job, schooling, and being a kid with a social life."
In preparation for his test in a real Global MX-5 Cup car, Clampitt was loaned a Mazda MX-5 RF for a week so he could practice driving with a manual transmission, something he'd never done until then. Afterward, he met with former Mazda prototype driver Joel Miller at Thermal Motorsports Park in California to get behind the wheel.
While Clampitt noted that iRacing helped him to prepare for the track day—he spends between 20 and 25 hours on the simulator every week—nothing beats the real thing.
"It was a little surprising. The first session I went in a little too hard into the esses, but I corrected the car so I just went off straight into the dirt. I kept it straight, but that was definitely a new and different feeling," Clampitt said after his outing in an ND2 MX-5 Cup car. "Being on a race track in real life definitely puts more fear into you, it feels like you can overstep the limit a lot easier."
More sim racing is definitely in the future for Clampitt, but he hopes that one day he'll be able to transition to wheel-to-wheel racing.
"Obviously racing, almost anywhere you go, it’s going to cost a lot of money and it’s been a dream of mine since I was seven or eight years old," Clampitt continued. "I remember in second grade, when my teacher would ask me what do you want to become, I would always write down ‘race car driver.’ But I don’t quite have the money for it. Joel did tell me that if I want to get into it, maybe I should get a Spec Miata.