When it comes to Australian sim racing outfits, few have reached the stratospheric heights of professionalism exhibited by Brenton O’Brien’s Evolution Racing Team.
The methodology with which the team goes about recruiting drivers, seeking and servicing sponsors, and promoting itself in the public domain has set a lofty standard for all other operations in the Australian sim racing community.
Brenton’s efforts in the virtual world have been recognised by those in the real-life arena, and last year Brenton was appointed as the sales and marketing manager at Winton Motor Raceway.
Lachlan Mansell caught up with Brenton to discuss how the Evolution Racing Team has continued to develop, the current state of play in the sim racing landscape, and the opportunities for crossover between the virtual and real worlds.
Lachlan Mansell: What made you become involved in sim racing to begin with?
Brenton O’Brien: The first sim racing activity I was involved in was virtual yacht racing! I thoroughly enjoyed it and I managed to win some international events, but I had always been a motorsport fan and I wanted a new challenge.
In 2012, I started off with the Codemasters F1 Playstation game, which was a lot of fun, but it was targeted as a game for more casual enthusiasts rather than being a hard-core simulation platform.
Alex Simpson from Apex Racing in the UK was running a league with races at 4am Australian time, so I would get up in the morning before work and compete against people on the other side of the world!
I wanted to go to the next level though, and as a Supercars fan, I was really keen to do laps around Bathurst on a sim. So ultimately, I gravitated towards the iRacing platform and I haven’t looked back.
LM: Describe the birth of the Evolution Racing Team.
BOB: My first foray into iRacing was with KRF Motorsports. It was a very socially-orientated team, and I had a lot of fun.
I always strived to do better though, and I joined a team called Demidov Innovation Racing. In December, I was stuck at work while my team-mates were on holidays, and I was left to manage the team operations. I was able to bring Maverick Welding on board as a sponsor, and I discovered I really enjoyed the administrative and commercial aspects of sim racing.
To provide the sponsors with maximum value, I decided to recruit some top-level drivers and compete in some high-profile international events, and so in 2015 the Evolution Racing Team was born!
We signed some top drivers like Ben Smith, Matt Simmons and Simon Feigl – not only were they totally committed to sim racing, they also knew how to present themselves professionally from a media standpoint.
Our results were very strong – we did really well in the Blancpain GT eSeries and we used our success to attract more sponsors.
LM: How has the team continued to evolve over the last few years?
BOB: Like any racing team, drivers come and go, but we’re proud of the drivers who have risen through our ranks. We’ve had people like Simon Feigl, Matt Simmons and Jarrad Filsell, who have achieved some outstanding results in Australia and overseas.
In our driver roster, we like to strike a balance between experienced drivers and young up-and-coming talent; at the moment, we have the experienced Ethan Grigg-Gault, who is right at the top of his game, James Scott, who is getting some great results for us in Supercars, Cooper Webster, who is rapidly establishing himself as one of the fastest and most versatile sim racers in Australia and Jordan Caruso, who is learning and improving all the time.
We’ve also recently signed Hugh Barter – Hugh is only 14, but he’s already shown immense talent. Hugh is part of our Hornets Program, which we have created to provide a nurturing environment for young sim racers. We line our Hornets Program participants up with a mentor who helps refine their racing technique and car setup skills, and we also provide them with other resources such as media training to help with their professional development.
It’s important to have the right processes in place for fostering talented young competitors, because they’re the future of sim racing and ERT.
LM: Sim Racing has grown massively for both competitors and spectators during the COVID-19 crisis, but what does it need to do to maintain this wave of momentum when we start to recover from the pandemic?
BOB: We need to work together so we can take advantage of the current situation, and we need to leverage the coverage being gained by some of the higher-profile series.
Some of the eSeries that have popped up, such as the Supercars All Stars eSeries, are attracting widespread coverage and engaging audiences that wouldn’t normally pay attention to sim racing.
The next step is for dedicated sim racers and teams can cross-promote themselves and the top Australian sim-racing series, like V8SCOPS, to benefit from the coverage generated by Supercars.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but there are some exciting opportunities on the cards.
LM: How has your role at Winton complemented your sim racing activities, and vice-versa?
BOB: My experience in attracting and looking after sponsors in the sim racing world has definitely helped me with my marketing position at Winton, which involves selling advertising and sponsorship packages for the venue.
Some of Winton’s current sponsors like Panta Race Fuels have been introduced to the track through the sim-racing world, so there has been some cross-pollination in that regard.
The Evolution Racing Team also benefits from my Winton role, because I’m able to introduce some of our drivers to real-life motorsport.