When Luca D’Amelio found out he would be teaming up with racing legend Juan Pablo Montoya and his son, Sebastian, for 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, he couldn’t wait to call his dad.
Growing up in Pergola, Italy, D’Amelio and his father enjoyed watching Formula 1 together. Being an only child meant that he’d revel in all the attention his parents had to offer. His dad is one of his biggest inspirations, especially when it comes to his passion for racing. So, naturally, he was beaming with excitement to share the big news about his dynamic duo of teammates.
“I’m amazed. I never thought that I would have such an opportunity throughout sim racing.” D’Amelio smiled. “Once you start meeting these kinds of people that you’ve been watching well, since I was a child, really…it’s amazing.”
Ever since he was little, D’Amelio says he struggled to get along with others. At times, he was a bit too competitive. Enter sim racing.
“Sim racing was a combination between, of course, video games and the passion that [I] had for motorsport. I love the competition. And I think sim racing goes a level higher in terms of competition, because it’s not just playing a game.
“It’s something more: it’s understanding the dynamics of the car. Training a lot. You need to practice a lot…it just compares you to other people on a whole other level.”
Italy is typically quite traditional when it comes to sports. Esports in general aren’t as popular in relation to the real deal. Thankfully for the 18-year-old, both his parents are supportive of his enthusiasm for sim racing and simply want him to do whatever it is he enjoys in this life.
D’Amelio’s part of Satellite Racing’s squad and preaches how great the sense of community is within the team. He says it’s a great environment and non-competitive amongst teammates, which is something he appreciates, too.
Ahead of the 24-Hour event, D’Amelio reflects on the experience he’s about to embark on alongside a new, yet familiar teammate, Christopher Högfeldt. The two locked down a spot after coming first and second, respectively, at Circuit de la Sarthe in the final session of the Le Mans Virtual Series Cup.
Ironically enough, D’Amelio’s biggest highlight from the past season came right around turn one of the last race in which he had a collision with Högfeldt.
“My car bounced into the left,” recalled D’Amelio, who was duking it out with Remi Delorme at the time for the lead. “And I just counter-steered and hoped to God that my car would have kept straight.”
D’Amelio eventually held on to first place and finished just ahead of his newfound teammate Högfeldt.
“[Christopher] told me that he didn’t have much experience in rFactor 2…and the speed that he got in the Le Mans Virtual Cup was amazing. I just have huge respect for him.”
It’s true: Högfeldt is fairly new to rFactor 2. But a deep dive into his racing career shows that at a very young age, the Swedish sensation accumulated many accolades in the world of esports and sim racing.
At just 15-years-old, Högfeldt won the Project Gotham Racing 3 Grand Final at the Lamborghini factory. He came second at World Cyber Games. And he even flew to Los Angeles to compete in the Championship Gaming Invitational. Winning has always been in Högfeldt’s blood.
“You can say this is my comeback to esports or racing in general,” Högfeldt smirked.
He had won a pretty penny in prize money and after the competitions decided to put an age restriction (18 and under) for each tournament, Högfeldt decided to quit while he was on top not only because he was scared of failure, but also to focus more on school and spend time with his friends. Sim racing, of course, can be incredibly time-consuming.
Fast forward to 2022, the now 30-year-old is back in the rig and ready to add to his collection of victories alongside a star-studded cast of teammates featuring the father-son Montoya duo, and D’Amelio, too.
Högfeldt grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, where like Italy, sim racing is still pretty taboo.
“[With the pandemic], it’s just booming, but it’s not something people do a lot. I’m in this Facebook sim racing group, and there are not too many people. But it’s growing and it’s so close to the car industry in Sweden. So, I love being part of it.”
Despite the popularity, Högfeldt’s passion for motorsport goes far beyond his sim rig setup. Recently, he and his little brother went ice rallying. Don’t worry, the ice is far too thick to break, thankfully.
When it comes to wheels, he admires Formula 1 driver Daniel Ricardo for his approach. However, off the grid, Högfeldt draws a lot of inspiration from Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“They influenced me in how I practice and look at the training for sim racing,” he said about the two tennis stars.
“When you should stop, or many people should stop… I didn’t really think that way. I just wanted to keep on going the more I did it. And they showed me that I was on the right path with it.”
Högfeldt races for Virtual Drivers by TX3, which is related to Romain Grosjeans’ R8G, a team that the Swedish sim racer could see himself evolving with someday, if given the opportunity, of course.
For now, though, Högfeldt is taking each race as it comes. It had been 20 years since he last competed at Circuit de la Sarthe. And the last time he did so, he was using a PlayStation controller.
Just like Luca, Högfeldt, in a way, is living out one of his dreams by qualifying for the LMVS main event.
“To be honest, the only race when I was little that I really looked up to or enjoyed was the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s the only thing in racing that I really appreciated or thought about,” he gushed. “It’s a big thing for me.”
For D’Amelio and Högfeldt, the Le Mans Cup really turned out to be the Cup of Dreams. Each driver’s eyes lit up while talking about the opportunity to pair up with Montoya. They donned a big, toothy grin when asked about just how great it feels to qualify for such an event.
The world is filled with sim racers just like Luca and Christopher. Young drivers with huge dreams for themselves, too.
So, what’s a word of advice to those who need a little push to stay on track and accomplish those goals, even when thoughts of giving up tend to creep in?
“Don’t stop racing,” said Högfeldt.
And slow down. No, don’t drive slowly.
D’Amelio said it best, actually:
“Don’t be in a rush. A lot of people, mostly now, who just started out, tend to do a lot of laps. So many laps that they just start hating it. Because they need so much commitment to be as fast as the other drivers. But what I say is spend the time that you feel like. Don’t overdo it because you want to improve, you’ll just lose time. For me, that’s the only advice really.
“Enjoy the moment.”