How one rising star is using sim racing to their advantage

Thomas Harrison-Lord
Cooper Webster is competing in both S5000 and GB4 single-seater championships this season, but he’s also an Oracle Red Bull Racing Esports driver which is helping his progression.
How one rising star is using sim racing to their advantage

Webster has had a slightly unorthodox motorsport career so far. The now 20-year-old started in karting, securing an Australian KA4 Junior title in 2016 and third in the 2018 Victorian Kart Championship (KA3 Junior).

But, he then moved to the one-make Hyundai Excel series, the championship for mid-’90s humdrum hatchbacks.

While it’s a vibrant scene, seen as a stepping stone for up-and-comers, especially into touring cars, the move eschewed the common logic of something like Formula Ford for an aspiring single-seater driver.

Even stranger, Webster was then plucked out of the compact tin-top series and placed within S5000 – open-wheelers with a 5.2-litre V8 and wide Hoosier tyres. They are unique, but Webster has found success, notably a race win in 2021, followed by third in the Australian Drivers’ Championship and second in the Tasman Series last year.

“The tyre doesn’t have very much grip at all,” explains Webster at a blustery Donington Park.

“That’s probably the most challenging thing with an S5000, because it makes braking, accelerating and cornering difficult. Watching the cars race is very exciting because they move around so much and then they thunder down the straight because of the engine.

“I think it’s awesome. Everyone that jumps in them says they’re a real beast to drive.”

The plan for 2023 is to compete in the current S5000 championship – a trio of podiums was secured by the Victorian at the opening event – but not every round, as they clash with a drive in the burgeoning GB4 championship this year for the Evans GP team.

Cooper Webster 2023, pre-season GB4 testing, Donington Park Evans GP

It’s a drive that Webster has relocated to the United Kingdom for, landing in Milton Keynes.

“The first thing I noticed was just a lot greyer here than in Australia,” jokes Webster.

“I’m more stressed about moving to the UK than the racing. The racing I’ve been doing for more than 10 years, living by myself, I’ve never done that.”

The reason for this exact location is not solely down to GB4, however, but his racing esports commitments. A member of the Oracle Red Bull Racing Esports squad, he’s been competing in top-level virtual competitions, such as the Le Mans Virtual Series and, currently, iRacing’s Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup.

Cooper Webster, Oracle Red Bull Racing, 2023 iRacing Porsche Esports Supercup

At the time of writing, the Australian is sixth in the standings, running as team-mate to former champion and current Red Bull Racing Formula 1 simulator test driver Sebastian Job.

“The environment’s really good and everyone works hard,” says Webster

“That’s what you want in a sim team, that everyone really focused and driven.

“There’s no one else better at that than Sebastian. He’s one of the hardest working people I know.”

His association with the team is directly helping his real-world motorsport efforts. Moving to near the team’s base means access to its Esports ‘Erena’ to compete in esports events and train for upcoming GB4 races.

He’s also got access to the five-time F1 constructors’ champion’s gym facilities and support networks, invaluable for a younger driver moving to a new country for the first time.

Cooper Webster Oracle Red Bull Racing Esports

“When I went to the factory for the first time, it blew me away,” enthuses Webster.

“The facilities there and how they build the F1 cars, it’s really amazing.

“When I’m not doing anything with GB4, I’m at the gym or on the simulator at the factory.”

Then there are the racing benefits garnered from regular virtual activities. It’s often said that simulators are useful to learn new circuits. True, but it’s when you enter closely-matched competitive events against skilled rivals that you learn the most.

Cooper Webster 2023, pre-season GB4 testing, Donington Park

“There are some things that translate perfectly between real life and sim racing,” highlights Webster.

“Your racing IQ is really important, such as choosing when to defend or when to push, and being under pressure.

“The pressure you feel in sim racing is the same or even more so than what you have in motorsport.

“So putting yourself in that position, such as going into qualifying and you’ve got to do that one lap, it’s the exact same as real life. That’s what I find really helps me.

“I think the most nervous I’ve ever been for a race was on the sim. I still remember that exact event – shaky legs and making mistakes.

“The pressure and being aware of what’s around you all really helps and I think that’s why I try to spend as much time [as possible] in the sim when I’m not driving in the real world.”

Cooper Webster, Oracle Red Bull Racing, 2023 iRacing PESC

Ahead of the GB4 season kicking off in April at Oulton Park, there’s still a steep learning curve for the talented Aussie, but professional sim racing is helping him find a potential competitive advantage.

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