As the Praga R1 – a thoroughbred mini-prototype race car from the Czech purveyors of karts and Dakar trucks – entered the paddock, its driver dipped the clutch and gave the throttle three short, sharp, stabs.
The engine revs rose in line with the staccato blips, the sound of a highly tuned four-cylinder turbocharged engine ricocheting off the nearby pitlane garages.
With the offside door flying upwards, a bright pink helmet emerged. Fans, family members and management shouted in celebration, applause broke out as young Scot Gordie Mutch clambered on top of the carbon fibre roof and screamed in jubilation.
It’s his and teammate Jimmy Broadbent’s fifth win of the season, rounding out the year at a bitter and blustery Donington Park.
The sim racing content creation star ran across to share this special moment with his colleague, clambering on the fence separating the podium and parc fermé. Paired with Mutch – also a dedicated virtual competitor winning in the World eX Championship this season, alongside his existing real-world experience that includes karting and the Ginetta GT5 Challenge – they’d done it.
Inaugural Praga Cup champions, beating a formidable field of rivals in identical machinery.
Rewind eight months, and while the title was a dream, at a pre-season test at Silverstone expectations were kept firmly in check.
“My goal is to be somewhere near him [Mutch] and if I can do that, then we’ve got a strong pairing,” said Broadbent at the start of the year.
“But I’ve got a lot of work to do [to reach that level].”
Fanatec Praga Team87 got off to a solid start to the season, picking up a second and a ninth at Silverstone, followed by a second podium at Oulton Park.
The year wasn’t without its dramas, however, as the fourth race of the season in Norfolk was blighted by technical challenges and a disqualification.
“That was a strange one,” explained Broadbent.
“We were basically over-boosting, but we had no control over that and flagged the issue in qualifying.
“We lost that race win, unfortunately, but we were vindicated the very next day by winning by 30 seconds. The pace was there regardless.”
The duo then dominated the second half of the campaign, taking five victories.
“I think they both finished really well at the end of the 2021 season [winning two Britcar rounds], so I think they’d set a marker then,” said Mark Harrison, CEO of Praga Cars UK
“We didn’t really know how people like Scott Mittell and Charles Hall would go, or [the likes of] Robert Wheldon and Ben Stone. They’re all good drivers, so it was open.
Gordon and Jimmy raced really well and looked after our cars too.”
The world was watching, with dramatic livestream viewing figures on the British Automobile Racing Club YouTube channel.
“To build confidence in a brand, and we consider ourselves a new brand to the environment, you need to build a fan base,” continued Harrison.
“The bigger the audience is, the better it is for everybody and it’s clear the audience has increased significantly on the livestreams.
“Now, you can’t prove that every one of those numbers is down to Jimmy, but when the Pragas started racing with him, the numbers went up, which is fantastic.”
Coming into the final double-header round in the East Midlands, picking an overall winner wasn’t straightforward, with Team87 leading by a scant 19 points over the aforementioned Mittell and Hall – the latter qualifying on pole position.
In the first race of the final weekend, Mutch had qualified in second but swept around the outside of Mittell at Redgate to take the lead.
“The driver in front, he didn’t do much weaving on the out lap,” said Mutch
“I spotted that, so I heated up my tyres more than anyone else. I had it premeditated that I was going to go around the outside of the first corner because I had a lot more tyre warmth.”
Later, Mittell would be hit from behind, pitting to check for damage and losing a lap. Mutch and Broadbent would win the race to pick up the championship after resisting the pairing of Ben Collins and Jamie Morton.
The next day, they would win again, sealing the title by a commanding 46 points.
“We were definitely champions on Saturday night; it was just on countback” explained Broadbent after Sunday’s final race.
“There’s no doubt now though, [we’re] clear at the top. It’s been a hell of a season.”
Broadbent had proven time and again virtual skills not only translate into motorsport but can also give you an edge. A national title was a testament to that.
“I think this is vindication as a sim racer,” said Broadbent.
“It hasn’t been easy, I haven’t just jumped in and been on it.
“I really hope for the wider sim community, it means something to them. If I can do it, then there’s nothing stopping anyone else.”
“When I met Jimmy and Jay [Morton] before the start of last season, they were complete novices,” highlighted Harrison.
“Now, Jimmy’s winning the championship and Jay was on the podium again.
“I like the fact that they’re from completely different backgrounds. You know, to put it simply, one is a gamer and one’s an ex-Special Air Service soldier, and yet, they’ve both developed in a really similar way.
“That’s been really rewarding.”
After such a strong year for Mutch and Broadbent, plus a debut season for the Praga Cup, all eyes are on what comes next.
“I’d love to be in the British GT paddock, so if any teams need a Pro driver to help an Am that needs driver coaching, I’m your man,” said Mutch, who has also been a driver trainer for sim racing content creator Steve Alvarez Brown, aka Super GT, this season.
Broadbent’s plans for the coming year aren’t clear yet, but he has purchased the R1 used to win the Praga Cup, affectionately known as Goldie, and is aiming to provide other sim racers with the chance to compete.
Meanwhile, Praga looks to be continuing its rise to prominence. In the virtual world, its R1 can now be raced within the simulation RaceRoom Racing Experience and in the real-world, the Praga Cup will become a standalone class within the Prototype category of the Britcar Endurance Championship.
It has also shocked the automotive industry by launching the Bohema, a €1.28m hypercar that uses a carbon monocoque chassis and has been co-developed with the help of former F1 star and current IndyCar driver Romain Grosjean.
It seems as if the 2022 Praga Cup championship has been formative not just for the drivers, but for the car manufacturer too.
Featured image: Gordie Mutch and Jimmy Broadbent win Praga Cup 2022 – Jakob Ebrey Photography via Praga.