When you think of Team HARD. Racing you think of the British Touring Car Championship. Tony Gilham’s squad has been a feature in the BTCC since 2012 when it first entered under the Tony Gilham Racing moniker.
The team has since run cars in the Ginetta GT4 Supercup, Renault Clio Cup UK, GT Cup and the VW Racing Cup, helping develop the career of many a British racing driver, including 2022 BTCC runner-up Jake Hill.
For 2023, the team so far possesses a promising line-up of Bobby Thompson, Daniel Lloyd and Dexter Patterson, all set to drive the team’s distinctive CUPRA Leons.
As well as real-world racing, the team has also made tentative moves into esports.
“We dipped our toes into the world of esports during COVID-19 with our esports racing leagues which saw some of the UK’s top sim racers battle it out for top honours, and a place on our scholarship programme,” commented Gilham.
“It was a great success and something we would have loved to continue with, but as the British Touring Car Championship and other series got back underway, we had to re-allocate our resources,” he continued.
After a brief delay, E-Team HARD. Racing made its official bow last month (January 2023), with the promise of some bold plans for the virtual squad. We spoke to E-Team Hard. Racing’s Team Principal Lee Duncan about his role, the team’s goals and some thoughts on the wider world of esports.
Lockdown sim racing
So how did Lee find himself working with a BTCC squad’s esports team?
“I’m just so passionate about it. This all stemmed from watching James Baldwin through COVID, and believe it or not, my friend’s son is Lucas Blakely,” explains the Glaswegian.
“And then the next thing I’ve seen he’s doing F1 Esports. And I thought: ‘this is the road esports is going down’.”
Although he started sim racing in 2019 exclusively for fun, Lee quickly saw the wider value in sim racing, working firstly with British GT squad Team Brit in promoting its sim racing activities. But his love of the BTCC – and Team HARD in particular – led to him applying for a position with the team. The only issue was the role didn’t exist yet!
“So I basically approached them. I gave them my 23-page proposal. It was probably a bit too long, but it showed my commitment! It was just a case of proving to them how much value is in esports and how it would develop the team.”
Health issues encouraged Lee to re-focus his life goals, so offering the expertise he’d built up in recent times to his favourite BTCC team seemed like a natural step.
“I wasn’t able to work full time because of my health. So, I started off in Gran Turismo and I’m now using PC [based sims], so we’re covering everything now,” he states.
A sim racing opportunity
And organising esports events and an E-Team HARD. Racing community is only part of the plan, as Lee will also help set up four simulators at the team’s headquarters, thanks to sponsor, SIM Demon.
The sim racing cockpits are set to feature MOZA wheelbases and pedals and can be used by Team HARD’s drivers and engineers to get their eye in ahead of race weekends. Two of the cockpits will also be equipped with ProSimu T1000 3 motion platforms, replete with triple screens.
The two static sim rigs will travel with the team to BTCC race weekends, where last year Lee received first-hand experience of working with the team on-site, spotting a sim racing opportunity in the BTCC paddock while helping out:
“I only saw one rig the whole weekend from Thursday through Sunday – and it was in one of the MINI Challenge tents. There was nothing else from any of the [BTCC] teams. I thought to myself, ‘this needs to change’,” he declared.
And change it will, as the two sim rigs will be available for the public to try out on-site at all BTCC race weekends, helping promote sim racing, Team HARD and E-Team HARD. Racing in one fell swoop. And with rFactor 2’s plethora of BTCC content it’s surely a perfect match.
E-Team HARD. Racing in esports
Lee has posted on social media extolling the virtues of the ESL R1 series recently, so where does E-Team HARD see itself racing, if not this year, but in the future?
“I know what I want to be involved in: VCO events and, ultimately, the Le Mans Virtual Series,” said Lee, bullishly.
To date, E-Team HARD has run several Gran Turismo 7 leagues and found success in the iRacing-based VBTCR series, does this mean virtual touring car racing is still a focus for the team despite the interest in sportscars?
“Yes – Team HARD is best known for touring car events, so that will be our number one priority across all games, from iRacing to rFactor 2.”
And what about their current driving roster? Can we expect any big-name announcements for the team in 2023?
“Team HARD run their Scholarship programme. Esports will be introduced into that as well (alluding to Gilham’s earlier comments). There won’t be any big names as of yet. However, there will be plenty to keep your eyes peeled for,” he answered.
So, Team HARD’s esports outfit is looking to the future and hoping to develop its own stable of drivers. Its parent team has form in terms of driver development thanks to its scholarship scheme. The Team HARD Scholarship programme whittles fee-paying applicants down to a single driver, who wins a drive for the full season.
The participants go through media, physical and driving evaluations until a winner is picked (this year’s lucky winner will take the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 in the GT Cup series). A karting scholarship is also in operation, with 13-year-old James Kell winning a fully-funded season in the 2023 Junior Kart Championship.
Two drivers Lee can confirm will be part of E-Team HARD’s plans for this year, however, are Daniel Lloyd and Bobby Thompson. Lloyd impressed on his way to three wins and 10th overall in the 2022 BTCC, while Thompson improved dramatically throughout the year. Thompson is also a keen iRacer in his spare time, making him an easy fit for the team.
Looking to the future
Gilham himself appears to be positive about the prospect of a Team HARD sim racing community:
“Whilst for now, our esports focus is on competing against others in established racing leagues, we are not ruling out bringing our own series back to provide an opportunity for the best esports racers to get out on the track for real,” he commented, hinting a virtual racer to real racer-style venture is in the offing.
“Over the past six to seven months Lee has come on board and taken this opportunity by the scruff of the neck which has enabled us to relaunch in an official capacity as E-Team HARD. Racing,” wrote an effusive Gilham.
The final word comes from Lee, who perfectly sums up his recent life changes:
“I’m chasing a dream,” he says, in reference to his unfortunate health troubles and rejuvenating new role with Team HARD.
“And I’m halfway there.”