Competitor in the 2019 Race of Champions. Winner of the World’s Fastest Gamer competition. 2020 British GT race winner and fourth overall in the championship. 2022 24 hours of Spa driver. 2023 Alpine GT4 test at Magny-Cours.
James Baldwin now has a significant CV of real-world motorsport activities. Yet, despite showing promise during his on-track outings, he’s sadly not found a deal for this season.
Following a promising drive at Spa in July, a brief dalliance with Garage 59 for the final round of GT World Challenge Europe in 2022 ultimately came to nothing.
Yet, things were looking promising for a season of GT3 racing this year.
“I think GT World Challenge is the logical next step, but maybe not Endurance Cup, but the Sprint Cup, just because you get more track time,” explains Baldwin to Traxion.GG.
“As a driver, I think it’s better for learning and it’s slightly more affordable.
“We had a funding target set by Garage 59 to race the McLaren 720S for this season, which is what I tried to go and raise sponsorship for.”
By December of last year, things were looking promising, with several sponsors said to be keen on backing Baldwin for that drive.
At the same time, an alternative offer appeared for another solo appearance at the 24 Hours of Spa that didn’t require any additional sponsorship.
However, motorsport can be a fickle beast.
“Unfortunately, it comes to around February and we really needed the budget to pay the team to get to the test, which happens in March, and then get ready for the first GTWC race,” explains Baldwin.
“None of the sponsors that were interested at the end of 2022 were able to put the money forward at that time.”
Faced with an inability to bring the required backing for the full-season seat, at least the virtual racing star – Baldwin had an unprecedented 2022 esports season, winning the Alpine Esports Series, the GT World Challenge Europe Esports and Intercontinental GT Challenge Esports championships plus a round of the Le Mans Virtual Series, Fanatec GT Pro Series and gold at the FIA Motorsport Games – had the Spa 24 drive to fall back on.
“The driver gradings over winter changed,” says Baldwin.
“So that team that needed me, initially it required a silver-rated driver. After the change, they needed a gold. I’m not a gold, and therefore I couldn’t fill that seat. So that fell through as well.
“As it stands, I’m not racing this year.”
But, unperturbed by the uphill battle that is motorsport sponsorship and driver gradings, the Bracknellian is pressing on with a new idea – crowdfunding.
With over 77,000 YouTube subscribers and 40,000 social media followers, when the community heard the news about a lack of motorsport prospects for 2023, an idea formed.
“It purely came from seeing comments on some videos of mine and seeing some of my social media followers and YouTube subscribers suggesting I should try a bit of crowdfunding,” highlights Baldwin.
“My audience isn’t Jimmy Broadbent-sized, but it’s still a lot of people. At this stage where I’m not going to be on a grid anyway, I’m going to try it because there are people commenting saying ‘we want to donate’ and plus hopefully they would enjoy watching the content from those races.”
“I simply set it up and gave it a go. I released a video to YouTube explaining the situation and I honestly didn’t expect what has happened. The response so far is crazy.”
The gofundme campaign has an ambitious target of £200,000, but at the time of writing it’s edging £10,000 already.
“I’m extremely grateful to everyone that’s even looked at it and donated,” says Baldwin
“There are some crazy donations in there and the messages are really supportive as well.
“It’s really promising. Hopefully, I can do something come the end of the year that furthers my racing ambitions.
“I’m still learning as a racing driver because I’ve only had one season and one race of motorsport.
“Whatever is raised will be used to further my racing career, whether that’s a test or a race. If I receive enough to enter a GT World Challenge round, great, if I get enough for a couple of races even better.”
Following a test in GT4 machinery, thanks to winning an esports title last year, Baldwin says he’s not opposed to the category, but the aim is still very much GT3 as it’s seen as the next logical step to an ultimate goal of competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Aside from the racing car aspiration for the year, the 2022 Autosport Esports Driver of the Year will be competing full-time in virtual competition for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports team, primarily in the new Rennsport-based ESL R1 competition.
But, imagine that. A sim racer who makes it to the Circuit de la Sarthe. Baldwin would become a legend. I for one hope it happens sooner rather than later.
You can support James’ motorsport activities with a voluntary donation via gofundme.
Images: James Baldwin / Motorsport Images / ESL R1