The hungry gamer: Matthew Simmons, 26, online racing driver
My journey started back when I was a courier for Australia Post and dreaming of competing for Australia in motor racing. I played a lot of video racing games, and I entered the online time trials for the Nissan GT Driver Development program. I was fortunate to qualify for the nationals, where I made the top six.
From there began the greatest week of my life: competing in the GT Academy race camp. It was a high-pressure situation and not everything went my way, but I proved to be the best choice to move forward to the development program. So I was sent to England to work my butt off and learn how to be a pro.
I’m a sweets man, so the hardest thing about being here is I can’t have danishes. But that’s all part of being a race-car driver, you’ve got to make those sacrifices. And it’s paying off. I’ve been pushing my body to the limit in the gym, because if you’re not physically fit in the car, you’re not performing mentally. The mental side is definitely a big thing I’ve had to learn about; how mentally challenging it is when you are racing for real. Putting in all that hard work off the track, when I’m on it, I feel better, I feel more focused.
For me, it all comes back to Ayrton Senna. Unfortunately I wasn’t old enough to see him drive, I think I was three when he passed away, but the impact that he made, even to this day, is incredible. He’s an influence on every race-car driver. The current drivers I look up to are people like Mark Webber and, following in his footsteps, Daniel Ricciardo. The way they represent Australia on the world stage, they are definitely my idols.
When I first got into racing on the computer, it was about being able to drive the tracks that I was never going to have the chance to. But when the GT Academy came around, it really dawned on me that this could be the way of the future, and that simulators can play a part – a significant part – in becoming a race-car driver.
So I started to take it a bit more seriously. I’d go to the gym, I had an instructor at a track in New South Wales, and I was part of an online racing community where we had league races every Sunday night. That’s where I got a lot of my race craft and my experience of pressure situations, because people take it very seriously, and you are always challenged.
Mario Kart 64 has to be the greatest racing game, even to this day. I like anything with four wheels – Gran Turismo, Formula 1 and even Rally – but Mario Kart is the best. You could lose siblings and friends over it. I tried World of Warcraft and those shoot-em-up games, but I just don’t think I have the hand-eye co-ordination for it. It’s too many buttons for me, and I end up walking around aimlessly, or dead within two seconds. I’m very much a person that just loves racing-car games.
There’s no reset button when you are doing it for real. When you are learning a new track, you can’t go in at 100 per cent, because there’s no going back if it goes wrong. So it’s all about a process of learning the car and the track as quickly as possible, and adapting as well, so we can find that line and be comfortable with it.
When I’m in a car, I never want to get out. Being an endurance racer – that’s what we’re all aiming to be as part of this program. The longer I can be in a race car, the better, and what I’m learning is how to find a rhythm and a consistency, and how to really push myself. It’s very physically and mentally demanding. The biggest thing is trying to stay focused the whole day.
I’m back home now, getting myself ready for the Dubai 24 Hour race in January. The heat means it’s one of the toughest endurance races there is, so I’m concentrating on getting as much heat training as possible. I’d love to do the Bathurst 12 Hour, too, and the Nürburgring 24 Hour. They’ve both got their magic about them. If I could compete in both, I’d be a happy man, but that all comes with time and experience. If I work hard enough, and things go my way, with a bit of luck I can make it as a professional. But at this stage, I’m trying not to think that far ahead.
This week’s highlights…
• Golf: Australian Open, days 3-4
Saturday and Sunday, from 7am (AEDT), The Australian Golf Club, Sydney
• Cricket: Australia v New Zealand, 3rd Test, days 2-5
Saturday-Tuesday, 2pm (ACDT), Adelaide Oval
• Soccer: A-League – Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Saturday, 7.30pm (AEDT), Etihad Stadium, Melbourne
• Soccer: W-League – Brisbane Roar v Newcastle Jets
Sunday, 2pm (AEST) A. J. Kelly Field, Brisbane
• Motorsport: F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Sunday, 11.59pm (AEDT), Yas Marina Circuit
• Tennis: Davis Cup final – Belgium v Great Britain, day 2
Sunday, 1am (AEDT), Flanders Expo, Ghent, Belgium
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 28, 2015 as "The hungry gamer". Subscribe here.