Ben Creanor doesn’t yet have a UK driving licence, but his racing career is already going full pelt.
Equally adept at the controls of an esports car as the real thing, the Scottish teenager has a season of Nascar racing under his belt after competing on the European tour at 16.
Whizzing round Brands Hatch in front of 50,000 fans, with former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve among the competition, provided a “surreal” and pulse-soaring adrenalin rush.
And now Creanor’s virtual sports prowess – honed from a love of Mario Kart as a child – is set to roar to the fore.
With real racing impossible due to the coronavirus lockdown, the Euro Nascar season will get under way as an esport instead, with points won in virtual contests counting towards the championship.
“That obviously favours me massively,” says the 17-year-old, from Dunfermline. “It does me another favour in really cementing the credibility I have as a driver.
“Last year a lot of people – including my own team-mate – didn’t initially rate me as a driver. It was like they were thinking: ‘Why are you here?’ It took a long time to finally earn their respect.”
From Pixar to Mario Kart
Creanor’s story in motorsport began at the age of three. A DVD of the Pixar movie Cars from his grandparents sparked the obsession.
Next followed hours of gaming on Mario Kart. By age nine, he was go-karting at the local track.
“At the end of 2012 I got my own go-kart and started racing in the Scottish stuff at Larkhall and circuits like that. In our first year we came 10th in the Scottish championship, which was pretty successful.
“You have folk throwing six figures at these things, so it became very clear it was always going to be the financial side that would limit us going anywhere in the future.”
So Ben put the real car racing to one side and got plugged into the online version instead. How he got talent-spotted doing that remains something of a mystery.
“The honest answer is, I don’t know. With this software you can jump in and spectate on any race at any time. It could have been at any of these races.
“It obviously caught the attention of somebody because when I applied for the European Nascar recruitment programme I was instantly accepted – despite the fact I was at the time too young to legally race the cars.”
‘It’s a wake-up call for people’
As soon as Ben turned 16 he was plunged on to the starter’s grid and racing in Euro Nascar for real in front of big crowds across the continent.
Competing in front of 50,000 at Brands Hatch has been the career high so far, and proving he belongs in such rarefied company alongside the likes of Villeneuve is no mean feat.
“The first couple of races were a wee bit surreal. So many people didn’t know I was the driver. I would go about the paddock minding my own business. It wasn’t until the grid walk and the driver interviews that people realised, ‘Oh, he’s actually a driver’.”
A fifth-placed finish in a preliminary virtual event last week bodes well. Ben now hopes to take the sport by storm this season without leaving the house.
“I think having something like this now is a good wake-up call for those people who really don’t get that this is a proper way of going racing.”