British Esports Association speaks with Dave Player, CEO and founder of Team BRIT, a competitive motor racing team consisting of disabled drivers.

We ask Dave about the group, their activities and their new esports division eTeam BRIT.

 

Can you give us an overview on Team BRIT. You’re part of another charity, is that correct?

Yes – I set up a charity called KartForce in 2010 to introduce team endurance karting to injured troops. Back in 2010 we had lots of lads losing legs in Afghanistan and many were lost and demoralised and didn’t know what to do with themselves.

So I set up KartForce to introduce them to team endurance karting. Kart tracks are a business so you can’t just have a kart with hand controls used once in a blue move, so we had to have hand controls that are easy to fit and remove.

Very soon we realised a bunch of these guys were really competitive, they had skills. We had coaching from Josh Hill, Damon Hill’s son, and we started entering 12 and 24-hour races. Every year we entered five or six 24-hour races, a few in the UK and a few in Europe.

Come 2015, the lads asked: ‘Can you set up a team endurance kart racing team?’

 

What are the benefits and how easy is it to get involved?

We’ve had a clinical study done at the University of Nottingham on the long-term impact of competitive motorsports on mental health. What it is, and you may have seen this before for esports, is you get such a massive adrenaline rush. It wakens you up and relights that fire within you. That’s something I think we’re all missing nowadays.

We’ve had to develop new hand controls for racing in cars, and what’s worked out is the same design, the same setup, is perfect for sim racing. So it means our disabled people can do sim racing at home but also, sim centres can pop off the steering wheel and plug in ours, so the pedals and hand controls work as normal. That’s the plan.

If someone has one leg and one arm, or a bad hand and good foot, whatever combination, they can use the pedals or no pedals, or just the hand controls.

 

“I had this idea of a challenge put out for sim racers, to see if they could be converted into competitive track racers. And I thought, what an excellent challenge. Is it possible? Is it realistic? And it’s proven it can be done. So we set up eTeam BRIT. We want a solid, reliable team of drivers who take it seriously.”

 

If someone has a hand or arm disability, can they still steer using their feet?

Yes. We had a quadruple amputee, she had meningitis and lost her legs from the knee down. She lost her forearms, but had elbows. We put the throttle paddle on the inside thigh, so she could squeeze that with her right thigh, we had a seat insert made with a center console, and a paddle on one side for the brake. She steered with one arm, and the arm had to be able to release quickly without breaking her arm, so this was designed by orthopedic experts.

So one arm was for steering and one was to assist steering and change gear and work the emergency manual brake.

 

How does a disabled person drive race cars?

The way a disabled person drives a road car is you have an automatic car with a throttle and brake, so you have hand controls called push/pull, but you can’t do that and have one hand on the steering wheel. The idea is that if you’re going through a chicane at 150mph, a disabled driver has to be able to go through a chicane at the same speed as an able bodied driver, for example brake, steer, go down, off the brake on the throttle, steer, gear up and come out.

So the basic design is both hands must remain on the steering wheel at all times, right hand paddle is the throttle, left hand paddle is brake, gear up gear down with your thumb.

If they want to use the left leg to brake and right hand to throttle, no problem – controls can be customised. It took a few years to develop, the brake system is a work of art.

 

What eTeam BRIT takes part in

  • iRacing official endurance events
  • Privately hosted one-off endurance events such the Team BRIT & PCDC 6hr races
  • Venomworks GTE Championship
  • Laps@Racing – in both their IMSA and iWEC championships (team endurance racing)
  • DGFX Clubsport (qualification starts mid-October)

Paul Davies, eTeam BRIT manager, explains: “Going forward we will be aiming to compete in the full dgfx endurance season in 2020 and putting entries into all the iRacing special events (Spa 24, Daytona 24 etc). In between team events, our drivers are out there competing individually in iRacing official races.”

 

Do your disabled drivers race against other able-bodied people?

Yep. When our drivers have got their helmets on, they get treated just as badly as anybody else on the race track!

The whole idea is we want to compete in mainstream racing, we don’t want any special treatment or favours, whether it’s on the track or in a simulator. We just have a bit of technology that allows us to race.

We have three BMW 116s, an Aston Martin GT4 and drivers with all different disabilities: one has a brain injury, one has 75% burns, one has no ears or eyelids, one man has autism, we have a couple of amuputees…

 

Why did you branch out into esports/sim racing?

I had this idea of a challenge put out for sim racers, to see if they could be converted into competitive track racers. And I thought, what an excellent challenge. Is it possible? Is it realistic? And it’s proven it can be done.

So we set up eTeam BRIT. We want a solid, reliable team of drivers who take it seriously. One of the guys we acquired was the highest-ranking sim racer in the UK in 2017. He had a rare condition where his ankles would fuse up so for the last few years he hadn’t been racing. So he contacted us and I invited him to a track day. We had our full motion simulators out with hand controls and he was blown away by them. He couldn’t believe how great and sensitive they were and how competitive he could be.

I’ve never seen someone push our simulator to the extremes like he did, he was like a bucking horse. So we tried him on an actual race track – and nobody has adapted so quickly. He became so competitive in such a short amount of time.

What happened then was he got a bit of superstar syndrome. He said: ‘What do I get? I want a rig.’ But we’re a team, not solo racers.

 

But it proved the challenge could be completed.

Yep. We had a six-hour race the other day, organised by our team manager Paul Davies. It had 49 entrants, one was Matty Malone. We came 12th.

 

“I set up a charity called KartForce in 2010 to introduce team endurance karting to injured troops. Very soon we realised a bunch of these guys were really competitive, they had skills. We had coaching from Josh Hill, Damon Hill’s son, and we started entering 12 and 24-hour races.”

 

Are these tournaments you organise or do you enter into other ones?

We enter into existing tournaments, both esports and on track.

On the track, we compete in the BMW 116 trophy and Britcar.

One of our long-term aims is to be the first all-disabled team to race the Le Mans 24 hour. Every year there’s a 45-minute support race before the 24 hour one. Last year was the Aston Martin Le Mans Festival and there were 24 GT4s on the grid – we qualified fourth ahead of Martin Brundle and others.

By the end of the first lap, we were just behind first-place. There were a few accidents so the pit lane window was shut, then it opened. The marshal thought that meant to send people into the pit lane, so a few went in, but he was told  he made a mistake, so he let the other cars carry on going round. The pit light was closed so we couldn’t get out. We finished seventh in the end, it was our third race altogether in the Aston Martin.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

We’d love to work with you guys, there’s lots we can do. Lots to do with disability around the world, starts in the UK, whether it’s law or discrimination or disability sport. We are the world leaders in motorsports and want to be the same in esports, and lead the way for the rest of the world to follow.

 

Further reading