After a successful outing at the first test of the 2015, Leastone Racing Cars are delighted to welcome young up and comer, Des Foley, into the team. Des will pilot one the works JH004's in the Formula Vee championship, as he battles fellow rookies for Finol Star of Tomorrow honours. Des has had a very different introduction to the motorsport world, starting in the virtual world no less! Recently we asked Des to describe his motorsport journey thus far and you can read his story below.
'The GT Academy is an International driver search run by Nissan and Playstation. The prospective drivers are chosen after competing in online time trials on the popular racing game Gran Turismo. The fastest gamers then go head to head in a live event that also features fitness, media and real driving challenges. Only the best from this stage get to take part in Silverstone’s Race Camp to be in with a shot of winning a fully funded driver development program worth one million dollars. It’s worth pointing out that when I took part the rules only allowed you to enter if you had not taken part in any sort of circuit racing before.
After a year of practicing and getting really good at the game, I qualified for the UK & Ireland national finals in 2011. Only 2 of the 20 gamers present would progress. After two days, despite finishing =1st in media, 2nd in driving and 3rd in fitness, one mistake in the final gaming round cost me dearly, and the weighted points system meant I finished 4th overall, only a couple of points behind Jann Mardenborough who eventually went on the win the competition outright and his since gone on to become a race winner GT3, Formula 3, GP3, LMP2 and in 2015 has a full season in the WEC with Nissans LMP1 car.
Following this narrow defeat, I made it my goal in life to make it back next year, after all, I was clueless on how to go about racing and I saw this is my best and only chance to actually get a career in racing. To cut to the chase, I would eventually go on to win the UK & Ireland national finals outright and earn my place at race camp. A month later I arrived at Silverstone to take on 35 others from all over Europe and would compete against my own territory for a week before getting the chance to take on the best from the other territories Iberia (Spain & Portugal), Benelux (Belgium and Netherlands), [Switzerland, Austria, Poland], France and Italy,
At this point all gaming was left behind and we would spend the week driving real cars and learning as quickly as we could, trying to impress the judges and instructors. The most promising talents would get a shot in a 6 car race to win the overall prize. Judges included Johnny Herbert, Rene Arnoux, Tim Cornel, Bas Leinders, Dani Clos, Sebastien Buemi and Vitantonio Liuzzi.
To earn my place in the overall final I would have to prove to my judges Johnny Herbert and Rob Barff that I had what it takes to graduate from virtual to reality in only a week. Everything was filmed for TV and slightly dramatized, however what we did when we were behind the wheel with the instructors is what mattered most, not necessarily all of the gimmicky challenges we took part in to make the show more accessible to the casual viewer.
Over the course of the week I had many ups and downs. I showed good speed in the opening challenge driving a stock 370z around the Stowe circuit, and did very well on the rallying and drift challenges. There were moments where I struggled too and at one point I felt I was going to be eliminated for sure. After 4 days I was faced with a head to head dog fight race to stay in the competition. It was a best of 3 race around Stowe circuit, 2 laps each time. We would start on the opposite side of the circuit to each other. At the start of my first round I missed a gear and lost 3 seconds. Race over. I now had to win 2 in a row or I was going home. I composed myself as best I could and put in the drive of my life to win the next two rounds under extreme pressure. This gave me great confidence moving forward and 2 days later I went on the win the UK group entirely.
Then things started to get very, very real. The final race would take place on Silverstone’s Grand Prix layout as a support race to Round 1 of World Endurance Championship taking place there that weekend. I struggled with anxiety prior to this but once I got in the car the nerves went away. We went out for qualifying and although I was 2nd for the opening few laps, a few spots of rain on my windscreen made me back off more than I should and I didn’t improve. Eventually dropping to 5th. I was struggling trying to learn heal toe all while getting used to a left hand drive car against 5 European guys used to driving like that for years. It was a battle I just couldn’t win in such a short period. That’s my racing driver excuse for the day anyway…
Race day came and it was bucketing down. The Formula Renault 3.5 race lost half the field to a crash before our race. I’m sure the heads at Nissan were really worried – how on earth were 6 apparent novices going to go out and race in those conditions for their first ever race and not do some serious damage.
In the end we all went out and did a great job. The positions settled down after a few laps and we were all close enough for most of the race, however we started to spread out a bit more towards the end. I finished 5th, with the pre race favourite who started in 2nd finishing behind me after missing a gear at the start and was just not able to recover. Getting so far was bitter sweet but I just couldn’t make it happen on this occasion. The overall winner Wolfgang Reip has since gone on to race GT3 and even the experimental Nissan ZEOD at Le Mans in 2014. In 2015 he won the 12 hours of Bathurst overall in a Nismo GT-R GT3.
As for me, coming back to reality was quite tough after getting so close to achieving a dream. In the months that followed I failed to secure sponsorship to go racing because I really didn’t know what I was doing. Nissan Ireland were unwilling to even acknowledge anything I had done and that was quite disheartening. Eventually I figured out that I wasn’t entitled to anything and got on with my life, pursuing other ventures and stayed sim racing to keep my competitive nature fulfilled. It took me over two years to get into a car on track again at the Fiesta Endurance Race, and after a great experience there I decided 2015 would be the year I finally go racing. I feel grateful to be under the wing of Paul Heavey for my first season and it’s my aim to win the Finol Star of Tomorrow championship as well as contest for podiums and possibly wins in A races as I learn more about the car and tracks.'