Hugo Allan surprised a lot of people in the final round of the Toyota 86 championship in Taupo.
The 16-year-old from Takapuna Grammar School qualified fifth in his first-ever qualifying session in a race car.
Allan then finished eighth, 11th and eighth in the weekend’s three races.
His impressive race car debut made waves among his peers, but also with the sim-racing community.
It was in the virtual world that Allan developed his craft.
Sim-racing has rapidly taken off in recent years, with a handful of Kiwi drivers spending their early years in sim-racing before stepping into a race car.
Peter Vodanovich, who is currently racing in USF2000 in the United States, first got in a race car just four years ago.
Allan initially trialled racing karts but soon found that sim-racing would be a better alternative to learn the ins and outs of motor racing.
“In 2017, I did a couple of weekends in a kart down in Invercargill,” Allan told Velocity News. “But field sizes were really small, about seven karts. Plus, it was raining most of the time.
“So, I ended up buying a Logitech sim-racing rig, and that is where I learnt all my car control.
“I would work hard at the sim almost every day. I did competitive leagues that were held in the UK, so I would have to get up really early in the morning to race, just so I could get better.”
Modern sim-racing rigs have advanced significantly over time. As a result, they now offer drivers as close to a real-life experience as possible.
Drivers use sim-racing to learn and practice new circuits, set-ups and racing techniques.
However, Allan says that it plays another vital role in developing a passion for motorsport.
“The number one thing is that sim-racing has made me love the sport,” he said. “It is what got me enjoying racing, which makes me want to do better every time.
“With sim-racing, you get no feeling of what the car is doing through your seat. Instead, it is all through the wheel.
“That gives you a good understanding of how the tyres work.
“When I first drove the 86 at the Hampton Downs academy, I was quite good at managing understeer, and that is all because of what I have learnt with the sim.”
Despite a limited number of days driving the academy car, Allan came into the Taupo finale almost entirely unprepared for what was to come.
“Well, Taupo isn’t available on the sim, so that didn’t help.
“I just watched a lot of onboard videos to learn the track. But it wasn’t until Thursday when I got to drive it for the first time.
“That day, we just picked away at it, and my times were way down on what was competitive.
“But we made quick progression over Friday, and then into Saturday I set out the goal of finishing in the top ten in one of the three races.
“Then we go out in qualifying and put the car fifth on the grid.
“That was a shock for sure. But it also showed how quickly I came to terms with the car and the track.
“Then in race one, I went into the first corner with Simon Evans right behind me and Marco [Giltrap] alongside me. And all I can think was, ‘wow, this is real.’
“It was awesome.”
Allan says the next step in his career remains undecided, but he is keeping all options open.
“What happens next is down to money and funding. Unfortunately, I don’t have the money just to go out and buy a race car for next year.
“But I would like to have another go in the 86, or maybe even a Formula Ford.
“I was talking to Ken Smith, and he told me that I need to find something that will continue to develop myself as a driver.
“So, yeah, I am keeping my options open and just looking to see what I can do to help myself get better.”