The first-time Forza gamer who caused a Le Mans Esports surprise

Most people attending last month's Fuji World Endurance Championship round were there for the on-track action, and not the Le Mans Esports Series event on-site

The first-time Forza gamer who caused a Le Mans Esports surprise

That was the case for Emily Jones. She had heard about the Esports event, but didn't know much about it before checking it out on the Saturday of the event.

She ended up setting a lap time around Suzuka on Forza Motorsport 7 that was fast enough to qualify for the LMES race the next day, joining another on-site qualifier and seven other competitors who set their laps online, with minimal experience of the game.

"It was my first time playing Forza," she told Autosport. "I have played it at friends houses on a controller maybe before I bet.

"This is the first time where I was actually on a wheel and it was actually me sitting there [racing]."

Her performance at the event didn't come out of nowhere, though. Jones has a strong background of experience in racing with a wheel.

This predominantly comes from iRacing, regularly live streaming her races on her Twitch channel. Jones is currently competing in the V8 Supercar Online Premier Series, where she is currently 12th out of more than 200 racers in the standings this year. The series is well known, with Supercars title challenger Shane van Gisbergen taking part in the most recent round.

Jones's jump into racing didn't start with iRacing, or in sim racing at all. It started in the same way that it does for the vast majority of motorsport drivers all over the world, racing karts.

"I was obsessed with race cars when I was a kid and my parents didn't know what to do with it," she said.

"My whole life I was [interested in racing] - I watched every F1 season, I have '98 and '99 recorded from my TV. So I was kind of obsessed since I can remember.

"I was always thinking, I want to be a driver, and you've got to get into karts to start that. So I kept asking for karts, and my parents [kept saying] no."

Her parents eventually caved, and she competed in kart championships in Australia before graduating to - and winning - Formula Vee in Australia.

At one point she had the chance to go to the UK for a test with a team running in the BRDC Formula 4 Championship (now BRDC British Formula 3). But issues with funding, and in her personal life, around that time meant that she had to hang up her racing boots.

"I was very lucky that my family, we had enough money to go karting," she said. "We weren't amazing, but we had enough money to do that.

"From cars onwards, we just didn't have enough money. My family was very strongly saying, 'We're not going to do the whole Formula 1 thing and sell anything or risk our salaries on racing, so if you're going to do it you have to do it yourself, we're not going to help you - we will help you, but not financially'. Which I think is fine.

"It was mainly money [that became an issue]. If I had money I would still be racing. But there was some other life stuff as well happening at the time in my life and in my family, so a load of stuff going on. And it was probably not good that I was racing every second weekend."

Jones was first introduced to sim racing when she was 14 through NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. She joined some online leagues while at the time playing with a joystick, before eventually buying herself a wheel and moved to rFactor.

When Jones started to race online again after her real-life racing career came to an end, she decided to take things more seriously.

"I took a couple of years off when I was racing in real life, and I only used it to practice," she said. "And then returned to it two to three years ago seriously. And I was thinking I'm going to do this as best as I can."

Along with some success in iRacing, she took part in a Project Cars competition in 2017, Virtual Sim Racing Showdown - which was one of the first live Esports events to take place in Australia - and was runner-up.

"The winner was James Allen, who is an LMP1 driver," she said. "We're, I guess, still friends after that. He hangs around in my stream, so I went to say hi to him on the Fuji weekend."

Jones's experience from real-life racing and sim racing helped her finish fourth in the LMES race against people with more Forza experience, even after falling to the back of the pack on the opening lap.

"At the start I got knocked off the track and I don't know if that was my fault or the other guys fault, either way I suffered because of it," she said. "I just [then] tried to get as consistent as possible.

"It sound weird, these guys are amazing, the drivers, and they're super consistent at Forza. But I just I had to think, maybe I have more LAN experience than they do.

"I guess in iRacing we're put in lots of different high-stress situations with people watching, in long races.

"I know they are too, but I was just, at that point I was [thinking] I'm probably more experienced being on a stage in this kind of situation, so I've just got to focus on hitting my marks, and I'm sure they will come back to me. And a bunch of them did and I finished fourth."

Qualifying for the Shanghai Le Mans Esports Series round is now open. More information can be found at www.lemansesports.com/en/

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