Matthew McEwen – from Palmy to Monaco
If Lockdown has done one thing for the world of motorsport, it's been a massive increase in participation and profile for virtual eSports racing and there have been series all over the world that have popped up to fill the gaps left by real-life series parked up until the pandemic passes. Toyota GAZOO Racing has been at the forefront of that movement, establishing a multiple round championship in the virtual Supra GT that has been taken up globally not only by some of the world's top sim racers but also by drivers new to that code of the sport and of course, by every day racers filling in the time of day.
The PlayStation 4 racers - and those racing on the Gran Turismo platform - have a lot to live up to following the success of Igor Fraga in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series earlier this year and we caught up with one young Kiwi racer who's making his mark in the sim racing world and doing it in considerable style.
Matthew McEwen is just 18 and fresh out of school. He has a modest set up at home and quietly goes about his racing business. The thing is, he's very, very good and currently sits at the top of the table in New Zealand in the Supra GT series, sixth overall in Australasia and is also currently leading the Australia/New Zealand region in the Gran Turismo Nations Cup – the same Championship Igor won in 2018.
He's on the radar of the equipment manufacturers too, and races for the Logitech G Altus Esports team in GT Sport. It's an international team based in Australia that shares tips and strategies working together on track to help get the best results for each other.
We caught up with Matthew to find out a little bit more about him, his sim racing expertise and just why he's one minute faster around the Nurburgring than the rest of us!
Tell us a little about yourself Matthew?
I'm from Palmerston North, I'm 18 and I've just finished school. I've only been in the eSports arena for about a year now. Currently, the only game I play competitively is GT Sport, but I am always considering where I will go in the future.
Have you done any on track racing like karting? How did that all go?
I first did some casual karting when I was about eight years old and got to ride in some child karts at my local indoor karting track. Besides doing that a few times, I was never serious about karting or racing. Skip 10 years forward and the next time I did karting was in Monaco with all of the GT competitors at the World Finals. As you might expect, that went a lot better because I actually had some racing experience from Gran Turismo.
Do you do any other sports away from e-Sports?
I did cricket and tennis in high school, but, unfortunately, I had to drop those once I left school. eSports takes up most of my physical activity now, which I think is a good thing because its great exercise working the wheel and it's surprisingly easy to work up a sweat.
Why do you think you are so good in e-Sports?
I think one of the main reasons I do well in sim racing is because I do a lot of practice. I spend several hours a day churning out different strategies and trying different cars and most importantly, improving my driving accuracy so that I can compete in the next online race. Racing is a sport where practice is literally the only way to get better, besides doing research into how the cars work.
I'm always talking to the best drivers in my region and even other regions such as North America, talking about cars and strategy so I can improve my times and my understanding of racing physics. I remember when I started out on GT Sport. I had no idea what to do, when to refuel, what tyres to use, what cars to use, or how to race cleanly with other people. I was lost without the practice and information I have now.
Sim racers can be very good in real life..many were was amazed how good Igor Fraga was in TRS. Do you believe a lot of the skills are transferrable?
I absolutely think that the skills of racing are transferrable. If we look at the skills of sim racing, which include taking correct racing lines, learning fuel and tyre strategies, throttle control, accurate brake control, etc., we can see that all of these skills are required by real life racers to succeed too.
If you look at a lap at Interlagos driven by a pro GT Sport player, it will be driven along the same path as the pro driver. That, along with the success of Igor Fraga, Matt Simmons and others in real racing championships shows that the skills of sim racing are transferrable to real racing and vice versa.
So have any top line circuit racers ever asked you for e-Sports tips?
I have had the occasional player online ask me for tips. Basically asking what settings I use, what car I use and the pit strategy I'll be using. Basically, casual racers would like to know what the most efficient way to race is, but they don't want to spend hours figuring it all out, which is understandable. I tend to give them what I know and try to offer suggestions based on their skill level. I don't think any real drivers have asked me for tips, but I would love to help welcome real drivers into the virtual world, whenever possible. I think it would definitely help improve their skills.
What makes a good e-Sports driver?
I think one of the main things about eSports that is different to real racing is that there is no risk involved. I can crash 100 times and just teleport back to the pits and try again. This sets the precedent that any eSportsman can try some absurd strategies and really push the limits of what the car can do. A real driver can make a few mistakes every now and then—losing just a few tenths—but an eSports driver needs to drive consistently accurately, always pushing the car to the limit, because we know everyone else is doing the same thing.
What platforms have you raced on and race on now?
I have played Gran Turismo since PS2. I have actually played every Gran Turismo game (although some for just an hour or two), so it's safe to say I've been racing for a long time, even if I only played casually until GT Sport. Currently, I race on the PS4, playing Gran Turismo Sport, where I decided to try pushing out of the casual zone and start becoming more serious about how I race. I'm considering moving to other platforms in the future, but nothing really sticks out at me at the moment.
What about tips for the rest of us Matthew? How do we get as fast as you?
Make sure you drink a good few mouthfuls of water before racing. It’s incredible just how much it clears your mind and helps to think clearly and on the fly if you make a mistake. Also, make sure you get at least 30 mins of practice for every online race you do. Even for casual players, it’s worth it to try to be more practiced, so you can stay on track and avoid race ending mistakes. There’s nothing worse than having to race at the back of the pack due to a silly mistake because you didn’t do any practice.
Tell us about your ‘rig’
So my rig is comprised of the electronics and the structural components: Firstly, the racing wheel I use is the Thrustmaster T-GT. This is an awesome wheel which gives accurate feedback to me so I can figure out how much grip the front tyres have on track. The pedals are the T-GT pedal set, which comes with the T-GT. This was all sent to me by Thrustmaster after I attended the Gran Turismo World Finals in Monaco last year. The structural components of my rig are quite amusing - a computer desk to hold my racing wheel, a bookshelf to support my monitor and... a kitchen chair so I can race. I also have to use pillows so I don't hurt my back while racing. Getting a purpose-built rig is an important but expensive step I plan to take in the future.
The lockdown has been good for e-Sports – that must be satisfying for you in a way?
Yeah, the lockdown really has benefited us in the eSports industry. People have been flocking to eSport games such as IRacing and others in order to get their fix of racing action. GT Sport is also now streaming directly to YouTube. I think it’s a great opportunity to show that online racing can be just as exciting (or even more exciting) than real racing. For me, it brings a silver lining to the quarantine and the virus.
Any brothers or sisters or mates who race?
I had a friend in High School who I talked to regularly about GT Sport. We keep in touch every now and then about upcoming races and how we are enjoying the game.
Who have been your biggest on-line scalps or what's been your biggest victory?
The first time I won a race at the top level on GT Sport, it was a race at a fictional circuit called Sardegna. This was my last good opportunity to score good points in the 2019 Manufacturers Series, so I did perhaps 30 hours of practice over 7 days in order to guarantee I would score as best as I could. In the championship, I needed to win or get second or third in the round in order to qualify for the World Finals. I was able to take the lead on lap 3 and drive away from the others to win, and thus I was able to attend the World Finals. It is probably the biggest victory I’ve ever had.
Most likely my biggest scalp would be in the most recent Nations Cup race at a fictional circuit called Dragon Trail - Gardens. In that race, I knew I had good race pace after lots of practice and qualified 2nd behind Cody Latkovski. In the beginning, I pushed to keep up with his pace until he made a tiny mistake and had to slow down to catch the car. I passed him but then third place (Daniel Holland) made an opportunistic but clean move on both of us, leaving me still in second.
Holland had good pace and opened the gap to me, while Cody fought with those behind in the main pack, losing time. I fought back and caught up to Holland again. Holland decided to race defensively in order to keep first place, slowing us both down. This led to Cody catching back up. Eventually, I made a move up the inside of Holland, but he decided to run me off the road, resulting in me coming back on track and wrecking Holland out of the race - an incident which was entirely his fault. Cody was also caught up in the crash but I managed to get away without losing much time, meaning I was able to finish the race in first because Holland's race was over and Cody couldn't quite catch up. That put me in the lead of the 2020 Nations Cup championship.