There will be a new name on the timing screens for Round Nine of the W Series Esports League this Thursday as Charlie Martin joins the grid for the Nürburgring. We caught up with the British racing driver to find out more.
Have you driven on the Nürburgring Nordschleife before?
Yes, in fact I was driving there last weekend. This season I’ve been competing in the NürburgringEndurance Series (formerly known as VLN). You have to take a permit course to drive there, which I did back in March, just before the season had been scheduled to start, but then lockdown kicked in. We eventually got racing in mid-June. It’s such a rush driving there with all the traffic – the series has 20 different classes, and 150 cars racing on a 25km circuit (it’s the Nordschleife and the GP circuit combined). It’s wild really. Racing there is like nothing else. There’s no margin for error.
What made you choose to guest-drive in the W Series Esports League at Nordschleife, and why that circuit in particular?
As much as anything it was a logistical decision as I’m currently without a PC at home. I’ve been having to practise – an hour here and there – on a mate’s sim locally, so I knew I could only take part in the W Series Esports League when I was able to use my mate’s sim. But, also, I thought it would tie in nicely with the experience I’ve had driving at the real-life track this season. I think the on-track time I’ve had there will be helpful in the sense that I know the circuit now – I can drive it in my head with my eyes closed. But it will be different in a formula car, because there’s so much more downforce.
How much sim racing experience do you have?
When I was growing up I played a lot of Gran Turismo and other games like that, which is how I first became interested in racing. Then towards the end of last year I did some commentating work with Forza on X-Box, over in LA, and that was when I first realised how big an industry esports is. I came back thinking I need to get myself a sim, so I put something really basic together, and I’ve been adding to it ever since.
When lockdown happened, Formula E approached me and lent me a whole rig, which I did over 200 hours on. I was racing against professional sim racers, so having to work really hard to keep up with them, as well as dealing with the uniqueness of the Formula E car and getting to grips with the street circuits, which were all new to me.
I’m really interested in sim racing but I’ve come to it as somebody who didn’t have a sim this time last year. The biggest challenge is not having the visceral, physical inputs that you get with a car in the real world. Also, it can be frustrating with sim racing, for example in the lower levels of Gran Turismo, when people just crash into you all the time. You go out in qualifying and get a really good time, you’re at the front of the grid, then someone rear-ends you. Compared to the physical world, there are no real repercussions for the mistakes you make in sim racing.
Have you raced against any of the W Series drivers in on-track racing?
I don’t think so. I know I’ve been driving at the Nordschleife when Beitske Visser has been driving on the track too, but that was a test day.
You’re an ambassador for Racing Pride – how important is the work that organisations like them are doing?
I think incredibly important. Historically, motorsport has very little diversity. W Series is encouraging more women and girls to get into motorsport, but until recently there had been nothing
that addressed the question of diversity and inclusion in motorsport. I know from my own experience, and from chatting with other LGBTQ+ drivers, that there were no role models for us growing up. I never saw a transgender person racing. When you don’t see someone who represents you in the field you’re aspiring to be a part of, it sends out a very strong message. When you’re young and impressionable, you need to feel that the things you care about are achievable, even if they seem very far away. If you don’t have a role model who represents you, it makes you feel like you can’t be yourself.
Improving LGBTQ+ visibility and increasing awareness and acceptance is a simple mission but it’s a powerful thing to try and achieve.
Have you received any criticism?
I don’t get much backlash, no, but the most common comment I see is: ‘Why does this matter? Why do you have to talk about your sexuality or your gender identity? If you’re fast, you’re fast.’ It’s very easy for someone who hasn’t faced the barriers and adversity that people in minority groups face to say that, because they’ve never had to question if they’ll be accepted.
I don’t think that being transgender is the most important thing about me, nor does it define me, but I’m proud of who I am and if I can help other people find their future by being visible then it’s important to take on that role.
I’ve had a really positive reaction in motorsport, which is in itself an important fact to share. It’s reassuring for people in other sports, and other careers in general, to see that a transgender person has been accepted in motorsport. It might make them feel empowered to be who they are in whichever industry they are in.
To find out more about the W Series Esports League, visit our esports league page.