An opportunity that is not there is not necessarily a reason not to pursue it, as Lee Duncan would likely tell anyone: The Scotsman created his own opportunity through his sim racing passion, which resulted in the very first Esports team officially aligned with a British Touring Car Championship squad. Lee is the team principal – and he wants to go big with it.
Official Esports squads of real racing teams are mostly rooted within GT teams: Numerous teams from competitions like NLS, DTM or GT World Challenge field their own virtual cars, but no BTCC had done so until Team HARD announced their Esports team. “The British Touring Cars are the most popular form of motorsport in the UK by far, and I do not know why other teams have not done this before”, states Lee.
Entering Esports just makes sense to the 42-year-old: “They are all advertising sim rigs, they are all advertising that you can come for an hour or two and race on their rigs and have all the kit, but there is nothing that that they are actually pushing on race days.” This is also a gap that Lee wants to fill with Team HARD and its Esports squad, which will also see real-life BTCC drivers Bobby Thompson, Dan Lloyd and Jack Butel take to the virtual grids.
Aspiring racers are also a focus of Team HARD Esports, “we have an acadaemy and a karting scholarship. Things are looking very promising”, says Lee, who has been with eTeam BRIT in the past, although his sim racing roots run much deeper, as the Scot explains: “I have always played Gran Turismo growing up, but you did not have lobbies like now, you could not race someone from America. So I raced the AI, but I felt there was something special that needed to be pushed.” This hunger for competition eventually pushed Lee to Gran Turismo Sport.
Watching Esports professionals James Baldwin and Lucas Blakeley, who is the son of a friend of Lee’s, he started to think about the competition aspect even more. “Throughout the pandemic, all of the bigger guys set up some fun Esports stuff on Xbox playing Forza. It was all for the fun”, reminisces Lee, who assembled a “massive proposal, about 23 pages long” to approach his favorite BTCC squad – Team HARD.
“If you are going to do it, you do it right. There is no point going to a team that you do not follow or know much about”, states Lee. “I was so passionate and loved what I was doing with Team BRIT.” So Lee approach his favorite team with his proposal, and Team Principal Tony Gilham was on board. “That was in March or April of 2022, and the announcement for the team only came out in February 2023. That shows the amount of work that we had to do”, says Lee.
Now, the plan is for the team to make a name for itself by racing in as many big competitions like events by SRO Esports, VCO, Low Fuel Motorsport, and others. “Our ultimate goal is the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual once it comes around again”, Lee clarifies.
Whether they make it there or not, Lee’s story is remarkable either way – the Scot approached his favorite team as a fan and now manages Team HARD’s Esports endeavors. “I have always followed Team HARD. I just admired them because they are an independent racing team”, Lee explains. “I know what it costs to enter just one car into the touring car season, and the fact that they do that independently – that is bloody awesome.” And sim racing is a perfect fit for it – even a “stepping stone”, as Lee thinks. “It is just so immersive now, there is no difference apart from the setup in your room. There is no tire cost, no fuel cost, the way I see it, it is green as well.”
It is fueled by passion, however, and Lee has plenty of it: “I could not live without sim racing, without being involved in a real team, or racing, or managing. I have got a great group of guys around me.”