From the sim to the seat – Yvonne Houffelaar
It’s the dream of many sim racers to climb into a real race seat, and the opportunities to do that are slowly growing for the sim racing elite. Rudy Van Buren working with McLaren, James Baldwin competing in the British GT Championship, both coming through the Worlds Fastest Gamer program, Lukas Blakeley and Brendon Leigh both driving single-seater machinery following their success in F1 esports, Jimmy Broadbent managed to win two races in the Praga cup in 2021, alongside Jem Hepworth, and later his racing mentor, Gordie Mutch. As incredible as their successes are, one young lady is forging her own path through some very difficult challenges, to add her name to the small list of sim racers who have journeyed from the sim to the seat.
Born and bred in the Netherlands, Yvonne Houffelaar has not had the easiest start in life. From a young age, she was diagnosed with Scoliosis, which is a condition that affects the spine, causing it to twist and curve to the side. This resulted in surgery at 13 years of age, which sadly has left Yvonne with very little sense of feeling, and mobility, in her legs. Despite this, Yvonne was karting from the age of 7 and gained her racing license by the age of 15, however by the time Yvonne was 18 years old, during testing for the Suzuki Swift cup, the disability had gotten to the point where racing was becoming more difficult, meaning that not only was Yvonne uncompetitive as there was a lack of adaptations available to assist racing in her condition, but racing would leave her in a great deal of pain, so Yvonne made the very difficult decision to stop racing.
The passion for racing never ceased, however, and in just 10 years from when Yvonne made the decision to stop racing, sim racing has gone some way to fill the void, working her way up to joining the GTWR R8G Academy, a team partnered with Romain Grosjean’s R8G Esports team. She joined the team as she was determined to learn and improve, so a search for teammates began, and her call for support was answered by Giorgio Simonini and Alethea Boucq. Since October 2020, Yvonne’s sim racing prowess has grown from strength to strength, and she still races under their banner today, Yvonne now manages the GTWR R8G Academy Female Racing Team, and she even found love when she met her now partner Sophie Aeronwen through the academy. It was seeing Sophie play Gran Turismo Sport that started the focus towards the real racing seat again. Whilst iRacing and ACC were more esports focused, playing GTS with Sophie was more aimed at having some fun, but the racing instinct and the will to win is never far away, and by December 2021, Yvonne and Sophie had teamed up with eTeam Brit, the esports arm of Team Brit who strive to be the first-ever all-disabled team to compete in the 24 hours of Le Mans. eTeam Brit teamed up with SimSport Solutions International to bolster their sim racing profile, as Steve Proudly from SSRI explains.
Simsport Solutions is directly involved with eTeam Brit as an esports team to try and raise the profile of the team within the esports world. One of the ways we are doing this is to partner the team with SSRI an established community with regular races on different platforms. The sim racer to real racer is another way to try and boost the profile while it’s also a fantastic project as it’s every sim racer’s dream to race real world, able-bodied or disabled, and hopefully, this will demonstrate a level playing field. All of the above is required to chase sponsorship to keep the esports project alive and give opportunities to some who otherwise may not get them
Yvonne now has her sights set on competing in the 750 Motor Club Endurance series in a VW Scirocco for this year, with a BritCar race planned for October. The plan following that is a full season of BritCar next year in the VW Scirocco. Whilst Yvonne is a true role model, not just a woman driver in a male-dominated industry, both in sim racing and real racing, but overcoming the huge challenges presented by her disability. She is very keen to show the value of diversity in racing, and with the right support, anything is possible.