Sim2Reality: An iRacing Champion’s Journey to a Real-life World Title (Part 1)

Glenn McGee is one of the sim racing world’s brightest examples of what a talented virtual driver can do with the right real-world opportunities. After kicking off his real-world career in Global Mazda MX-5 Cup cars—a result of winning a globally contested championship on iRacing’s platformMcGee landed a Lamborghini Super Trofeo ride for the first time in 2023 and parlayed it into a Super Trofeo world championship victory at Vallelunga earlier this year. The triumph made him the first eSports and iRacing champion to earn an FIA-sanctioned world title in real-world motorsport.

In part one of this two-part interview, McGee dishes on his years-long journey to get to Super Trofeo, from near-miss opportunities to performing under pressure in test sessions to land his current ride, to training his teammate Anthony McIntosh, and even balancing the Super Trofeo and MX-5 at Watkins Glen earlier this year:

First things first: congratulations on winning the Lamborghini Super Trofeo title for 2023! What does it mean to you to become the first iRacing champion to win an FIA-sanctioned World Title?

That was an amazing moment because I don’t know if I ever dreamed of that moment. I’ve been doing sim racing for 20 years now— I’m like one of the older gamers at this point, or one of the guys who used to be an “alien,” (I call myself a wizard now!) but I’ve been in sim racing for so long and on so many platforms. I really developed through iRacing as one of the few guys that had to develop here because they have no money, can’t even go on a go kart track. To develop all these skills that I have on iRacing, and then get these opportunities through iRacing—and it still was like touch and go there because it’s hard to build up the energy to get all the way up to that that moment—but to be the first to win a world championship in eSports and in real life, that’s a really special moment and I’ll remember that forever. It’s just… I can’t believe we’re here now.

For those who don’t know you well, what’s your racing background up to now? How did the opportunity to move into Super Trofeo come about this season, and how much of an adjustment was it versus the cars you’ve raced in the past?

Yeah, this is my first time in racing professionally in a GT level car. I won in global competition on iRacing and got the opportunity to race in MX-5 and did a year of that. And then I worked in that space, not really driving, so I had a couple of years off, but I got to test with Andretti for Indy Lights in 2019—I got a really great deal to run Indy Lights for basically nothing, and then COVID hit and the whole year got lost.

Once you get the car is one thing, to stay in the car is another thing, right? You have to be determined to get there, and it’s maybe even harder to stay there. So there was a big lull where I wasn’t driving. I had like a one off race here and there in 2017, 2018. 2019 I didn’t drive at all, and when I got that opportunity to do Indy Lights the series got destroyed by COVID. So I was just trying to work in the industry and build my value up as a driver outside of doing data, just trying to understand engineering on the car more and working with teams. And it’s been like a video game the whole time.

I’ve been sim-coaching at my own company called Sim2Pro, training real life drivers mostly, and I also take drivers from virtual to reality. There was a driver that I’ve been training from scratch that was involved with a team and some other drivers, and he brought me out to a test just to kind of observe. We were with a pro driver that had won the 12 hours of Sebring and 24 hours of Daytona and a GT4 car and I’d never driven that on his track with his setup. And these two drove for two days and this guy’s coaching them, but they all kind of were just kind of running out of lap time. And they said, “Hey, why don’t we put Glenn in the car?”

I’ve never driven the car. And there’s a 12 hour winner, 24 hours Daytona winner, an established program, and within seven laps I was on his pace. And then on my ninth lap I was a second quicker than the pro, and they were just like “what the hell?” They were looking a little disappointed about it! But I swear it’s been a never-ending battle of like, “here’s some guy that is way more experienced than you and has way more experience in the car, and he’s going to destroy you. See what you can do.” And then I have to be on, and I can’t wreck the car. I had to be fast. I get zero seat time, you know, worst case scenarios. And there have been multiple scenarios like that where I actually got to drive. So these teams kind of saw, okay, you can throw this guy in a car and he’ll be instantly fast.

And so I kind of got that reputation going, and I put that down to my sim racing adaptability. I think there are some drivers who are programmed to be fast, and there’s other pro drivers that are adaptable, and then there’s a mix of that too, right? And I’m probably heavy on the adaptable side. But anyway, one of the teams had a Super Trofeo car they wanted to run. I had been training a driver named Anthony McIntosh on iRacing, who runs MX-5 with me as well, and we both got an opportunity to jump in that car. We did a test with like 15 drivers, and they had another pro there that was one of the top pros. I was on pace with him on the old tire, and then they switched to the Hankook, which the entire the series switched to and everybody has kind of had to adapt to that. I was like four tenths quicker in that, so instantly the team offered a good deal for us to get in the car.

It can look like a one off deal, but it’s actually the build up of many bosses I’ve been going up to in this video game of life that I’m playing and barely winning out. And at any moment, the game could end, because I could wreck the car, but so far it’s been very fortunate. I’ve been very lucky to come out on top on these tests. You start to build up a reputation and it’s very slow, it takes years, and it could end at any moment. But once you get some solid inertia going on, then it really starts to snowball. And it’s been interesting lately—it’s starting to snowball much quicker now that I’m getting some steam behind me.

How did you use iRacing to prepare for the season—not only with the switch into a new kind of car, but also as you were recovering from surgery?

That’s funny you asked about that—I keep forgetting it. It was broken actually. [McGee broke his wrist after hitting the wall during the 2023 MX-5 Cup race at Daytona.] Thanks for reminding me! Just more adversity to overcome. We had a joke with Ghost Rider Squad, they handle a lot of the sponsorship stuff, and they pretend like my hand got completely obliterated and they replaced it with a Terminator hand.

But yeah, that was really hard. Like I had the most fun race in the MX-5. I trained on iRacing like crazy, trained Tony on Sim2Pro, and was an amazing race. I want to do Daytona again just because this race is so amazing. I mean we’re going 150 miles an hour and it’s not what it’s made to do! But I obliterated my hand on the last lap, went to the hospital—passed out on the banking by the way. Had surgery, just kind of hung around with the pain, just took Advil, really, which is kind of weird. Broke my hand on Sunday, got surgery on Tuesday. He was a surgeon that works on professional baseball players in Tampa, so I got hooked up with that from some of my people in Tampa. And I’m like, “okay, so I’ll race in three weeks because I have a race.” And they’re like, “No, you’re going to race in three months.” I’m like, “Yeah, but you’re going to sign me off the race in three weeks in St. Petersburg,” and they’re like, “No.” And I just kept disbelieving that, right? So I missed St. Pete, completely destroyed my MX-5 Cup season, but it was good because it put my focus on Lamborghini and I didn’t have a race for Lamborghini until three months out.

My hand didn’t even work. My nerves were just kind of inflamed and so it was hard to grip anything. So I actually used iRacing and the force feedback as PT for my hand because I needed to do PT. I still can’t move my wrist all the way back, but I needed to move it far enough back so that I could get full lock on the steering wheel. So I used it for PT and to see if I was going to be able to drive in real life. The first month I was almost useless, but I needed to be able to catch the car in the sim—like I cannot have a delay in catching the car or I will wreck the car. So I do not want to get in a real car unless I can catch the car in the sim. And that probably took like a month to where I had the mobility to catch the car. That told me I was ready from that standpoint, but then I had to build up the strength and I think it just kind of helped get my muscles and nerves back to where they understood what they were supposed to do.

So it was interesting to use the sim as a PT device, and to see if I was ready to get back in the real car. If I get back in too early and I wreck the car my career is over, right? That’s my one rule. I pretend if I wreck the car, my career is over, so I have a different set of rules that I play with. So I’m playing with a cast on, basically, and I can’t do a whole lot. About three months in, I actually went for a world record on Charlotte in the fourth hour and managed to get it and I was like, “All right, well I can still sim race!” I don’t get to sim race much anymore because I’m on the road all the time, so it was fun to try some stuff.

The reason why I broke my hand is I don’t lose a car very often, and I will try and save the car as you would in the sim all the way to the wall. It was the impact of the wheel that broke my hand. And it’s so funny, like in the sim, before I would just hit the wall and I’d stare at it. Now, even on the sim I’m scared, and I take my hands off the wheel. At least I have that reflex now!

My first Super Trofeo test came, and I thought I’d be scared. I was, kind of, but when you get back in it, you’re in a different brain, you know, race brain. So I was on it. I actually turned traction control off in the car on the first day because it was so annoying to me. I was completely confident in the car, pushed the car, was absolutely on pace with the very top guys back. The car made sense to me. I think the harder the car is to drive, the more I like it, and the more I have the ability to do.

And what’s really cool about this car—in the MX-5, the draft is super important, which is super interesting, right? And it makes it more of a NASCAR kind of race in a way. But the Lambo has zero draft. If I’m very fast in the MX-5, it doesn’t matter because people just hang on to the draft and it becomes more of a fistfight. When you’re in the Lambo, you have to save the car like crazy and you also have to actually be very smooth in the car to be fast. And then you have way too much horsepower and way too small of tires, and that’s like a perfect scenario for me. So I think there was a perfect storm going on there.

Long story short, I PTed with iRacing to evaluate if I was ready for the real car, and then the transition to Super Trofeo was fun. It was like when I went to the iRacing MX-5 Shootout, I was the fastest guy right off the bat. I’ve been trained so much in professional eSports that I have that competitive kind of switch that turns on, zone out mode. Then you’re just evaluating what the car can do and you’re just trying to break the physics on the car. And the result is the result, so you just go corner by corner in that. That’s the only way you can do it because otherwise you’re stressed out.

Going through your Super Trofeo season here stateside, you and your teammate Anthony McIntosh were incredibly consistent. You started off with multiple podiums before winning five races in a row across the last three events. What was it about the PPM team that just clicked well this year?

Anthony’s journey is interesting in that he had Lyme disease and was hospitalized, couldn’t even see at one point. And he came out of it after COVID and he couldn’t do anything but sim race, so he connected with me on that. I’m a sim to reality driver, but he is kind of a protege of mine in a way—he had never raced before, and I trained him purely on iRacing as an older gentleman. He’s not like a bunch of other racers where we’ve trained early on with sim racing or competed at the highest level in eSports. It’s been so important to his development and so I consider him a sim to reality driver in that respect.

I think we were careful the first couple of races. We didn’t have the setup where we wanted it yet. It got better, but we didn’t have it where we wanted until later in the year. I was fine, I just managed it how I did. One big thing for me is I try and take care of the car and the tires, and try and get the result. But the car is very scary for everybody. I was explaining to Tony how I drove the car, which is opposite of how they tell you to drive the car. I drive the car with a lot of maintenance throttle, and whether in the sim or anywhere else, that’s probably my number one speed secret. I use it in certain ways and it actually makes the car faster.

Once he started to understand how I was driving the car, it helped him drive it faster, but safer at the same time. And he’s actually very aggressive, because in the MX-5, that’s the most aggressive racing you can do, so that was fine. Everybody has struggled to get in this car because it’s just so crazy. It’s faster than a GT3 car, but it doesn’t have any tires on it, it doesn’t have the same downforce. It’s a lot more difficult in a lot of ways. So I think most of it was just getting him over that.

iRacing helped with that because we could train—I would set up a car to be difficult on purpose and punish him if he got things wrong, so that we could train in a way on the sim that he’d understand how to drive it. And then it was a matter of getting on the real track, and understanding “Hey, this is okay if I drive it like this.” You do it like that long enough, he builds up the confidence and now we’re good to go. And then we were we were really on a tear from there. We were getting perfect pit stops. He’s really good in traffic, and that’s from MX-5. So I think it was more building the confidence. We used the sim for understanding how we’re supposed to be driving the car, and the rest came from seat time.

You also had the opportunity to run both the Super Trofeo and MX-5 on the same weekend at Watkins Glen. What’s it like for a driver to have to bounce between two very different cars and series in the same weekend?

That’s interesting, actually. They couldn’t be more different cars, other than if one was front wheel drive. People don’t understand how difficult the MX-5 is—because the stance is so wide and the wheelbase is so short, it’s a very tricky car to drive because the rear end wants to step out on you all the time. The Lambo has a longer wheelbase, but it’s crazy fast with zero tire on it and very little aero, so it’s way too fast for the tires. With both the MX-5 and the Trofeo you’re saving the car so that’s similar but the driving is totally different—with the horsepower you actually have to worry about power down.

I think all of the adaptable sim drivers are like that, like jumping from car to car and being quick. And I used to jump around, start the back of field in the in the Skip Barber car and the GT3 car and just kind of have fun doing that. And it wasn’t too dissimilar from that. But what was cool is I could learn a lot of details in the MX-5 about the track. Every little detail in the track matters because you’re just trying to maximize the engine. And that kind of helped me understand that maybe were some places on the track that I learned in the MX-5 that I could take advantage of in the Trofeo.

Really, it was just getting used to the speed. You accelerate out of the pits and your eyes vibrate, and I actually started looking at the rearview or side mirror when I exit the pit. Because if you don’t look way down the road or you look at the wrong spot, you’re vibrating so much, you’ll get sick! That kind of acceleration is a huge difference. And then you’re going 110, 120, maybe 130, in the MX-5, but you’re going 170, 180 in the Trofeo. So there are huge differences. But for me it’s ultimately a car with four wheels and an engine. Whatever the physics are on the car, whether it’s a sim or a real car, I’m trying to—I call it breaking the physics, even though you’re not, but trying to push them. What can I get away with? What does the car like? What does it not like?

The funniest and most difficult thing was I would end the MX-5 Cup race, pull the car in the pits, jump out of the car, and then have to run down the pre grid with all the fans and everything, pass all the other cars, and then try and belt into the Lambo while the other guys are leaving and I’m all nervous. So I’d have to belt down the pit lane. You would see video of my teammates on pre-grid and you’d see me run by both their cars. So I put out a text that said “I passed you before the race even started!” (laughs) But physically it was hard. I’m in pretty good shape, but obviously you don’t train for that on the sim.

I think adaptability has always been my strength (and my weakness in some respects) in sim racing. But in racing it typically is an advantage because tires are always changing and you’re being thrown in different cars. Mainly for me, as long as I kind of have an idea of where I want to brake, everything else just kind of flows from there.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!