“You soon realise that racing drivers are just people: people like us who love racing,” says Broadbent. Even so, he readily admits that he still gets starstruck. “I once overtook Frank Biela in a race, who to me is an icon,” he says. “It was surreal. And I once got hit by Rubens Barrichello!”
His best anecdote, though, comes from a legends event last summer. “Do not hit Emerson Fittipaldi,” Broadbent implored himself – seconds before giving the 1970s icon a ‘punterino’ into the gravel. “That night, I got a call from an unknown number,” he says. “It was Emerson: he actually wanted to apologise, because he thought he had been too slow! I was sitting in my dressing gown with an F1 legend apologising to me. It was absolutely crazy. There have been lots of moments like that when I’ve thought, ‘Is this really happening?’, because beneath it all I’m still just a massive racing fan.”
Such has been this fan’s rise to prominence, though, that this month he began a campaign in Britcar, the UK’s top endurance championship, with the works team of Czech firm Praga.
“Praga’s UK MD called me, and I thought he wanted me to advertise it,” says Broadbent. “When he asked about racing, I asked if he was winding me up!”
Broadbent is by no means the first sim racer to transition to the track. From 2009, Nissan trained several top players of Gran Turismo; and, this year, World’s Fastest Gamer contest winner James Baldwin triumphed on his debut in the British GT Championship. However, Broadbent dubs himself “the first sim racer who got into racing without having been a racer before”. He explains: “I did no racing until I was 26, in a kart race; my first car race was about a month ago, and only in a 130bhp BMW 116i.”
Thus he had to take preparation for the Britcar campaign very seriously. “The main thing is getting myself fit,” he says. “I’ve lost about 10kg. The interesting thing is that my arms are actually okay, because of using a direct-drive gaming wheel, which is so strong.” Indeed, the best of these can generate up to 22lb ft of torque.
Broadbent also ramped up his sim efforts, learning the 380bhp Praga R1T and Britcar tracks the way all top drivers do these days. With help from sponsors, he built a rig worth £7000. “We actually made a car from scratch in the sim to try to emulate the Praga as closely as possible using real data, which was really cool,” he enthuses.