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Rudy van Buren reflects on life at McLaren one year after his esports victory

It is a year to the day since a young kitchen salesman from rural Holland became the first winner of McLaren’s ground-breaking esports programme.

For 26-year-old Rudy van Buren, the past 365 days have been a blur; a whirlwind of interest and activity that have taken him far from Holland and transported him all over the world.

“Emotional rollercoaster are the first words that come to mind,” he says, smiling. “When I was competing a year ago, I just remember a really cool two-week period when I hung out with a lot of fun people. The moment it was announced on the boulevard at the McLaren Technology Centre is something I’ll never forget. And it’s strange how quickly things change: for me now, it just feels normal to walk around there, but I’m still always reminded of that one night.”

First as a finalist, then as the winner, van Buren was catapulted to (sim racing) stardom (“I’ve never received as many messages on my phone as I did when the news broke”). More importantly, just as he had grasped at the life-line to switch from real race cars to virtual ones, Rudy sensed this was another opportunity worth grasping with both hands.

“From sitting at my desk in Holland to becoming a full-time McLaren driver, I can confidently say that I make a living from doing the thing that I love. That’s a very fortunate position to be in, and it’s going to become even better.”

Van Buren was quickly accepted into the extended McLaren family: driving for real in the Race of Champions at the start of the year, and posing alongside Fernando, Stoffel and Lando at the team’s launch in February became regular activities.

“Everybody has been so helpful throughout this whole year,” he admits. “I can’t thank them enough. As a newbie in any company, the first weeks are always a bit tough, but it was just a matter of days before I felt comfortable. I’ve met and worked with a lot of people, but it has been amazing.”

Ask him for his single, defining moment of the year and he’s quick to answer:

“Goodwood Festival of Speed, for sure,” he says, referring to his opportunity to drive Emerson Fittipaldi’s utterly iconic 1974 M23 up the famous hill. “To get the chance to drive such a cool car really proved to me that all that hard work had paid off.”

As attention gathers ahead of December’s prestigious McLaren Shadow semi-finals, Rudy reiterates the mantra he has been giving aspiring gamers all year: practice on the platforms you know you will face, and make sure you enjoy it.

It’s sage advice from one who is wise beyond his years, and he puts his success in the competition down to his ability to remain grounded as the heat of the process was repeatedly turned up.

“You need to focus on being the best overall competitor,” he says. “There are plenty of one-lap-wonder drivers out there, but you need to be the complete package to be successful.”

Good advice. Time to start practicing!