• Hugo Allan.

Hugo Allan – Online F1 iRacing puts motor racing career on track

North Shore teenager Hugo Allan is breaking ground in the racing world. In a so far unusual move, the Takapuna Grammar School student has made the transition from online racing games to the real deal, with immediate success.

His first real motor racing outing, beyond the computer in his Milford bedroom, saw Hugo exceed expectations, surpassing seasoned drivers in a Toyota 86 racing field in Taupo. And his impressive introduction to real-life racing has already led to a drive with The Heart of Racing team in a new Toyota 86 for the coming season. It’s a young gamer’s dream come true.
The 17 year-old began playing simulator car racing games, known in the gaming world as sim racing, just three years ago. Starting out on the popular F1 game played by millions of gamers all over the world, he enjoyed the competition and found himself wanting more.
“F1 isn’t really a simulator game. The races are realistic enough for you to develop the basic skills, but I moved onto iRacing, which is definitely harder!”
iRacing allows gamers to compete from a driver’s perspective, rather than from the spectator’s viewpoint of the F1 games. As a result, Hugo had his eyes on some kit that would further simulate the feeling of being in the driving seat.
“I really wanted to buy this one Logitech steering wheel and pedals. Dad bought it for me for Christmas and that started everything really,” Hugo says.
“I was racing all the time. I started racing competitively on the F1 sims [simulator games]. I was so committed to it. Then I switched to the PC platform, which is much more competitive and more realistic. We tweaked my rig, over time, to make it even more realistic and to replicate what it would be like racing in real life.”
His move into motorsport from online gaming is innovative. “It’s a bit different from what people tend to think is the right path to take. Usually, people would get into karting, then Formula 4, or something similar.
“I like to think I’ve inspired other sim racers; showing them that it’s possible to transition from sim racing onto the track. There are a lot of Australian and Kiwi sim racers I have met online, and they intend to do the same thing as I have now too. They now know that it’s possible.”
Auckland-born Hugo tried karting briefly, during his time living in Queenstown, when he visited the Southland Karting Club in Invercargill. He says he used to enjoy driving his Dad Ross’s Toyota Hilux around the paddock before he moved back up to Auckland, to Milford, in 2019 with his mum Sara. Two of his three older sisters live and work overseas, while the youngest studies veterinary nursing in Southland.
Dad Ross was a pro-am racer, competing until 2004 in Porsches, including in the GT3 Cup in New Zealand and Australia. He is keen to point out, as is Hugo, that he hasn’t pushed his son into the sport. Ross says, “I have always been interested in cars. I remember Hugo sitting in the driver’s seat of one of the Porsche racing cars, aged about four or five, and he showed no real interest in it whatsoever! He wasn’t one of those car-crazy kids.”
Several years later, Ross took Hugo to Hampton Downs, where he showed an interest in go-karting.
“Then, relatively recently, he got into sim racing online. I was unsure how he could possibly translate sim racing to the real world, but he said he wanted to give it a go. The only way we were going to find out how good he was on a real track was to put him in a race car.”
So, they did. In April this year, Hugo stepped out from behind his PC and took to the track. Choosing to try his hand in the Toyota 86, a popular first step for new drivers, Hugo got behind the wheel for real, travelling to Taupo to compete in a car his dad leased for the occasion.
Ross says, “I spent the equivalent cost of a new Hilux in taking Hugo from assessments at the Hampton Downs Racing Academy and then leasing and running the Toyota 86 in the Taupo round.  
“Given the results he achieved, his professionalism and commitment, that investment in Hugo’s motorsport would have to be one of my best spends ever, and I’m understandably very proud of him.”
Year 12 student Hugo says, “I didn’t expect to jump straight into this car for my first race!
“All the cars in the Toyota 86 Championship are exactly the same, which is good when you’re trying to figure out how good you are as a driver. You can’t blame the car – the races are purely based on driver ability.”
Getting behind the wheel on the Taupo track was a very different proposition to being behind the simulator wheel in the comfort of his North Shore home. “I was very nervous sitting on the grid for the first time. That’s when the nerves were at their peak. I was pretty shaky!
“In qualifying, I made P5 (position five) on the grid. I was stoked with that! All I wanted was to make the top ten, and even that I thought was probably asking a bit much.”
He was right to back himself. His first race went well – he finished in seventh place overall. “I was happy to get through the first race,” he says. “The pace was good. It was a nice drive. I was happy with how quickly I went and how my times developed over the weekend.
“Each day we went a second faster and we were right on the pace of the other drivers.”
Hugo started in a top ten grid position for each of his three races and managed to claw back significant ground in race two after experiencing some of the jostling that goes with the motor racing territory. Hugo says, “When there are faster, more experienced drivers behind you, they can be very aggressive – they want to get through!
“I got caught up in a couple of incidents and it took me by surprise a bit. That was my lack of race experience. In a way though, it was nice, because it allowed me to experience that car contact for the first time and get that out of my system.”
Despite the knocks, he started the third and final race at tenth on the grid and moved up a couple of places against some stiff competition, finishing eighth. “The whole weekend was really good because of all the things I learned. I got all of that race ‘BS’ out of my system! And I’m happy that I had the opportunity to do that.”
Hugo is also very happy with what followed: a seat in a car run by The Heart of Racing. He was selected as one of THoR’s three young Kiwi drivers for the Toyota 86 Championship season ahead. He will join 20 year-old karting dynamo Rianna O’Meara-Hunt and Chelsea Herbert, a 22 year-old returning to the track after breaking her back in a crash last year.
Hugo says, “THoR and International Motorsport, who are running my car, provide an unparalleled combination of experience for which I’m incredibly grateful. I also acknowledge Toyota’s commitment to motorsport.”
The considerable support that The Heart of Racing gives to Starship Foundation is also important to Hugo, particularly given his mum Sara used to work as a nurse at the children’s hospital.
As well as keeping up with all his necessary Takapuna Grammar schoolwork, lockdown has given Hugo plenty of time to hone his racing skills online at least, but not on the track.
“Over lockdown, I’ve put myself on a UK time zone. I thought I would change time zones so I could compete in some of the British Touring Car sim racing against some of the best UK sim racers. I just enjoy it and I have plenty of time on my hands, so why not!”
Hugo’s new Toyota 86 is lying in wait, and he can’t wait to get back on track, on four wheels, when the new championship season is allowed to get underway. “I’m super grateful for the opportunity,” he says. “I just want to get out there and make the absolute most of it and do that absolute best I can.”