In the newest edition of our Questions series, we interviewed Marko Stipp Motorsport’s rookie driver Miguel Gomes as we asked the first full-time Portuguese NASCAR driver on topics related to his sim racing background and the public reception of his debut in EuroNASCAR.
Over the last decade, sim racing has proved to be a viable way to launch a driver’s racing career. A key advantage of sim racing is the fact that it provides a safe and a cheap option for motorsport fans to drive their favorite race cars on their favorite racetracks. In addition, the technology in sim racing has progressed to a point where the games can accurately simulate the experience of competing in an actual race car, allowing sim racing to become a legitimate training option for aspiring drivers and pro talents.
Drivers such as Jann Mardenborough, William Byron, and Josh Berry has showcased the potential of drivers that made their first major foray to racing via sim racing. For Mardenborough, he enjoyed a successful career in GP3, Formula 3, and Super GT after winning Gran Turismo’s GT Academy competition in 2011. For Byron, the skills he had honed in iRacing from a very young age allowed his quick rise from the regional series to the NASCAR Cup Series in the mid 2010’s. For Berry, his performance in iRacing impressed Dale Earnhardt Jr. enough that he was signed to be part of JR Motorsports, a partnership that led to his victory in the Xfinity race at Martinsville earlier this year.
One driver that is making the transition from the virtual world to reality in 2021 is 41-year old Portuguese driver Miguel Gomes, who is making his first full-time foray into racing as the driver of Marko Stipp Motorsport’s No. 46 SimThunder Chevrolet in NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. With decades of experience on various sim racing games before his EuroNASCAR debut, Gomes is hoping that his sim racing experience would allow him to achieve success in the real world of motorsport.
His participation in EuroNASCAR meant that he is set to become the first full-time Portuguese driver in NASCAR. Given the recent rise of popularity for motorsport in Portugal thanks to the success of fellow Portuguese racers Antonio Felix da Costa and Miguel Oliveira, Gomes carries the tough task of becoming a trailblazer that could inspire future Portuguese drivers to compete in NASCAR.
Given Gomes’ rather unusual background and his groundbreaking journey in the sport, we have reached Gomes to ask several questions on his sim racing background, his status as Portugal’s first full-time NASCAR driver and hopes for the future of the sport in Portugal.
What was the first sim racing game that you played and what got you interested in it?
“First sim racing game I played was F1 Grand Prix by MicroProse. I was already a racing fan and what interested me was it’s amazing 3D graphics and how realistic that game was for that time! I would mimic the real F1 racing weekends as best as I could. But the racing title that means more to me is NASCAR Racing 2003 by Papyrus, that was the one where I started my online racing career.”
When did you discover NASCAR and why did you find the sport to be appealing? I imagine it must be tough to find live broadcasts for NASCAR in Portugal back in the day…
“I discovered NASCAR in the mid 90’s, we didn’t have live broadcasts here in Portugal but we had full race replays in one of our tv channels. What fascinated me was the close racing, never knowing what would happen until the last lap, the constant battles and contact and also the cars, their colors and sounds. I was always a great show to watch and then there was the movie Days of Thunder that made me an even bigger fan of NASCAR.”
How much do you think experience in sim racing translates to on-track performance when making the switch to real racing, be it in NASCAR or in other forms of motorsport?
“I believe sim racing can help a lot in terms of preparation for real racing, specially when you can practice in the same track and similar car. It can also help in terms of the focus needed in close racing and to improve your race craft and mentality. Being a good sim racer doesn’t mean that you’ll be a good real racer but for sure can help you be better prepared. The opposite is also true, being a good real racer doesn’t mean you’ll be a good sim racer, considering the differences between mastering both.”
What are the key differences in driving a virtual NASCAR stock car on the simulator with driving an actual NASCAR stock car on the track?
“The key difference is that when driving a virtual stock car you only rely on visual and sound feedback but the real one gives you a lot of feedback in your body. In the virtual you don’t feel so much the speed and the cornering forces as in the real one, so you are usually always much closer to the limit (or above it ahah). In the real one you need to get used and comfortable with that much higher speed feeling and that strong feedback that your body gives.”
Many drivers that made the transition from sim racing to actual race cars did their transition at a much younger age than yours. Do you think it’s preferable to make the transition at a younger age or do you think it’s something that anyone can do regardless of age?
“The first time I raced in a real car I was 27, after I did the ASCAR rookie tests in the 1.5 mile oval at Rockingham (UK) and had to race in Portugal to get an EU license. The younger the better but I believe at any age you can make that transition if you have enough passion. That’s the key to always want to learn and improve.”
Something that intrigues me on your debut weekend at Valencia is that you hosted an exclusive, behind the scenes broadcast of your personal view from the pits during the second EuroNASCAR PRO race at Valencia on your Twitch channel. Is it something that you plan to do in the future races as well?
“Yes for sure, I’m still a rookie when it comes to live streaming but I really enjoy being able to share both the real and the virtual racing moments with others. Would love to stream live on board from the real car too, but since that it’s not possible I’ll keep doing some behind the scenes broadcasts during the real racing events.”
How well was the reception by the public in Portugal when it was announced that you will be making your full-time debut in EuroNASCAR this year?
“It was a very good reception, I got lot’s of support messages in social media and I discovered a lot of Portuguese NASCAR fans in the process. I hope to discover more as the news of my participation continue to spread.”
What’s your opinion on your status as Portugal’s first full-time NASCAR driver? Is it a status that you embraced or is it something that may become a hindrance in the future?
“It’s like a dream come true, considering NASCAR is my big passion since I was a child. I’m happy to be the first Portuguese in a official NASCAR season and at the same time hope that I’ll have other Portuguese drivers joining me in Euro NASCAR in the future.”
With the recent successes of your fellow countrymen Antonio Felix da Costa and Miguel Oliveira in Formula E and MotoGP respectively along with your status as the first Portuguese full-time driver in NASCAR, do you think there will be an increase in following for motorsport in the future within the Portuguese public?
“Yes, that’s what I hope at least regarding NASCAR. NASCAR is not so well known in Portugal, compared to other motorsports, but I hope my participation will help grow the interest in NASCAR among the Portuguese race fans.”
To any aspiring future Portuguese racers that wanted to give a shot at competing in NASCAR, is there any advice that you will say to them?
“If you have enough passion go for it! It’s a great series and those cars are really fun to drive. The costs are not that high if you compare with other series, even at a National level, plus it can open doors if you dream to race in the US. If it’s your dream plan on how to achieve it and don’t give up.”
Disclaimer: Unless noted, all photos used in this article are courtesy of Michael Großgarten and/or Bart Dehaese under permit from Marko Stipp Motorsport.