David Perel is most often found behind the wheel of Ferrari GT race cars and has become a regular on European sports car grids driving for Rinaldi Racing and Kessel Racing.
But while he waits for this year’s delayed GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS season to start, Perel has been working hard to benefit from the esports boom that has arisen from the current lack of real-world motorsport competition.
As a hardcore sim enthusiast, the London-based South African is using his virtual racing expertise to provide new coaching services and to keep himself sharp during lockdown.
How has the pandemic been affecting your work in motorsport?
“I’m one of the lucky guys because before I was a racing driver, I ran a business, so I have kind of fallen back onto that.
“But I’m combining my sim racing experience, which is pretty extensive, with entrepreneurship and real racing. I’ve been so busy and sleeping the minimum hours a night.
“I’ve created a Coach Dave Academy and that’s been doing really well, so that’s been very exciting.
“It doesn’t replace my desire to be at racetracks, but there are similarities that keep me going. It’s been very fun.”
How did the Coach Dave Academy esports program originate?
“After my last day of testing, which was around March 20, I only had this idea in my head.
“By April 1, I had launched the Coach Dave Academy website. When I was growing up, trying to become a racing driver, I always used simulators from Gran Turismo 1 to now, using more advanced sims like iRacing and Assetto Corsa Competizione.
“I’ve always wanted to blend my passion for real racing with my passion for sim racing and to show that there’s a connection.
“It’s taken off recently. I think that we are in a little bit of a sim racing bubble at the moment.”
How does sim racing contribute to a professional real-world driver’s skills?
“A lot of people say that the tracks and cars in sim racing aren’t exactly the same as in real-life, and I would partially agree.
“But, what you do simulate in a very real way, are your emotions. When you’re in a real car, you’re not as aware of them because your senses are being attacked from various angles, from the noise, the g-forces and the fear factor.
“You can also use sim racing to practice overtaking maneuvers. That’s a very big one.
“You can race every day, and even though you’re playing a computer game it’s still a human on the other side who inputs the other car’s movements.”
You’ve been taking part in all sorts of sim races, including the SRO E-Sport GT Series which started two weeks ago. What opportunities have come from that experience?
“It was incredibly surreal for me. I sell setups for Assetto Corsa on Coach Dave Academy and all of a sudden, I had Jenson Button on WhatsApp asking me for a setup, and the day before the race I was on a call with Charles Leclerc, helping him with his setup!
“In order to chat to Charles, I was put in the Discord with the Ferrari guys, and they’ve kept me there because they want to keep using me for setup stuff, as a development driver.
“It’s nothing formal, but it’s cool to have those discussions and connections. There are faster and younger kids out there, but if I can somehow formally work one day for the brand I grew up loving, that would be an amazing thing for me personally.
“It’s just nice to be in the environment, and who doesn’t like the acknowledgment?”
Moving to your real-world racing career, what led to the switch from the Pro-Am class of GTWC Sprint Cup to the Silver category for 2020?
“My teammate Rinat [Salikhov] is a bronze-ranked driver. He does this for fun and he’s very fast.
“We felt that in Sprint Cup last year, where qualifying is so important, we wouldn’t stand a chance against the full Silver lineups.
“We thought we could do a good job in Pro-Am, because Rinat and myself are very quick at the driver changes. But then they released a rule that limited the pit stop times for Pro-Am, which took away our competitive advantage.
“But it was too late to change back to Silver. What we realized throughout the year was even if we had a bad qualifying, if you took away that pit stop penalty, we would have consistently been in the top five of Silver and maybe could have snuck in some podiums.
“So, we decided this year to take the chance. Rinat wants to level up. He wants to take it more seriously, so based on that we’ve decided to give Silver Cup a shot in both series.”
What are your aims for the season, in both the Sprint Cup and Endurance Cup championships?
“Our expectations last year went from ‘survive the sprints’ to ‘maybe we can get some podiums’.
“If we can get a couple of podiums in Sprint I will be very happy, but I think we can do very well in Endurance because we have Patrick Kujala who’s a proven bullet.
“He’s made the switch to our team. When I started GT racing in 2015, we were in the same Lamborghini team at Rinaldi Racing. He’s a nice guy and gets on with us all.”
You were an early tester of the new 2020-spec Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo. What were your first impressions?
“The step is just amazing, really. It’s not just for myself, but for the gentleman drivers.
“The car feels so much more positive on the front; less understeery. There’s still good rear stability with these new Pirelli tires.
“Rinat made a massive jump in testing, going from a second to half a second off my pace in testing over a year – and that wasn’t me going half a second slower!
“The first test I did was at Paul Ricard at the end of February. Thanks to Michele Rinaldi, we got the first completed Evo kit outside of the United States, with the new gearbox.
“We had two cars at Rinaldi which I tested and two at Kessel which I tested. I was very lucky that the kind of mileage I got this year gave me a good understanding of the differences that the Evo has and how I can maximize them.”