From the virtual to the real thing: Racing with Edgar Lau
Twenty-five year old Hongkonger is proof there is life after video gaming
What started as early morning rendezvous with a Playstation video game has turned into a real-life car racing career for 25 year-old Hong Kong native Edgar Lau. He will be competing in the Macau Grand Prix this weekend in the Guia GT 2.0 race, marking another step in his rapid ascent in competitive racing since turning professional four years ago.
He is one of few drivers in the world, and likely the first from Hong Kong, to make a successful switch from gaming to burning rubber in a real race car.
While many professional drivers such as Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton got their start on the go-kart circuit, Lau’s early racing years were spent on a Playstation game called Gran Turismo. He was nothing if not dedicated — starting at 4 a.m. during primary school.
“My grandma would go swimming at four, so I would just ask her to wake me up. I would play for a couple of hours before my parents got up,” Lau said. “After school, I would start playing again.”
His parents would sometimes hide the Playstation on weekends, but he found ways of keeping up to speed on the virtual track, while keeping his parents in the dark.
“I tried my best not to make them angry,” said Lau.
How it all started
Lau says his interest in racing started when he saw the German Touring Car Championships on television. He had other racing games and the usual boy’s collection of toy cars, but then he discovered Gran Turismo. He said he’s played every edition of the game since it came out in 1997.
“I simply wouldn’t stop,” he said.
Lau went off to study mechanical engineering at San Jose State University in California in 2009 and then got his first real-world driving licence.
“You couldn’t get around without driving a car there,” said Lau. He started looking around for racing schools, but the fees were too high so instead got a volunteer job at a racetrack.
That led to work with specific race teams, helping to refuel cars during endurance races and then moving up to the job of strategist, or deciding when to call in a car for a refuelling pitstop.
Lau earned a racing license in 2012 and drove in a couple of races a year, supplemented by part-time jobs tuning track cars at a workshop and teaching as a racing instructor.
The big one
His break came in 2014 when he was chosen to attend the GT academy, a contest run by Sony and Nissan Motor to give Gran Turismo video game players the chance to become real race-car drivers.
“I’d been trying since 2011 to get into the program where they pick the fastest drivers in the region.”
Lau was among the 12 chosen out of 400,000 applicants in North America for a week-long program in Silverstone, England, that leads to a spot as a race driver for Nissan Pro. He was eliminated on the second to last day. That only encouraged him.
“I was very close to becoming a professional driver, so I thought maybe there was another way to do it.”
Coming so close also won over his parents who are now his big supporters, he said.
Lau won his first big race event, the 25HR of Thunderhill, in 2014. He came back to Hong Kong and clinched second place in a race championship in Zhuhai, China, last year and finished fifth in the Asian Le Mans series in Sepang, Malaysia, this year.
On to Macau
Now it’s Macau, his biggest challenge yet.
Due to a lack of race tracks in Hong Kong, Lau has been training on a simulator.
“The biggest differences are the G-forces, the heat and the surroundings which you can’t get from the game,” he said. But time on the simulator accentuates for improving his senses.
“When you don’t have those feelings you get from racing in real life, your other senses become amplified. So you rely on your eyes and the feedback from the steering wheel to your hands, and that helps when you race on the track.”
Lau’s a late starter to professional racing, but looks to Macau to make his mark and get a spot in the upcoming Asia Le Mans series. Like most professional drivers, his goal is to get sponsorship by a car company.
“Most drivers start when they are 10 to 12; I started when I was 21 so I missed that 11 year gap. I don’t know how much talent (I have), but if I get the chance hopefully people can see the talent in me.”