Youngsters today don’t idolise entertainers and sportsmen in the way that previous generations did. The unprecedented expansion of the internet into every aspect of life has given them many more ways to entertain themselves and find their heroes. Car lovers who grew up in the 1980s, for instance, would have to wait to be presented, once a week and for but an hour, Top Gear or World of Sport. People growing up now can effortlessly find practically endless content on any subject that interests them, and at literally any time.
Hundreds of people today make a full-time living by attracting an online audience, and such is their popularity that they’re now making the transition into what one might call reality. Among the most prominent is Olajide ‘KSI’ Olatunji, who has gone from making videos about football video games to smashing the viewing record for a white-collar boxing match and scoring a string of top 40 pop hits. Heck, you can now even go to watch Hashtag United, a football team founded for online exhibition matches, play in England’s ninth tier.
The total accessibility of the internet means that fame can be found from anywhere, which is why the biggest online idol for those of a motorsport persuasion is a 29-year-old from Hastings who broadcasts from a glorified shed in his mum’s garden. “I’ve been playing racing games since I can remember,” Jimmy Broadbent tells us. “Then when I got a job, I discovered that I could spend all my money on toy steering wheels. I bought my first proper set-up in 2012, and it was absolutely my jam.”
He soon started uploading footage of his hobby to YouTube. “Back then, it was just really fun to meet other people with the same hobby,” he explains, “because there wasn’t really anyone to talk to outside online forums.” And after a few years of honing his skills, ‘Sheddie Irvine’ started to live-stream his fun as well. It remained a hobby as his following grew slowly – before exploding.
After reaching 10,000 YouTube subscribers in 2017, Broadbent can now count almost 700,000, having welcomed more than half of them since March last year. “People were getting more interested in sim racing even before the pandemic; we saw Formula 1 drivers use simulators, which gave it real credibility,” he says. “Then when Covid hit, it became really popular, because it was a way for drivers to keep sharp and for people to be entertained.”
When anyone can try to become an online star – and oh so many do try – what is it that has made Broadbent the most popular sim racer? Well, he’s a genuine and humble type (“I still feel guilty about getting opportunities just because I’m a YouTuber, when there are people out there who are more talented than me”) and, perhaps even more importantly, he’s naturally funny.
We’ve all seen companies try to harness memes (basically in-jokes) in their marketing, but invariably to cringeworthy effect. Authenticity is the key, as Broadbent knows well. “I always just try to be myself and do things that I think are fun,” he says. “It’s not because I’m trying to get a certain demographic to watch.”
“Sim racing won’t prepare you for hopping in a race car for the first time and feeling all the g-forces and the fear, but once that novelty subsides, all that stuff is in your head that wouldn’t have been otherwise.”
And even if you’re still doubtful, you can’t deny that it’s beneficial for motorsport: whereas Britcar races usually get a few hundred viewers online, Broadbent’s Silverstone debut has drawn 80,000 and counting. There’s that next generation of car enthusiasts we’ve fretted about.
His (real) cars
You might expect Broadbent to be content with having digital recreations of pretty much any car imaginable at his disposal, but he’s as much of a petrolhead as any of us. So much so that since the money started to come in, he has bought a squad of Japanese exotica to sit outside his luxo-shed before only now investing in a house.
“Having been a Gran Turismo guy all my life, I’ve just loved anything JDM,” he enthuses. “I have a couple of cars to leave behind, but they’re dream cars, so I might as well enjoy them while I can.” And enjoy them he definitely will, given that they’re two Mazda MX-5s, a Nissan 350Z, an R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R (which he has had bored out and upgraded to make 560bhp), an R35 GT-R and a Subaru Impreza WRX Type-RA.