GT Academy proved that it could be done. Project CARS, iRacing and rFactor attracted honest, professional talent by demonstrating the virtues of their game. Then Forza started working with CJ Wilson Racing and Project CARS helped Nicolas Hamilton begin his career. Darren Cox has since left Nissan and the GT Academy program to begin his eSports+CARS effort with help from Carlin (formerly Carlin Motorsport).
Now other manufacturers are starting to get in on the virtual racing bandwagon. Pictured above is Kristian Kwietniewski, winner of the SEAT Léon Eurocup, and his story can be found at onwheelstv.com (www.onwheelstv.com/motorsports/touring-cars/from-sim-racing-to-real-racing-in-the-500km-alcaniz/).
Before you quit your current job and lock yourself in a room with your PC or console, a word of caution. Getting your foot in the door is the easy part, it's keeping the seat once you've earned it; and even good results may not be enough to find a seat for the following year. Several GT Academy champions, including Wolfgang Reip, have found that becoming a professional racing driver requires more skills and talent than simply driving fast in a game or even on a real track. Formula 1 gets a lot of criticism for "pay drivers", but what you may not realize is that every driver is a "pay driver", even Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen.
If simply purchasing a professional racing job were an actual thing, Pastor Maldanado would still be in F1. Seb and Max may not be going door to door trying to drum up sponsorship now like they did when they started, but they're still expected to provide the team with contacts and sponsors that they've already earned, and they'll also be expected to attract potential sponsors in the future. The difference between Vettel and Kristian Kwietniewski is that Seb has an entire team of people actively seeking that sponsorship for him rather than doing it himself.
My daughter and I in the Sauber F1 Team garage at the Circuit of the Americas, 2016. THANK YOU, SAUBER!!!
Money and results aren't the only issues virtual drivers will need to face. There's also fitness and nutrition, psychology and how they handle the personal stresses in their lives and environments, speaking with sponsors and the media, and many, many other variables. If you're intent on taking this route into motorsports don't let these variables prevent you from reaching for your goals, just be aware that every driver has the universe stacked against them when they begin. Just like them, there may come a time that you'll be asked to beat those odds.
Additional Sources and Resources: esportsandcars.com/, www.projectcarsesports.com/, forzamotorsport.net/en-us/news/forzarc_season1_announce, www.isrtv.com/, www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/entertainment/news/a28895/cj-wilson-porsche-cayman-forza/