Josh McErlean finished runner up behind James Morgan in the opening round of the British Rally Championship's eSports Invitational in Wales.
The Northern Irishman shadowed Morgan across the four stages and finished just 7.695 seconds behind the Welshman.
Double BRC champion Matt Edwards finishing third, two seconds behind McErlean.
"You seem to build up the same emotions at the beginning of the stages as you would in real life," said McErlean.
"It's quite a weird sensation, but good practice."
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The 20-year-old won the Junior BRC title in 2019 and had stepped up to the main class before the current season was halted after one round.
The BRC Invitational offers a virtual championship title and allows 21 drivers and co-drivers to battle it out on the virtual stages in Dirt Rally 2.0.
Morgan, who usually co-drives Rhys Yates in the real-life series, was impressive from the off with the top-three drivers covered by less than 10 seconds.
"When the idea of eBRC came about I was super excited," added Kilrea driver McErlean. "I grew up playing Colin McRae video games but never would I have thought I'd be recorded live playing it one day.
"Sim racing is quite good for keeping up to speed with pacenotes and your reactions, I enjoy it a lot, especially when there is no events on at the moment.
"We have to keep active in these difficult times and be fully prepared when the action gets going again."
The next round will take place in Spain on 25 May before rounds in Germany and Scotland round out the virtual season.