Over the weekend, thousands of simracers across the globe took part in the iRacing Le Mans 24 Hours. Among the several hundred teams entered were a team of young drivers representing Sim Race 247.
Team manager Elliot Simpson lead the simrace247.com team alongside other experienced racers Maks Bunevich, Vladislav Zenkov, Troy Dolinschek, Kewyn Snyman and Chase Herholdt while I would talk through strategy and logistics over the course of the race. On the run into the event, the original plan was to field a Porsche 919 into the race . However, it was decided a week ahead of the race to instead take a step back and opt for a Ferrari 488 GTE.
The decision wasn’t taken lightly. The drivers clubbed together and put in the hours at team practice sessions in the week ahead of the event. With a setup agreed upon and strategy in the works, focus now turned towards Saturdays race.
Elliot, who had been instrumental in the entire teams preparation and organisation, was elected to qualify the car. With four laps to get the job done, the final time was a 3:49.9 – enough for third place on the grid. Before the race, the end goal was always to complete the race, anything more would have been a bonus. But after qualifying, that almost changed. There was a real possibility that the Sim Race 247 car sporting #1 could score a good finish. To note, the lobby in which the Sim Race 247 team competed in was a full 55-car GTE field.
Having qualified, Simpson would also start start the race. A second row start was made easier when the leader lost control of the car under braking at turn one, sealing their fate within the first ten seconds. Now up to second place, a slipstream jostle ensued down the Mulsanne straight. The battle would carry on for the next few laps with the top five runners breaking away from the rest of the pack. Having consumed two tanks of fuel, Elliot then came into the pits again to hand the car over to Vlad.
Vlad would find out that cold tyres bite you hard on his outlap with a scary spin at Tertre Rouge but thankfully it would be nothing more than a lesson for both driver and team. With no damage sustained, Vlad was able to carry on with his run without too much drama. That is until three of the leaders got caught up with lapped traffic, instigating a four way fight for second place near the end of Zenkov’s running. Nonetheless. Vlad also brought the car in after two stints worry free on the most part to swap out for Maks Bunevich.
The squabble over second place had meant we had lost ground to the guys running in first. With the gap to the leader up to around 1:40, Maks put his foot down and cut the lead down to 40 seconds by the end of his first stint.
The young Troy Dolinschek was next up and continued to pile the pressure on the leaders, chipping away their lead as he went. The lead at the end of Troy’s stint was now back down to 30 seconds as the night started to roll in.
As expected, it all kicked off when the sun had set. Although the race was comprised of just a single class, traffic was still tough to negotiate. Especially so for the lead car, who, just after 3AM, was involved in a massive accident with lapped traffic. Approaching the Porsche Curves, the Porsche closed in on a group of slower cars and was forced to back off and wait for a more opportune moment to pass. A lapped BMW behind was unaware of the slower cars ahead and drove right through the leaders, ripping off their rear wing and writing them out of a potential race win. No matter how unfortunate the incident was for that team, the Sim Race 247 team had found themselves leading the Le Mans 24 Hours.
And that’s the way it stayed all the way through the night and all the way through the morning. It was now a matter of clocking laps, keeping focused and staying out of trouble. Something so much easier said than done when your’e circulating at up to 290km/h with a cohort of varying skilled drivers, some of whom haven’t rested throughout the race.
With thanks to clean drives from all of our drivers, we were leading the race by two whole laps over second place and looked set to make it three laps by the end of the race.
With 90 minutes remaining, disaster struck. At the first chicane, a couple of cars came together maybe fifteen seconds ahead of our entry. A Porsche, whom we had been racing earlier on in the race, was stranded off the track at the exit of turn 2. After the contact, they sat stationary for a number of seconds and only tried to get back on track as we got close. Ultimately, heavy contact was made, causing huge damage to the left hand side of our car.
In truth, it was brutal. In a matter of seconds, we had gone from having led the Le Mans 24 Hours for 111 laps in a row to being slapped with a 20 minute pit sentence with none of it our doing. Our advantage offered some semblance of a buffer but even still, we rejoined the circuit in fifth place running two laps back of the leader.
I have no doubt that the final hour of the race will have felt like the longest hour of some of our drivers’ lives. With the reality of what had just happened starting to hit in, we had no option but to continue running the car. Having come so far, we may as well finish the job. And finish the job we did as after 24 gruelling hours we had made it to the end of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in fifth place.
Celebrations afterwards were of course muted as the knowledge of what could have, and arguably should have been still sticking there. Understandably, it has hit the drivers hard given the investments they have all put in. Nonetheless, each and every member of this team demonstrated impeccable maturity and professionalism, not just following the incident but throughout the duration of the entire race. They should all be proud of their achievement and know that next race, we will only strike back harder and faster.