Unless you’ve been living under a “virtual” rock, you would have been hard pressed to have missed that this past weekend was the “virtual” iRacing Le Mans 24hr Endurance race. Loosely based on the real life event (I say loosely as in iRacing, we use a few cars that have long since been retired from the WEC event) interest in this event was high as it was the first visit to Le Mans since iRacing introduced dynamic weather (meaning the track temperature would change as time progressed) and the day/night cycle and with 917 teams comprising of 3439 individual drivers running in 3 classes and split across 17 splits pitching up on Saturday afternoon ready for 24 continuous hours of racing around the “virtual” Circuit de la Sarthe, competition was set to be fierce!
In a break from the norm, iRacing had taken the controversial decision to have Qualifying run in separate sessions in the week running up to the event. They also chose to introduce a Balance of Performance a few days before the event, which some argue was a dreadful mistake, whilst others claimed it really wouldn’t make a massive difference in the grand scheme of things, and if we truly strive for “realism” in our game simulation, then BoP changes (which can be handed out the night before an event in real life) are a thing that happens and we should deal with instead of bitching about. As I say, whether the changes actually made a great deal of difference is a moot point, what did matter was that detached qualifying sessions remove that pressure to perform over a single lap – if you goofed a lap – no bother, just reset and go again. Attached quali adds an additional stress aspect to the whole event – you HAVE to do your best lap right here, right now – or suffer the consequences. But I digress, we could go on and on all day about how iRacing organises their special events, from the sign-up procedure to the off-track limits to the match making rules…. Suffice to say that three and half THOUSAND people decided it was a good way to spend a weekend in June…. So it cant be all bad right?
Team Buschfink Racing had entered 4 teams in to this year’s event utilising a mixture of drivers from all around the globe. As far flung as ConvictLand Australia, the United Mistakes of America, Chile, Waffle Central (Belgium), the Netherlands and of course a Brexit-riddled United Kingdom. Probably our best hope stood with the 2018/19 SCO Champions TBR Blue with Matt Farrow, Tom Michelmore and guest driver Dylan Mann piloting the Prosche 919 LMP1 Spaceship. TBR Yellow would be in the HPD controlled by the capable hands of Jamie-lee Mayers, Cameron Barie, Ben Perez and TBR new boy Erwan Woudstra. TBR Green would be the first of 2 GTE entries for 2019 in the BMW M8 with Joris Thielen being accompanied by our Chilean duo of Cristian Eissler and another new birdie, Pablo Valenzuela with Enzo Amico returning to the TBR fold at the last minute as a guest. Finally, TBR Red consisting of old hands Alain McKane and Ben Wilkinson accompanied by another new pairing of Nick Harwood and Matt Dorrington.
So to the race and as ever, the clamor to get in to the top split and therefore broadcast race pushed the Strength of Field for each class through the roof. With no fewer than 27 Pro/WC licence holders lining up for the LMP1 class and a further 26 spread between HPD and GTE, the top split was the place to be…. thankfully TBR Blue managed to make it in – which had it not would have been a travesty as Tom had set the 6th quickest time during the week of qualifying. Sadly, an issue when signing the car up placed the boys at the back of the LMP grid with a mountain of work to do.
TBR Yellow were placed 7th of the HPD’s in the 3rd split. Green, also in the 3rd split, sat 11th of the GTE’s with Red in 16th of the 18 GTE cars in split 5.
TBR Blue – LMP1
Starting P17 was always going to a challenge for TBR Blue – but the boys got stuck in knowing that (as daft and obvious as it sounds) 24 hours is a LONG time to race and begun the steady climb toward the front of the field. By the first round of pit stops Tom had climbed to 8th, by the next he was up to 3rd. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards an incident with a slow HPD caused a chain reaction with Blue being in the middle. The resulting damage forced an unscheduled pitstop and a 45 second repair dropping the car back to P15. Over the next 100 or so laps Tom and Matt made a steady recovery, ultimately climbing back to P6 when a technical issue for Tom saw him have a disconnect – the resulting tow adding 2 ½ minutes to his laptime. Thankfully Dylan was available to immediately jump in the car and amazingly get straight back on track with minimal repairs required. From here, it was another case of climbing their way back through the field – a few small incidents costing a few seconds here and there but for the majority of the remaining 300 laps the race went smoothly to a final finishing position of 6th – first of the teams with no Pro/WC drivers on board, so a very impressive result for 24hrs of effort.
TBR Yellow – LMP2 (HPD)
On to TBR Yellow. Starting from the 4th row of the HPD grid and with Erwan behind the wheel for the first couple of stints, the car would climb steadily and relatively unscathed to P4 at lap 26 where Erwan would hand over to Jamie, who in turn handed over to Ben before giving the car back to Erwan at around ¼ distance. Unfortunately a tangle with a GTE put them back in the pits for repairs dropping the HPD back to P12. Erwan drove like a monster for 25 laps, giving Cameron the car back in 7th spot. Through the night Cam and Ben drove clean, fast laps picking up a couple of places along the way before Jamie took over the morning shift from an excellent P3. From here, it was a case of Jamie and Erwan keeping the car clean and safe while saving as much fuel as possible to avert the potential of a splash & dash in the last stint. So 3rd HPD in the 3rd split – another incredible result.
TBR Green – GTE
In the same split as Yellow, the Green GTE boys had ex-TBR driver returning as a guest, Enzo Amico starting the race for them. Making a decent start, picking up a couple of spots early on, Enzo was wheeling the big M8 toward the top 5 before his first pit. Again, as seems to be a trend for us this year – unfortunately – a power cut (I mean, you couldn’t write this stuff right?) put Enzo in the pits. Thankfully, Joris was on hand to jump straight in to the car once it had towed, but 5 places lost in the process. So, with a strat change placing the focus on fuel and tyre saving rather than raw speed. Over the following hours Joris and a returning Enzo picked up spots here and there, driving within themselves and extending stints where they could before handing the car to the night shift, Chilean pairing of Cristian and Pablo from P3. Maintaining this form through the night and with pit cycles normalising the positions, Enzo picked up the mantle on Lap 294 from P4 before an issue a few laps later had Pablo hop back in to the car. A 6 minute lap however only lost the guys one place, so a top 5 was still on the cards when Pablo finally handed the car back to Enzo who was set to finish the race. They say bad luck comes in three’s and so it seems is the case for Enzo, as another power-cut dropped him out of the server, and with no-one around to jump back in the car the team lost 45 minutes or so. I cant imagine how frustrated poor Enzo must have been by this point and to his credit he did get back in the car and complete the race, however the damage had been done and P11 was TBR Greens final resting place.
TBE Red – GTE
So we come to TBR Red – the big boi M8 started down in 16th spot and was a mixture of old-hand TBR Endurance drivers (Ben and Alain) and whilst Nick and Matt are the TBR new kids, they have driven together for a couple of seasons so are well experienced in the iRacing way. Nick was the chosen one for the start and even thpough he was placing his focus on saving tyres and fuel as best he could, he was able to absolutely carve his way through the field, peaking at P7 before handing the car to Alain. Alain had a few small problems during his stint, nothing too major but dropping a couple of spots back to just outside the top 10 for Nick to take his next stints on. Between Nick, Alain and Matt, they took the car to around half way point before Ben hopped in the driving seat in P6. Through the night Ben and Nick found themselves kind of levelled out in around P7/P8 with a couple of other cars hovering around the same place. With Matt and Alain taking the final few hours on, the places continued to swap around with the last pass of the race coming just 2 laps from the end, relegating Red to P9. Still an impressive result for a new team and certainly exciting for the future of TBR.
So all in all a really good showing from all of the guys. 3rd for Yellow in the HPD was a great result and one which when you consider that Ben and Cam have barely touched iRacing for maybe 3 months, never mind the HPD, shows what can be done in a short space of time with some solid practice and a good team around you. Green were massively unlucky to have so many technical issues and a top 5 or even a podium was absolutely on the cards. Reds race was arguably the most un-eventful, and yet a 7 place improvement from quali cant be sniffed at. A decent result and one which can certainly be built on. As for Blue, who knows what might have happened without the issues at sign up and Tom’s disconnection. Starting where they qualified would certainly have helped, with the guys matching pace with the front runners for the entire race another podium is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.
Finally, we would like to thank Dylan Mann and Vincenzo Amico for stepping up to assist – we couldn’t have done it without you. Also, huge thanks to Tim Greven who even though he has chosen to leave TBR, was instrumental in organising the teams and assisting Blue in particular with their set-up and training.
Thanks to Dani Garcia for the first image in this article.
Results can be found here