Virtual 24h of Le Mans: the biggest Esport event of the year.
The second edition of the Virtual Le Mans was all worthy to watch and featured an all female line up by W Series, a strong Beitske Visser with Mahle Racing Team and the endurance debut of Logan Hannah driving for Prodrive E Sports - we had enough action to put our eyes on!
Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated events in January, the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans, did not disappoint in terms of entertainment; starting from the qualifying session with pole position taken by Realteam Hydrogen Redline only by two thousandths of a second from Max Verstappen's performance (Team Redline) in LMP class and by Red Bull Racing E Sports in GTE class.
For the first time since the 2020 W Series Esports League, the all-female championship decided to make its return to the online racing world and lined up a fully-female squad: alongside racers Fabienne Wohlwend and Ayla Agren, W Series added to its line up professional simracers Lyubov Ozeretskovskaya and Emily Jones.
Wohlwend and Agren - two of the 18 drivers on the grid in the 2021 championship - had been part of the 2020 online W Series championship, ultimately won by Beitske Visser. After the lockdown, they continued to use their home simulator for training and also entered a few other simracing events. Ozeretskovskaya is also a racing driver in real-life, having raced in Formula 4 SEA and in Formula Masters Russia. She was also part of the inaugural W Series selections in 2019. Australian Emily Jones started in karting, before making her switch to the sim. She entered the 2020 edition of the Le Mans Virtual, when she was part of the Richard Mille Racing team with Sophia Floersch, Tatiana Calderon and Katherine Legge.
Beitske Visser - who finished her first 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2020, in her first season in sports cars - is also a rather experienced simracer, as she trains regularly with her home rig and has raced in some highly-professional esports championships. As part of the BS+ Mahle Racing Team, she entered the Le Mans Virtual race in the #10 LMP entry.
The fourth female racer in the race was Scottish Logan Hannah, racing in the #83 Aston Martin GTE for ProDrive Esports. Logan is an experienced Formula Ford driver and became first female winner of a Formula Ford 1600 race and the David Leslie Trophy. She has also raced in the UAE-based Formula 4 championship in 2019, in the Trophy Round in support of the Abu Dhabi F1 GP.
The green flag was waved at 14.00 CET time and fifty cars with two hundred drivers from all over the world - more than 30 different countries - both professional and sim racers. Felipe Drugovich managed to stay at the front of the field up until the Dunlop bridge, where Team Redline's car took the lead, while a lot of chaos occured at the back with some contacts that led to some damage and lost positions for a few LMP crews. One of the victims was Mahle Racing Team, which lost a couple of positions.
"We had three incidents in the first part of the race. A crash in the first lap cost us three or four minutes" - Beitske Visser told us.
The start was a troubled one not only to the LMP entries, but also to some GTE teams, with contacts and server crashes that made Prodrive E Sports' Aston Martin lose several minutes and positions. But the unluckiest of them all was surely the W Series team: Fabienne Wohlwend didn't even get to complete the formation lap when rFactor2 crashed and disconnected her from the server.
"[It's] such a shame for the entire team, we put so much work and effort into this", Fabienne stated. "The practice race looked so promising and then the game crashed literally as I was standing on the grid with 30 seconds to go."
"Hopefully there will be another opportunity in the future" - added the racer from Liechtenstein. It was really a shame that Fabienne, Ayla Agren, Emily Jones and Lyubov Ozeretskovskaya, didn't get the opportunity to race and we can't wait to see them again in the future.
As the race went on - with Verstappen battling for the first position with Baldwin (Veloce Esport) and then extending his lead, Logan Hannah jumped in the ProDrive Aston Martin and started her first stint in 18th position.
“I did a double stint and have three very fast team mates, after a server crash in our first stint there is a lot of work to do” - she told us, as they charged back and recovered positions.
With the night approaching, more drama unfolded, as newly-crowned Formula 1 World Champion put the Team Redline LMP into the barriers at Ford Chicane. The #123 crew was forced to an early retirement after losing two wheels. Meanwhile, Beitske Visser started her first quadruple stint with Mahle Racing Team and succeeded in gaining back several positions. "I had two contacts and I got some more damage, but then it seemed better, so maybe it solved.", Visser said. Some other retirements reduced the LMP class field, as the #44 ARC Bratislava and the #39 GRAFF by ProSimu had mechanical issues and Sebastian Montoya, at the wheel of the #24 LM Cup Champions, had a contact with the wall. Halfway through the race, the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline was leading the LMP class, while in GTE the first position belonged to Kevin Siggy in the #71 BMW Team Redline. As the sun was about to re-emerge over the horizon, Visser jumped back in the #10 Mahle Racing LMP for another quadruple stint that led her and her teammates to a memorable battle for 13th position with the #30 Duqueine/Prima Esports. With a solid strategy, the team had recovered consistently through the night with fellow racer Philippe Denes and gamers Muhammed Patel, Michele D'Alessandro and Nathan Lewis. "Just finished my driving, I got some GT traffic in the final laps but the last two stints were my fastest ones." - she said, quite happy about her performance. Visser's teammates Muhammed Patel and Michele D'Alessandro had equally strong final stints and continued the wheel to wheel action with the #30 Duqueine. When they were set for a P12 finish, D'Alessandro had to pit for a splash and dash with one lap to go, crossing the finish line in 13th position. Nevertheless, they managed to gain almost ten places from the first lap incident. Logan Hannah, who was interestingly participating in her first simracing event, also finished the race in 13th position in class, having battled her way up the order with teammates David Pittard, Tom Canning and Lasse Sorensen. "The second stint was definitely my best" - she told us after the race. "I was very nervous before my first stint, a mixture of a new team, first sim race and the prospect of doing a double stint for the first time." "In the second one I was a lot more calm and was able to push a lot more", she continued. "Did my fastest time and all my laps were consistent. Working with a team like ProDrive has been amazing and I wouldn’t have wanted to do my first proper sim and endurance race with anyone else!" - a happy Logan Hannah concluded. Having thoroughly enjoyed this experience, she now wishes to do the "proper" Le Mans race one day. It was a double win for Team Redline, as the #70 LMP won the overall classification and the LMP class, and the #71 GTE was also the first to see the chequered flag in its category. This Virtual 24 hours of Le Mans was definitely one for the books, as sim racing is gaining momentum in the motorsport world and continues to give a lot of drivers opportunities as huge as this one.