Every year sim racing company iRacing.com runs the Petite Lemans 10hr race at Road Atlanta. This online event mirrors the real Petite Lemans held at Road Atlanta, but is instead run on a laser scanned digital replication.
iRacing make three classes of cars available:
- Daytona Prototype (DP) vehicles, featuring the Chervrolette Corvette C7 Daytona Prototype
- GT3 vehicles, from BMW, Mercedes, and Audi
- Ruf RT12R CSpec
Atomic Sim Racing has recently officially joined the iRacing service with our own team and decided this was the perfect event to launch ASR as an iRacing competitor. Rogue_eclipse initially floated the idea on the forums a few months prior and started putting up hosted servers for us to practice on. Over the next couple of months our team started to take shape as people worked out their commitments on the 24th September. ASR eventually ended up fielding a team of 7 drivers (the equal biggest team on the grid), consisting of:
- MrTran (Tai)
- Kikz (Rob)
- Ploddy (Chris)
- Rogue_eclipse (Greg)
- Beef_supreme (Dale)
- Silicnt (Ben)
- Petevo (Peter)
Millen was also going to drive but commitments on the day ruled him out. He did, however, design our awesome suits and livery, as well as spectate for a couple of hours.
Being a new team, our strategy was just to have fun, take it easy, and survive as long as we could. MrTran did the qualifying, which meant he had to start the race. This suited as well as a team as it meant we could go get a decent starting position yet not over extend ourselves when less experienced drivers stepped in and we were with faster cars, or so was the theory. MrTran did an excellent job and qualified us 19th out of 39 cars.
MrTran got us off to a good start, avoiding any opening lap carnage and desperation that usually plagues sim races. Unfortunately, we had some bad luck when Txeroki_SR tagged the car on lap 3, sending us off into the track and into the wall. The only upside being the pit entry was only 2 corners away and we limped back to the pits for a 4min 30second repair time, where we also topped up the car. Exiting the pits, we were immediately 3 laps down on the class leader and the next 9 and a half hours were going to be interesting.
Endurance racing is a different best to the regular style of sim racing we’re all accustomed to, where you race for 45mins to an hour. Here in endurance racing it’s all about keeping the car clean. It doesn’t matter if you’re 0.5s a lap slower if you keep it out of the wall and the other guys don’t.
Something new to most the guys was multi-class racing. Here, not only did we have to contend with other GT3 cars of similar speed, we had to content with the Daytona Prototype vehicles who were around 10seconds a lap faster, seemingly supersonic down the straights, yet not faster through the corners. These guys don’t like to wait around either and because they approach GT3 cars so often they just blast through and you really have to be watching your mirrors to not get taken out as they divebomb any corner.
This is where another new aspect comes in: Team racing. Doing a 10-hour race solo is a near impossibility (though some guys were doing 150 lap stints), so we were running in teams. At any one point of the race there was at least one teammate acting as spotter. It was their job to watch for oncoming traffic and inform the driver particularly when DP cars were approaching but also any blue flag situation. I personally found it nice to have a voice on the other end to talk to every now and then during hour long stints. It can get pretty boring at times with no one to fight and with the main focus being on consistency and staying out of the wall, there was plenty of mental power left to either have a quick conversation or to daydream (which is by far the more dangerous of the two).
One of the other cool things we had going was our first live feed. Rogue_eclipse setup a broadcast on youtube from his pc and we had a few of the non-iracing ASR regulars drop by throughout the event to check out what it was all about and to show their support.
Our strategy was to run the tank dry and come in for tyres and driver change each time. That meant we had a fresh driver every 40-50 laps, or about every hour. The spotter at the time gave the call on when to come in and reminded the driver of the necessaries, such as slowing down on pit entry and flicking the pit lane speed limiter on, and then on exit, exiting the pits properly and warning of any traffic that might be approaching. They played a pivotal part in ensuring each pit and driver transition went smoothly.
As the hours ticked by all seven drivers ticked off their stints and the team started moving up the order.
- We started the raced in 19th (in class)
- After lap 3 we were down in 28th
- Mid way through the 3rd hour we were up in to 7th
- After 4 hours we were 5th, with a 30s gap on 6th and 2 laps down on 4th
- By 5pm we were 4th and 5 laps down on 3rd and 11 laps down on 1st
- By 6pm we were 3rd and 6 laps down on 2nd and 3 laps up on 4th
- 7pm and we were 3rd, of the 39 cars that started only 18 remained
We could barely believe it. A rookie team, with rookie iRacers, almost none of us GT3 racers, and here we were sitting 3rd in the 1st of 3 of iRacing’s Petite Le Mans races for the weekend. Up until now the biggest moments were on lap 3 when we got punted and we had a minor off at turn 10 that cost 10 seconds but importantly didn’t damage the car. Team morale was high.
Then disaster struck with about 45 minutes to go. We pulled over to let a DP car through and the car flew past, not slowing down as it barrelled through the turn and down the hill. We got clipped and put in the wall, our Mercedes engine smoking. We had to get a tow back to the pits.
All may not be lost though, we had 20 laps up on fourth place and we may still be able to salvage a podium finish. Back at the pits the damage assessment was done: 33 minutes of repairs. We all got out our calculators and did the maths: 20 laps x 85s per lap = 28 minutes. We were going to lose 3rd unless 4th started making mistakes. We were all eagle eyed on fourth and it looked like they had done the maths to and were trying to close that gap down. We were chanting for them to come off, to make a mistake. What do you know? They did! Now it seemed we might keep third after all.
Our repairs were nearly done as the 4th place car completely unlapped themselves. This was going to be close, very close. 4th place crested the hill and was making the run down to the final turn as the final seconds ticked off our repair. We got going as they crossed the finish line. Then, disappointment, they got past and up the hill about 10 seconds before us. We had lost the final podium placed.
That outlap it became apparent it’s not so easy to recover from a smoking engine and a very 2nd hand looking car. Our car couldn’t get into top gear down the back straight. The lap later it couldn’t get out of 4th. We were damaged and struggling with 10 minutes to go of our 10-hour race.
At the 10 hour mark (plus one lap) we crossed the line in 4th place, losing 2 laps to 3rd in those last 15 minutes since exiting the pits. But we had done it. We were one of the teams that had managed to finish this epic, let along finish well, and we could hold our heads up high.
Despite our near miss on the podium, team morale was still high. We had all performed above our expectations and I for one am extremely proud of the way the team operated. We stood up for each other, we congratulated each other, we didn’t let the small setbacks get us down. Each and every team member put their hand up and did their part.
In the debrief we all reiterated this feeling. Some team members even decreeing this their most enjoyable sim-racing moment ever.
This was most certainly the first of many team events and we’ve already initiated plans for the Le Mans 24 hour in October and at least 1 team in the VLN series starting in November and running into January. I think a bit more of Atomic Sim Racing was shaped at this race and we confirmed what we’re about: enjoyable racing with mates.