Saturday 17th April saw Simtech visit Circuit de la Sarthe the world famous circuit that hosts the 24hr of Le Mans race, this event was a privately organised race by irace.tv as there is yet no official Le Mans 24hr announcement by iRacing.
Taking to the grid would be our LMP2 team in the Dallara P217 and our GTE team in the trusted (if not passed it’s sell by date) Ferrari 488GTE.
LMP2 team: Dean Catherwood, Massimo Berta, Neil Stephenson, Scotty Angelo and Simon Whitton.
GTE Team: Bradley Hulse, Bram Claes, Kris Beeman, Lucio Franco and Matt Tempest.
It was a race up until 1hr before the start that Simtech GTE thought that they would be watching from the sidelines as we only had 3 drivers available, however the reasoning behind this took priority over the race so it was not an issue for any driver and all thoughts were with Mark. We did however put out a late call for any driver wanting to take part in this event and we had 2 drivers step forward in Brad and Lucio, which saw the team enter with the maximum 5 drivers.
The race was scheduled for 2:00pm, but a bit of a mixup between GMT and BST saw the race start at 3:00pm(BST), so no real issues there, practice at 2pm, qualify at 2:40 and race at 3pm.
Qualifying went better for the LMP2 team ending in midfield of their class, whilst not so good for the GTE team it saw them near the rear of the field, however it became a bit of a surprise when on the grid there were LMP2 and LMP cars behind (non-qualifying), we expected these to be bunched with their respective classes, so this would make for an interesting start, and it did just that, normally each class would give the class in front a wide gap, and as we started the formation lap this did happen, so as the GTE class were exiting the Porsche curves the lights went green, now it is my understanding to make things fair, although the lights are green the race begins once cars are through the tight Ford chicane, and I’m pretty sure that the leader (or 2nd) thought this too along with most of the GTE field, however some of the GTE cars and the LMP2 cars at the rear didn’t get the memo or decided to take a cheating advantage of this and bolted when the lights went green, and as the leader continued to hold a slow pace we could see said GTE/LMP2 cars bolting off into the distance, not stopping when they noticed the leader (or 2nd) not doing the same, maybe something the stewards should have clarified before the race or looked at with penalties to the offending drivers, (just to clarify I believe this is done to avoid what would be an almighty cluster f**k in the Ford chicane) but alas this happened and that was that.
So the 24hr clock was counting down, Dean taking the 1st stint for the LMP2 team and Myself taking the opening stint for the GTE team, this turned into a pretty much hold position for a number of laps, nobody wanting to start with an early repair pitstop, however the LMP2 team did have a bit of an issue which forced them into the pits, but were not about to let that ruin their 24Hr race, so were soon back on track.
The opening stints went relatively good for both teams with the GTE team getting through without incident and the afore mentioned pitting for the LMP2 team the only incident for them, the racing seemed fair and both teams were climbing through the field slowly, but consistency is key in a long endurance race, and although there were teams lapping faster that ourselves it was clear that spending 30 minutes in the pits is a price not worth paying for 4 second a lap over 20 or so laps, you really don’t have to be fast to enjoy endurance racing.
Lucio took to the GTE for the 2nd Stint and was joined by Max in the LMP2 car, once again with the field starting to spread out the racing was turning into more of getting through the laps, and once again the Simtech teams continued climbing through the field, with both teams in 12th (or their about) in their respected classes, with pit strategies disappearing like dust it is hard to know your exact position till 3pm Sunday (or as near as dammit).
As the sun slowly set over the circuit the temperature dropped and the track became grippy, this is when the fun begins, you feel the car is ready to hold on to anything you can throw at it, but as the traffic is spread out, you just cannot see the afore mentioned anything till you are on top of it, so as said it is fun but also quite intimidating when your whole mirror is just the headlights of a faster car closing in, the corners appear out of the blackness and your braking markers are now just shadows of the objects you become to rely on during the day.
The GTE team had its fair share of bumps and scrapes throughout the night, however Bram, Kris and Bradley did a sterling job to get us through with a couple of required pit stops, coming out the other end still intact and still lapping away the hours, pretty much the same can be said for the LMP2 team, with Scotty, Neil and Simon pushing through the night and ensuring the car was still drivable and competitive for the closing 10hr run in (yeah 10 hrs is considered the closing stages at Le Mans).
GTE in P8 and LMP2 team in P9 as the sun was up, and I think both teams were happy with their positions after a hard night, but onwards we went, and more positions were gained, with the Ferrari getting to a great position of 6th and the LMP2 team closing in on 6th in their class, but time was now starting to run out.
As the Ferrari came around Indianapolis P5 was there and I mean there, they were however still a lap up on us, so firstly we hoped there was not too much damage too their car (it comes to a stage where you want all the runners to finish when you know the end is in sight, preferebly behind you, but you do want them to finish), and secondly you hope that it gives you a chance to close in on P5
I have to say that P5 held their brakes till it was safe to get going again, and alas not a lot of drivers do this, they spin and their though is to get going again at what ever cost, so thank you to ‘Buzz the Tower Racing’ for a safe rejoin and a great race.
The Ferrari did in fact gain P5 whilst the LMP2 team had moved into P6, but still with a few more hours to go we were still hunting and at the same time being hunted.
The LMP2 team received a drive through for a collision, however on review this was a little harsh as racing is racing, and they are going to be accidental collisions, however this did not stop their determination to hold on to their hard fought P6 in class, so were soon back out rolling along to the finish.
The Ferrari had a mighty close call with a LMP2 car that seemed to forget that there were 2 halves of a track and decided they wanted to be on our bit, just like a kid that has a toy, sees another kid with a different toy and decides that that is also his/hers, in the last hour of the race this was just a plain stupid move and we had to take averting action to avoid both cars ending their Le Mans right there, clever very clever (and I cannot even be bothered to name the team in question).
So finally the 24hrs came to an end, the LMP2 team held on to their hard fought Position 6 and the GTE Ferrari was brought home in the very capable hands of 24hr debutant Kris Beeman in position 5, if you had offered these positions to the teams prior to the race, I’m sure they would have taken them (speaking from the GTE team, we would have taken your hand off).
A great result for the team and a show we are still going from strength the strength, a very big well done!
There comes point that you want the race to finish thinking that this is your last 24hr and this is down to tiredness however, after the come down of the race, you are soon looking for the next big endurance race, and this is next week at Nurburgring, will I be there? – not a hope 🙂 – (albeit Simtech Racing may well be).
A few weeks and it will be time to start looking for our next big team race and until then we will continue to take part in the official team VRS series.