Everything you need to know about the virtual Le Mans racing event

Toyota’s hybrid car won the Le Mans 24-Hour race this year, but who will be the (Picture: James Moy Photography/Getty Images)

Toyota’s hybrid hypercar took the spoils at the 2021 Le Mans 24-Hour race but this weekend sees the start of another marathon and this time it’s virtual.

Two years shy of its centenary, the 24 Heures du Mans has always been the greatest endurance challenge in world motorsport, as well as one of the most dangerous races in existence.

It has taken the lives of 22 drivers, while 83 spectators were killed in a single crash in 1955. The machinery may have got stronger year on year but the dramatic closing speeds havealso increased.

Contested from one’s living room, the virtual series benefits from being considerably safer. Repetitive strain injury is probably the worst-case scenario — andit won’t cost millions to run each team.

The virtual event was prompted by the postponement of the 2020 real-life Le Mans race due to Covid but its popularity has seen it continue as a winter series. This year, the race has grown to become a digital endurance championship.

The legendary race is going digital

A joint venture between racing game developer Motorsport Games Inc and the Le Mans-organising Automobile Club de l’Ouest, there will be four initial World Endurance Championship-inspired rounds (Monza, Spa-Francorchamps, Nurburgring and Sebring) before the field takes on the famed Circuit de la Sarthe for the 24-hour Le Mans finale.

The opening events will be held purely online, while the climax gets the drivers together in the same room.

What cars are involved?

Thirty-eight cars will compete across the LMP2 and LMGTE categories. The former uses the uncompromising Oreca 07 ‘prototype’ race car, while GTE utilises supercars that have road-going equivalents.

In this, drivers will race one of five machines — the Aston Martin Vantage, BMW M8, Chevrolet Corvette C8, Ferrari 488 and Porsche 911 RSR. Very cool, even in pixel form.

Who’s racing?

The competing 177 drivers will comprise a 60-40 mix of professional sim racers and Tarmac kings — the latter of which include F1 veterans Jenson Button, Bruno Senna and Stoffel Vandoorne, plus up-and-comers from Formulas 2 and 3, the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), Formula E, W Series, IndyCar and Extreme E.

F1 champion Jensen Button will be behind the virtual wheel (Picture: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

BMW, Ferrari and Porsche will be represented by their own official esports teams, together with Red Bull Racing and a handful of other real-life teams, as well as a raft of sim racing outfits that’ll be well known to e-racers.

Teams from 12 nations will compete. Rebellion Williams will be out to defend their title from last year’s inaugural competition, which was watched by a global TV audience of 14.2 million.

When is the winner announced?

This twice-round-the-clock showdown will not physically take place in France. Instead, the champagne will be sprayed at a special televised event during the Autosport International Show (ASI) at Birmingham’s NEC on January 15-16.

For this, each team will field four drivers — two gamers and two FIA international competition licence holders.

The rules for fuel, tyres and driver swaps are just like the real thing. The prize pot is one of the biggest ever seen in esports: £183,000. Rightfully, that’s supercar money.

How can I watch it?

Round one of the Le Mans Virtual Series, the Four Hours of Monza, takes place online tomorrow from 12.30pm, with qualifying tonight at 6pm.

Alongside this, amateur racers with the sim game rFactor 2 (Studio 397, £23.39) can compete in the Le Mans Virtual Cup to earn a place on the grid for the grand finale at ASI, Birmingham.

All races are being streamed live via TraxionGG’s Twitch and Facebook page and FIAWEC’s YouTube channel.

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