The 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, the final round of the Le Mans Virtual Series, ended in spectacular fashion as #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline and Felipe Drugovich, Oliver Rowland, Jeffrey Rietveld and Michael Smidl topped the podium at the legendary Circuit de la Sarthe.
Renowned as the most intense and gruelling race in real world motorsport, the field for the biggest endurance esports event of the year was littered with racing stars eager to test their mettle against the famed 24-hour endurance test, including newly-crowned F1 World Champion Max Verstappen, IndyCar 2021 Champion Alex Palou and motorsport legend Juan Pablo Montoya.
The competitiveness of the field and the attritional racing of the 24 Hours took their toll on even the biggest stars, as Max Verstappen in the #123 Team Redline car crashed out in the eighth hour, while 16 other cars were forced to retire or were not classified, including Juan Pablo Montoya’s #40 LMP Cup Champion.
In second and third places were #1 Rebellion GPX Esports and #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst, while Rudy van Buren, Lorenzo Colombo, Enzo Bonito and Kevin Siggy in the #71 BMW Team Redline took first place in the LMGTE category to make it a spectacular double win for Team Redline.
As the Le Mans Virtual Series finale, the twice-round-the-clock endurance race was also the backdrop to a championship-deciding clash between #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline and #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst, with the former claiming the championship trophy and the coveted prize money by just half a point after earning double points at Le Mans. Some high profile entries, such as the all-female W Series line up and the official Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports LMP2, suffered from technical issues which saw them exit the race at an early stage, but their presence added immeasurably to the starting grid.
A pulse-racing contest with plenty of action throughout on the iconic endurance circuit, the event featured:
- A dominant display from #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline to secure victory at Le Mans, after Jeffrey Rietveld drove a spectacular qualifying lap to pip F1 World Champion Max Verstappen in #123 Team Redline for pole position in qualifiers.
- An epic three-way showdown between #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline, #1 Rebellion GPX Esports and #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst for the Le Mans Virtual Series Championship and $250,000 prize pool, as Team Redline earned the series title by just half a point, with the Le Mans race victory earning double points.
- An unprecedented result for Team Redline, which earned a double race victory, as well as claim the Series title across both LMP2 and LMGTE classifications
- An attritional 24-hour battle across the field, as the gruelling endurance race saw a total of 17 cars retired or not classified
- Tom Lartilleux for #14 Race Clutch Alpine securing the fastest lap at 3:21.734
After the race, #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline driver, and Formula E race champion Oliver Rowland said: “There’s everything that goes into a normal race weekend, and probably more goes into this because we spend so many hours practising and how much the real drivers, [Felipe] Drugovic, Felix [Rosenqvist] and Max [Verstappen], were putting in as well to get the result that, ultimately, we achieved.
“[This result] shows that anything can happen, I wasn’t the fastest in the world, but it’s a 24 hour race and we kept our heads and didn’t make any mistakes.”
- The 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, the fifth and final round of the Le Mans Virtual Series, kicked off Saturday 15th January with 200 drivers in 50 cars across the LMP2 and GTE classes taking to the start line. The drivers used 116 different simulators located in 28 different locations across the globe, including four in the Parisian studio used to live broadcast the race.
- 2021 F1 World Champion Max Verstappen led a star-studded driver line-up that featured names from across motorsport, including 2021 INDYCAR Champion Alex Palou, ex-F1 driver Felix Rosenqvist and former F1 star Juan Pablo Montoya, racing alongside his son Sebastian Montoya.
- Having led the race at the start, swiftly overtaking the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline, and looking like the team to beat in an attritional battle for top spot, the #123 Team Redline crashed out of the race in the eighth hour, after hitting the barrier at the Ford Chicane with Verstappen at the wheel.
- Conditions were clear at Circuit de la Sarthe, and all eyes on each team’s strategy for the fiercely competitive 24 Hours ahead. Naturally teams had to keep a close eye on tyre wear as the endurance race took its toll on rubber, while minimum and maximum times behind the wheel would make the order of drivers very impactful over the 24 hours, with many starting with their pro drivers. Most notably, the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline in pole started with Brazilian Formula 2 race winner Felipe Drugovich and #123 Team Redline entered the race with F1 World Champion Max Verstappen behind the wheel to try to push their advantage in the early stages. Having fresh eyes through the night would also prove crucial, as attrition, traffic and low-light conditions took their toll on several contenders near the halfway mark.
- In the LMP Classification, the race began with Felipe Drugovic in the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline leading the grid, after Jeffrey Rietveld gave a spectacular qualifying drive, 0.002 seconds ahead of F1 World Champion Max Verstappen #123 Team Redline, to earn pole position. Verstappen and the #123 car started in second but quickly gained the race lead amid feisty opening clashes. Further down the grid the opening traffic caused some chaos, resulting the #31 Team WRT SIMTAG Esports entry hitting the barriers after contact and back onto the circuit to collide with the championship-leading #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst. A surging James Baldwin in #28 Veloce Esports rose from fourth to second and began trading blows with Verstappen upfront, both setting fastest sector times before a strategy decision saw the Veloce pit early to swap Baldwin for Isaac Gillissen to allow Redline to extend its lead.
- In the eighth hour of the race, the #123 Team Redline looked imperious up front with Max Verstappen once again behind the wheel, but disaster struck at the Ford Chicane. The LMP car appeared to lose control over the kerb and struck the tyre barriers to force the car’s retirement and hand the lead to a lightning-quick Jeffrey Rietveld in the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline. Approaching the halfway mark as darkness descended on the Circuit de la Sarthe, Formula E race winner Oliver Rowland was now behind the wheel of the still-leading #70, while reigning champions #1 Rebellion GPX Esports were up to second. By this time the field had opened up a little, as the famously attritional race and competitive driving saw some cars falter, including the #24 Le Mans Cup Champions entry driven by Juan Pablo Montoya and his son Sebastian Montoya as well as Luca D’Amelio and Christopher Högfeldt, which was forced to retire after striking a barrier.
- By the final few hours the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline had extended its lead to a minute ahead of #1 Rebellion GPX Esports, which in turn held a significant lead over #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst, which had risen to third after #28 Veloce Esports ran out of fuel to force an unfortunate retirement. With much focus and precision crucial amid marathon stints by several drivers, the quality and precision on the circuit was on full display as crisp driving saw the leading pack try in vain to gain on the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline, which crossed the finish line on lap 407. The result not only secured the team its first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory, but also won the Le Mans Virtual Series title by just half a point
- Over in the LMGTE Classification, a stunning qualifying lap by #111 Red Bull Racing Esports Corvette by Sebastian Job would see the team start in class pole, with Dennis Lind behind the wheel, while #91 Porsche Esports Team and #71 BMW Team Redline were second and third on the grid respectively. The lead didn’t last however, as Mitchell deJong in the #91 Porsche and Rudy van Buren in the #71 BMW Team Redline both overtook the Red Bull team in the opening laps. By the end of the opening exchanges it was familiar faces leading the LMGTE pack, with the #91 and #92 Porsche Esports Team cars leading the race and the #71 BMW Team Redline sat in third. Although the leaders had largely remained apart from the chaos further down the grid, Joshua Rogers in the #92 Porsche narrowly avoided the #44 ARC Bratislava to cause an early scare.
- By the halfway point, a four-way battle was well underway and the #70 BMW Team Redline had played the long game to perfection, and taken advantage of the squad’s impressive fuel-saving ability to lead the class, after Kevin Siggy overtook Sage Karam in the #92 Porsche. The chasing pack remained extremely close, however, as pit stops regularly saw the BMW trade leads with the two Porsches, while the #51 Ferrari Driver Academy Esports 488 was still a threat in fourth place and within twenty seconds of top spot. The infamous night drive saw a big casualty in the third quarter of the race, as Tommy Østgaard in the #92 Porsche Esports Team was forced to retired after being hit by Nico Varrone in the #65 Panis Racing LMP, which was in turn given a drive through penalty.
- Approaching the final stints, the #71 BMW had retained its position at the top of the grid as its fuel-saving strategy continued to give it an incredible advantage over the remaining #91 Porsche. While the BMW was winning the race for first, a hair-raising battle for third between #77 Proton Competition and #51 Ferrari finally saw a victor after Ferrari’s Nicklas Nielsen ran alongside Kevin van Dooren and slid into the barrier to force a calamitous pit for repairs, leaving the Proton clear in the podium places. Ultimately, the second-placed #91 Porsche was unable to close the 30-second gap in the final stages of the race, and #71 BMW Team Redline crossed the chequered flag after 367 laps to complete a double victory at the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans, as well as win the Le Mans Virtual Series across both classifications.
- Tom Lartilleux for #14 Race Clutch Alpine recorded the fastest lap time in the LMP2 Classification, with a blistering 3:21.734 on the 117th lap, 1.5 seconds faster than the next best. In the LMGTE Classification, Sebastian Job in the #111 Red Bull Racing Esports secured the fastest lap, recording an impressive 3:47.453 on the 91st lap.
- After the race, Team Redline Team Manager Atze Kerkhof said: “This feels like redemption for last year, putting in an amazing performance by the team at such an incredible event. The team pulled it off like we did throughout the season last year and now 2022 is starting really well and we’re super happy.” On securing a double win with victory in the GTE class, he added, “we pulled it off again, the guys got the maximum they could from the car and the engineers supported us all night long. [GTE driver] Rudy van Buren’s wheel broke and he had to drive three hours across Holland to our offices at 3am to race in a new sim for him, so the guys were really under pressure and held their nerve.”
- Oliver Rowland, #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline driver and Formula E race champion said: “There’s everything that goes into a normal race weekend, and probably more goes into this because we spend so many hours practising and how much the real drivers, [Felipe] Drugovic, Felix [Rosenqvist] and Max [Verstappen], were putting in as well to get the result that, ultimately, we achieved. [This result] shows that anything can happen, I wasn’t the fastest in the world, but it’s a 24 hour race and we kept our heads and didn’t make any mistakes.”
The result means that #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline takes home the Le Mans Virtual Series Championship, fighting off the #1 Rebellion GPX Esports and #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst teams with just half a point between the top two and only 2.5 points splitting the top three, after an historically close season.
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