The first ever Creventic 24H Series 12H Monza took place this weekend albeit on a virtual platform. Given the unique circumstances in the World today, Creventic brilliantly put together an E-Sports race with real world teams, drivers, and a quality feed with Radio Le Mans commentary and all to give us a fun and realistic race.
First things first. I don't like to use the word "realistic" anymore for these sim races. While they aren't "real" world races, they are most definitely "real" races. They may be virtual but the competition is cut throat and the preparation and dedication from some teams shows. It's simply another form of racing. The big bonus is it doesn't hurt your wallet and while it does hurt your ego when you bin the car, at least you can live to race another day and still afford dinner.
I have driven for Sorg Rennsport in the 24H Series in their real world events. Starting in Cup 1 in the BMW M235I Racing Cup car and then into GT4 last season with the M4 GT4 where we took the Champion of the Continents title. They are a large team with an entire E-Sports operation as well and given my rookie status, I didn't dare impose on asking to hop in their cars. So I entered my own BMW Z4 GT3 under the Tibbett Racing banner. However, as you will have seen, I did run the Sorg Rennsport livery and even logos. Creventic's focus for this race was to make it the real world series' teams and drivers, so the cars needed to be recognizable as well.
So, in this virtual environment I became a car owner, team owner, and driver. Now I needed to hire some drivers. I knew one driver I already had in mind who is very fast and clean in iRacing. I have also raced with him in real races too in the AER and WRL endurance series with Casey Carden Motorsports. That is Texan based driver Christopher Paiz. Once he agreed, I needed a third driver and maybe forth. I decided on Thomas Pendergrass who is based out of California and I have raced with virtually in the SCCA Foundation E-Majors iRacing Tour races on iRacing. He's clean, quick, and consistent. The most important attributes for endurance racing. My fourth option would be one of my real-world Sorg teammates but I could not afford any of them and they weren't fond on the vegan food menu the team offered.
Skip forward to race day and being the team owner and on the east coast I'd be the first one up. The race went green at 6:00AM EST (12:00 CEST) but practice started at 3:30AM EST, so I was chugging coffee like I would water before a stint in a real car. My teammates and I had spent the last week turning hundreds of laps and working on car setup. In fact, Chris even got our car into a 1:47 at one point which put us at a very competitive overall level in a car that wasn't one of the favorites for the long straights of Monza. I can firmly say I turned on average sixty laps per day for a week straight. Which makes making a mistake even dumber.
The green flag flew at 12:00 CEST on the dot and we were underway in a huge 55+ car field and four classes. To be honest, the race had a very "real world" feel to it. I recognized so many of the names, team names, the Radio Le Mans crew calling it, and even a familiar voice in the driver's briefing. I made a clean start which was the goal after sending that many cars all at once into the turn one chicane of Monza. I was expecting absolute mayhem but it seemed relatively clean.
So now the part no driver likes to say. Sadly, I can't even think of any valid made up race car driver excuse. I think six or so laps in, I was coming out of Ascari, I stayed right probably messing with my dash menu (black box menu for the iRacers), clipped the grass, and hit the wall. Just like that, all of those practice laps, all of the buildup, went into an ego-blasting crunch as I could see my wife staring at me on the couch as I moaned as the car scraped along the wall. I couldn't decide whether to laugh, cry, or try to reverse and keep going. I decided to quickly get a tow back to the pits instead of reversing back onto circuit to get going given the number of cars coming through. My hood was so crinkled I couldn't see out of the windshield well enough anyway.
The bad news was when the car arrived into pit lane, the required repairs would take over twenty-minutes. That's a lot of time. I immediately messaged my teammates the most embarrassing message anyone has to send or say over a radio, especially when it's entirely your own fault. I told them the repair time, said it may push drive times back, and decided to just take some deep breaths and wait.
Finally, it was time to hit the track again. The BMW Z4 GT3 was fixed mechanically, the body looked awful, but the car still ran and drove fine. I feel weird by even admitting I was sort of nervous to "hop back in" after that. I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of all of these other teams and drivers. I knew I wouldn't be the only crash by any means but I also didn't want to let my mates down or drive around super slow and look a fool.
This was a perfect lesson in sim racing though and one that I now think may be one of the biggest benefits to using sim racing for the real world. The sheer focus you have to keep is almost larger than in the real world race car. Why? Well, for someone like me who is sitting with one monitor, I can look down and see my dog. I could hear a door knock. I could look at my wife's disappointed face as her race car driver husband ping pongs into a guardrail a few laps into a virtual race after spending so many hours "practicing." There's distractions far outside of what you would have in a real car. While you can lose focus in the real world, you can't take yourself out of the car per say without really dozing off. When I got back into the car, I decided to put every tiny piece of brain power I had into focusing on the one thing in front of me. Every braking point, apex, etc. I don't care if my dog starting peeing on my leg, I'd continue my focus and pretend it was just a leaky drink bottle. At least until after my stint of course.
This mindset worked quite well. I found myself being more relaxed, working through traffic in a more natural real-world feel, and being more consistent. It sounds obvious that you need to adjust your focus for an environment like this but I think it's easier said than done and can also depend on equipment. My teammate Chris uses VR and even mentioned his internal clock having to adjust to the time when he took the headset off. As he did a sunset stint, the outside time was still pretty early, so the level of immersion in VR is more accurate than a single screen. That's not an excuse, I swear, I'm just saying there are some serious level of focus going into what many call a video game.
Back to the race, we started cycling through the driver order and started running quite well. Many other teams saw huge crashes, spins, and other accidents but we kept keeping our noses clean. We all know one of the biggest ways to end an endurance race up top is to keep turning laps. You don't even always have to be the fastest.
As the race progressed we slowly climbed up more. When I had the crash we came back out I believe in 29th position in GT3. We eventually kept at it, saw 20th coming, then some teens. In my final stint to the checkered flag we were able to even grab one last spot to finish 14th. Our result came from clean traffic management, double stinting tires, and ticking off lap after lap. I am happy to report after my one (big) mistake I had no other spins or any hiccups. My two teammates didn't put a wheel wrong the entire race aside from when they needed to drop a wheel to avoid another car spinning.
So, while it's not an awesome heroic racing story, we did manage to climb back up the ladder, finish relatively well (unlapped ourselves of all TCR and GT4 too), and take the checkered flag after twelve hours of real racing. For my first iRacing endurance race, I learned it's not a walk in the park, it takes a lot of time and dedication, and though you may be at home (though some of these teams were in their actual shops to be fair) it doesn't mean your level of focus or attitude can change if you want real results.
I also want to take a moment to say thanks to VRLA Tech for the support. My Apollo model PC ran for fifteen hours straight in the sim, if I wasn't driving I was on the radio watching the other camera angles available as my teammates drove. Just like in a real race car, it's good to be able to trust the power plant. Want to join me in sim racing? Use code Tibbett20 when ordering from VRLA Tech so save 5%.
Now onto the next and hopefully back to seeing you all at the real-world circuits soon.
Missed the race? Full replay will be available:
Cover Photo: In Sim Photography