260kph, the sight of the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza pit lane a blur of colour in your peripheral vision on the right. Your right hand clicking the paddle shift through the gears, extracting ever more speed from the Team RSL Powered by MOFO Mercedes-AMG GT3. As you look for the all-important braking point for that very tricky first chicane, your left hand has just enough time to pick up that cup of tea and have a quick slurp before quickly putting it back down. You’re going to need that left hand to click down through the gears.
CREVENTIC’s ESPORTS 12H MONZA event made the above account a reality for the Radio Show Limited commentary team. As well as talking about the race, we were on the other side of the fence too, racing with our regular 24H SERIES teams and drivers.
The team of Ben Constanduros, Nick Daman and I were joined by e-Racers Simon Herring and Darren Wood from the MOFO Racing league (founder member of the league, 1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villenueve, was unavailable). The choice of car – a Mercedes-AMG GT3 – was partially an attempt to lure Mercedes driver Adam Christodoulou into the driver line-up. Adam, being the astute man he is, saw a much more competitive race-winning proposition in joining Tom Onslow-Cole and Sam Neary in our team. Coupled with the fact that the RSL TEAM already owned the Mercedes in their iRacing inventory, the AMG GT3 was whisked off to the paint shop to be liveried.
I mentioned the opportunity to be the other side of the fence on this one. Well, Nick Daman had to sit atop the fence and jump down to whatever side he was needed, as he was also on commentary duty. The whole race being streamed live with John Hindhaugh on lead comms made the coverage seem very real. As Nick said, "it was an extremely intense 12 hours: six as a commentator and six as a team member and driver.”
Well, 12 as a team member and driver as I had one eye on the progress of the “Mighty 62” on my iRacing rig’s screen with the other on the race feed and timing. This did mean that, on a couple of occasions, I saw things happening in front of our car that were pivotal to the race, but not on the main screen at the time. My distraction has since been referred to as “advanced real time research."
I've been SIM racing for many years and iRacing in particular for almost a decade. I've always been an advocate of it being the closest thing to real racing you can experience: Nick Daman admitted to actually feeling sick as he prepared to take over the car for his first stint. The psychology of it all is pretty much exactly the same as in real racing, plus the competitive aspect and the responsibility of keeping the car in one piece, and thus not letting your teammates down, is very real. Quite a responsibility considering how much time and effort goes into a 12-hour race like this.
The preceding week for example had seen pretty much all of the teams practising in private and official sessions, and it soon became apparent over the course of these sessions that the RSL team were never going to be the quickest over a lap at Monza. However, #ThisIsEndurance was still the chant and this event was going to be just like all the other endurance races, real or virtual.
An unfortunate example of this very thing was apparent for Team Webheads. Led by 24H Series stalwart JM Littman, who had somehow brokered a deal for Tom Dillman to drive the WEBHEADS Ferrari, the Webheads Ferrari 488 GT3 retired from the race very early after suffering massive damaged in an early accident. A real shame as this car was very much in contention.
Still, it was clear to see why Dillman is a well respected PRO driver with a wealth of experience of Formula E, LMP1 and GT racing: the Frenchman went top of the time sheets at pretty much every practice session during the week leading to the race.
The two eTeam WRTs did their best to continue the feeling of realism too. Consistent lap times were obviously the primary reason for the team’s 1-2 finish, and we even saw the virtual WRT Audis towing one another around the 5.793km track during qualifying, in exactly the same way their real world Belgian counterparts surely would have done.
The Team RSL Powered by MOFO meanwhile had a mixed race. Things were going great, and we were comfortably inside the top 15 after Darren Woods’ opening stint. I was next into the car and after four fresh Hankooks and a replenished fuel tank, I pulled away from our pit only to realise I had no sound.
Complete silence. No engine sound. No anything sound.
I quickly stopped the car and screamed into the radio. Ben Constanduros was next driver on the rota to jump straight in if such a technical hitch ensued. This was Ben's virtual endurance racing debut and he no doubt would have appreciated a little more preparation. So in at the deep end for Ben and unfortunately an early trip to the wall required extensive repairs. My problem turned out to be, that for some unknown reason, my computer had reset all the sound settings. Technical problems. Again, just like the real world.
My explanation in an interview with Hindhaugh on the live YouTube coverage was that having climbed into the car, we couldn't get the seatbelts done up – I've clearly over indulged during this Coronavirus lockdown – so we needed to find a skinnier driver in Ben. Still, even after those earlier problems, we still managed to finish a respectable 17th of the GT3 class runners.
A huge congratulations to CREVENTIC for coming up with the idea of a virtual 12H MONZA. While I’m pretty sure everyone is looking forward to getting back to a real world track where we all belong, it was a great event that I'm sure has helped the CREVENTIC family during these strange times. Added bonus, when the chequered flag was dropped after 12 hours of virtual racing, there was no truck to pack up either!