iRacing Spa 24H 'The struggle is real'

It's been over 3 years since my last blog and in my virtual race world things have taken a huge turn. I had given up on the console world due to the feeling of being constantly cheated out of my hard earned money by game developers who for some reason feel they can release AAA titles unfinished. i digress, you can read about this in my last post.

However, roll back to May 2015 and my hunger to find a sim racing title that satisfied my needs i took the plunge and spent a small fortune (to me) on building my own PC for this purpose. over the next 6 months i dabbled in many titles that had been kicking around for a few years and some that had only been released that summer and I still felt uninspired, but during that time I did learn a lot about mod's and skinning which i really enjoyed, but the online side of the racing was always sparse and with unfair rules and full of 'drivers' that felt they could drive like idiots and ruin your race for fun.

Christmas 2015 and i was introduced to iRacing by a gaming friend who had been an iRacer for a while and took the plunge with a 6 month subscription and thought to myself if this doesn't float my boat then i'll give up looking for that perfect racer to satisfy my needs.

Fast forward 25 races and a win in the Mazda MX-5 along the way and I hit my A licence in less than 3 weeks. I was totally hooked and looking for a series to race in during the rest of season 1 in 2016. As a European and looking for full grids the obvious choice was GT3. The full grids didn't disappoint and the racing was fast and furious but I soon began to find I was lacking everywhere, race craft, speed and most of all, a decent paintjob.

Now, I realised very early on that I'd never be an alien racedriver and I'd never reach the dizzy heights of qualifying for the official iRacing world championship but I did quickly realise that it's a proper race sim and that the more you put in, the more you get out. Things started to get serious at this point with me spending money on branded pedals and triple screens and another GPU to power the extra real estate and a better wheel and then I discovered fuel apps and telemetery software and now I needed a 4th monitor. Then I was shown a well known streaming internet TV channel and now my laptop runs at the same time as when I'm racing. The end result is me not winning any races but my girlfriend can tell you that my electricity bill spikes on racedays.

Add all that together and you get the sum of one very happy virtual race driver who probably 'has all the gear but no idea'. Do i care? Do I heck. All that matters to me is that I race, I have fun and meet some great guys along the way, which I have. I now have a small growing group for like minded racers on Facebook (Sim Racers UK) and along with these friends we form a team and compete in the Endurance events every Sunday and the sprint events individually for bragging rights in the group. It doesn't matter where we finish, as long as we have a great time along the way.

 A few months ago iRacing announced the special events calendar and the Spa 24H fell on the first weekend of my 2 weeks annual leave. 'Couldn't miss that' I said in jest. It was mentioned in the group and kind of forgotten about but I wrote it on my calendar in my kitchen and a few times my long suffering girlfriend said 'are you really doing that?' 'of course' was always my response, not knowing if I was really going to attempt it, and after all it cannot be that hard surely?

Fast forward again to 1730 hrs on Saturday evening and I registered the team for the 1800hrs SPA 24 HOUR Race.

I had bought in extra provisions and made sure the coffee pot was on and snack cupboard was fully stocked. Made sure my PC was in tip top condition and even set up some LED lighting for the dark hours, to alleviate the huge electricity bill!

Myself, Dean and Lee (My Sim Racers UK team mates) were as prepared as we could possibly be. Well, at least we thought we were. We had made the decision not to pre-qualify and would just go with the split and the grid position allocated by the server all worked out by iRating. We were ranked 22nd in our split, which was the bottom split of the 2 for the start time of 6pm. 38 cars in lobby and our goal had always been 'just get to the finish'.

We decided to start from pitlane to avoid the carnage of the opening laps and then just settle in to our race and see where that takes us over the coming 24 hours. I was the first driver and sat in the car in pitlane with my palms sweaty and my heart racing at the thought of the enormity of what we were about to do. My mind wandered to all the set-up hours we had done and the hours I'd spent on the team skin making sure everything was just right and all came down to this moment. The lights went green and the noise of the cars in my left ear of my headset as they roared passed going into Eau Rouge for the first time was amazing and I was free.....

The engine roared into life and I began to move away from our pit stall and I prayed I wouldn't be back here for around another 70 minutes when the fuel tank was empty. I climbed the hill onto the main straight and thoughts begun to change to cold tyres and cold brakes and heavy car, take it easy for 3 laps and then begin to push. The car felt good and i settled in to consistant 2:22/3 laptimes and the pack was getting closer with every lap. 38th and dead last but gaining seconds per lap. It felt great and my heart rate settled and I just concentrated on the job in hand and treated it like my 1 hour stint on a regular Sunday during the endurance series weekly race. It didn't take long to catch the pack and I begun to overtake when safe to do so and with crashers in the opening laps I found myself climbing to 21st after 20 laps, one notable overtake was round the outside going into the bus-stop and this became a regular place for me to overtake as the race went on.

Then it happened, 10 minutes left of the the opening stint of a 24 hour race and it all goes horribly wrong. entering Blanchimont (The fast left hander before the Bus-Stop) full throttle I was confronted by a huge cloud of blue tyre smoke from a spinning Audi and it was a genuine Days of thunder moment (movie reference, where Tom Cruise drives through a cloud of smoke whilst racing Nascar), my spotter was telling me 'I don't know where to go?' . not much bloody help eh?! I made a decision and went right, just as the car was straightening up and driving off the circuit out of the way.....BANG! I T-boned the Audi and got hit from behind at the same time. 4 or 5 cars involved and complete carnage. End result. A totalled car. I limp back to pit lane with the car wanting to turn right, a missing bonnet and not one straight panel anywhere. 40 minutes of repairs and the thought of 'could I have missed the spinning Audi?' and 'Is our race over before its really had the chance to get going?'.

Apologising to my team mates and feeling like i'd ruined the whole day, we just allow the sim to do its thing and repair the car. We knew that the car would now be slow in a straightline as we'd damaged the front aero but if we could get back out there; having a big accident in the first hour is better than having one in the last hour. we took this time to analyse the accident over and over again via the replay function and the general consensus was that the only way I could have avoided the spinning Audi was to have the graphical particles turned off or right down, the down side to this is that the immersion level drops which for me is too big a price to pay. I payed good money for my PC and the monthly subscription and I want the best possible experience, if others do that, then that's their choice but it isn't mine.

The accident cost us 18 laps, dejected and fed up Deano leaves pitlane and soon realises that we are around 10km/hr down on straightline speed, not a good place to be when trying to fight for position. Deano continues to 'race' whilst we discuss the future of the team continuing. We decide to give it a go and not retire. We are now 32nd out of 38, and the last running team with our morale at rock bottom.

Then just as we were coming to terms with the fact that our chance of winning (got to be optimistic!) was gone but had decided to continue and give it all we had, the engine let go. 30 minutes into Deano's stint and we had huge plumes of smoke from the back of the car and that feeling of failure really began to set in. I stopped the live stream and we are once again on the verge of calling it quits. Another 30 minutes of repairs and now we are going to be 25 laps behind the leader. But, the general consensus is that maybe we'll get a faster car after the repairs and maybe be back to full speed again and able to put up some kind of fight if we need to.

So, that's it, we carry on. Decision made. Now we have nothing to lose we are dead last and the only way is up.

From that moment on we had a blast. The car was brilliant even though it looked like it had seen better days, the banter was top notch, the support between the 3 of us was second to none and each stint passed with out issue and as others fell by the wayside through accident and tiredness we pushed on relentless in our pursuit of the 24 hour completion. Sod where we finished, let's just get to the end.

6 hours in and we were still running in 26th and last place, but; we were still running! The coffee was flowing and Lee was necking the energy drinks like they were going out of fashion! Deano was still on top form with his one-liners keeping morale high and as it approached 1am things were looking good.

8 hours in at 0230hrs and things started to get tough mentally and physically. Tiredness was creeping up on me as at that point as i'd been awake 18 hours. The racing was going well and it was a case of staying out of trouble and keep plugging away and we would definitely finish in the top 20, we were already in  24th and chasing down 23rd, being over 2 seconds a lap quicker than them.

10 hours in and after I did my 0320-0430am stint my body failed me, I had to sleep and now. No amount of food or coffee could keep my eyes from closing. I hit the sofa and my eyes immediately closed. I did remember to set an alarm for 6am so at least I could grab 90 minutes of sleep. The alarm woke me up with a start and I struggled to my feet and headed back to the pit garage or 'man cave'. Were we still racing? Were Deano and Lee still awake? How was the car? Much to my astonishment we were still going and still climbing the leaderboard and we were not the last car running anymore! The lads had driven well and not put a wheel wrong! I had two laps to get myself awake and make a coffee before Lee ran out of fuel! That was close and would have been a disaster. I jumped back in the hot seat and did my best stint of the entire race. 70 minutes of consecutive 2 minute 22/3 laps. I get out the car with my stomach growling and my mouth like the inside of a racedrivers glove! I now had 2 hours to get myself a shower and refuel my stomach.

Refreshed and feeling on top of the world....well, as much as you could be after only 25 hours and only one and half hours sleep. We are now runnning 17th and still going strong. Lee and Dean were now struggling to stay awake and their laptimes were dropping off into the 2:27's purely because of tiredness. The remaining field was strong and it was not looking like we could make up anymore places through accidents. We were in the bottom half of the laptimes and the teams ahead had more team members and had fresher drivers yet to drive.

The banter was still high and the realisation that a top 15 finish was beginning to sink in and if you'd have told me that was going to happen after the 2nd hour then I'd have said you were bonkers. Deano had a moment during his penultimate stint, where he actually fell asleep at the wheel and his foot was planted hard on the gas pedal and if wasn't for the rev limiter making a noise in his headset and woke him up he would have hit the wall hard at the end of start/finish straight at La Source! The next few hours was a blur of coffee and food and sore backside and aching shoulders, between stints I was walking around to get blood flow in my calf muscles and updating the FB group status.

20 hours and now its getting tough, we all are in agreement that each stint is harder than the previous one and concentration levels are dropping. Believe it or not we are 14th with 4 hours to go and catching 13th fast. It's obvious we are out of sync with the top teams and pitstop routines and start to plan the fuel strategy and driver swaps for the last 30 minutes. Who would have the job to cross the finish line? Would we need a splash and dash? Would we have to fuel save? All this added to the race immensely and did the job of occupying our three very tired minds.

The final hour came around and we found ourselves in 13th place because of another retiree and I was given the honour of finishing the race for Sim Racers UK. The last stint was great to drive. I had new found vigour and speed from somewhere. Lee commented 'and now you learn to drive the car!' I was the quickest car on the track with the exception of the Alien team who won and I was fighting for the whole hour with guys quicker than me, who were well inside the top ten. At one point I made my trademark overtake going into the bust stop final chicane, like it was the opening lap of a 20 lap race!

The 24th hour ticked by like 5 minutes. I was having a blast and it felt like the hour was over too soon.

We had finished!

13th overall after losing over an hour and 25 laps lost. We had finished 32 laps down on the lead car and if you take away those lost laps for the accident and the blown engine we could have finished in 7th. Not bad for 3 guys in their 40's! At the start of the weekend if you had said we going to finish in 13th in our split after 24 hours then I'd have said no way.

Its now been 24 hours since we crossed the finish line at Spa and looking back it has been the best experience I've ever had during my short time as a PC sim racer. I would not have achieved it without my two great friends Deano and Lee, who didn't give up when morale was as its lowest and gave great individual performances against much tougher opposition. It is after all a team event. Thank you guys for the superb driving and much needed laughter at stupid o clock in the morning when all we wanted to do was switch it all off and go to bed. I'm happy you didn't. To my girlfriend who is the most understanding person you could ever wish to meet, thank you for putting up with me when I spend hours fiddling with my PC and swearing when things have gone wrong. Consoling me when my races go bad (I've crashed) celebrating with me when I finish a race (without crashing) and defending me when your friends discover what it is that I do for a hobby, after all, its not fishing, football or getting drunk is it?

Ask me the question, would I do it again? Hell yeah! Just give me some new sponge in my race seat and another team mate to help spread the stints and I wouldn't hesitate.

iRacing you have one happy customer with a real sense of achievement and pride that we conquered your toughest event.

To all the people who may think I'm mad or immature, I offer you a challenge. Come to my house and try it for yourself. If you still think its a stupid toy or I'm just a big kid then I'll accept your opinion, until then don't knock it til you tried it.

Oh, and if you're faster than me, what are you doing next August?


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