The endurance event has finished with a little controversy as Team Redline win a disrupted 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, and R8G Esports take the victory in the GTE class.
As the finale of the virtual endurance series running on rFactor 2, the fifth round of the race calendar began on Saturday with a $250,000 prize pool and famous names from motorsport and sim racing. That included Max Verstappen, who took an early lead when the race began. And it developed into a race-long battle for the victory between the Team Redline and Porsche Coanda teams in the LMP class.
There was close racing throughout both classes, as the #20 Porsche Coanda regained the lead due to an alternative pit stop strategy. The team’s GTE cars were also heading their class, as both the leading R8G Ferrari and Prodrive FYRA Esport Aston Martin cars suffered disconnections.
But around four hours after the race has started, there were multiple disconnections for a total of around 12 competitors, followed by a red flag being introduced, pausing the race for more than an hour. Unfortunately several cars were involved in a large crash following the restart, and then a second red flag occurred. There were some more disconnections as the racing moved into the early morning on Sunday, and this eventually led to the retirement of Max Verstappen, which has overshadowed much of the reporting of the on track action.
The red flags also meant that the introduction of rain was cancelled, as the event team and developers were obviously looking to find the cause of the issues.
The 2023 24 Hours of Lem Mans Virtual LMP victory eventually went to the #2 Team Redline car, driven by Felipe Drugovich, Feleix Rosenqvist, Luke Bennett and Chris Lulham, which won by just 21.109 seconds after 24 hours and 356 completed laps from the #20 Porsche Coanda of Ayhancan Guven, Laurin Heinrich, Mitchell deJong and Joshua Rogers.
The final spot of the podium was also contended right up until the chequered flag, with the #53 AMG Team Williams Esports car (Trogen, Canapino, Brezezinski and Wisniewski) holding on from the #36 Alpine Esports Oreca (Lehmann, Boulay, Spork and Lartilleux) despite some bold challenages from Lehmann in the final few minutes. The #63 AMG Team Petronas Esports took fifth.
In the GTE class, the win went to the #888 R8G Esports Ferrari 488 of Alexander Smolyar, Scott Andrews, Timotej Andonovski and Erhan Jajovski with 323 laps completed, ahead of the #71 BMW Team Redline BMW M8 of Rudy van Buren, Lorenzo Colombo, Kevin Siggy and Enzo Bonito, and the #89 BMW Team BS+ Competition car of Bruno Spengler, Phillippe Denes, Alen Terzic and Ibraheem Khan. Fourth was the Project 1 by Dorr Esports Porsche 911 RSR (Gassner, Kiss, Lohner, Krippner), and fifth came the #88 Proton Coanda Esports Porsche 911 RSR (Hyman, Tauscher, Collins and van Dooren).
The #10 MAHLE BMW of Jimmy Broadbent, Beitke Visser, Michele D’Alessandro and Muhammed Patel finished 9th in class.
A total of 45 teams entries and 180 drivers began the race, with 37 cars completing the event. And it’s worth celebrating all of the competitors, as driving any endurance race is a challenge for any sim racer. Once again, the presentation, commentary and production was all high quality, and equals many real world racing events, as it’s done since the first edition in 2020.
Technical issues and controversy
Unfortunately, much of that has been overshadowed by technical issues. As in 2020, the race was impacted by red flags. Gerard Neveu, the Executive Producer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual has said that after initial investigation, it appears that some competitors may have accidentally shared IP addresses for the servers they were connecting to, which amplified the impact of security breaches. Certainly, it’s not the only sim racing event to have been subject to DDOS attacks and other issues from third parties trying to disrupt things.
The other issue was the disconnections of various cars and drivers. This has also happened in previous Le Mans events on rFactor 2, and the odd internet or hardware issue will often happen regardless of the sim racing platform used. But it’s harder to overlook when it’s happening to multiple teams, particularly the leading drivers and cars. Especially when one of them is the double F1 world champion, who has experienced the same problem in previous events.
Motorsport Games own the WEC license, run the 24 Hours of Le Mans, own the coverage and some of the official media partners, and also own Studio 397, the developers of rFactor 2, who put out a statement following the event.
“During the third running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, it is clear that there were two major server issues which necessitated red flag stoppages. These were global disconnections caused by a security breach, resulting from the unintentional sharing by race competitors of IP addresses connecting teams to the server.
We have had 180 competitors taking part on 164 different simulators all around the world, and we appreciate the frustrations of any individual drivers or teams affected. A full investigation will be launched at the conclusion of the event, and we will report back on the findings in due course.“
But this doesn’t seem to cover the various disconnections for inidividual cars. The sporting regulations for the event state that when four or more drivers disconnect at the same exact moment, but with no clear evidence of server issues, Race Control may decide at their discretion to award the affected teams up to a maximum of three laps. Which is what happened when seven cars all lost connection at the same moment. But when invidual cars were impacted, including the #28 Yas Heat Veloce, and the #1 Team Redline of Max Verstappen, no laps are handed back.
And learning of the news, Verstappen pulled into the pit lane and quit the game, which is counted as a retirement. The reigning F1 world champion was understandably unhappy at being hampered by a technical issue once again.
“They call it amazingly bad luck, well this is just incompetence,” said Verstappen.
“They can’t even control their own game. This is the third time already that has happened to me now, being kicked off the game while doing this race.
“This is also the last time ever because what’s the point? You prepare for five months to try and win this Championship, you are leading the Championship, you try to win this race which you have prepared for two months and they handle it like this.
“Honestly, it’s a joke, you cannot call this an event, a clown show. That’s why it’s better to retire the car, because driving around in P15 for six hours makes no sense for everyone. It’s a disgrace for all the effort we put in as a team. I really hope the organisers really consider where they put this race forward, because on this platform, it’s not going to work
“That’s it, game over. I think I have more chance if I go to Vegas and go to the casino, I have more chance to win. I think I’m going to uninstall the game. That’s nice…frees up a bit of space on the PC anyway. And I really hope everyone uninstalls the game.”
Our thoughts on the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual
It’s always a shame when track action gets impacted by other factors. And it happens a lot during real world motorsport, not just sim racing. But you can control a lot more of the variables in the virtual world, to try and minimise the problems, and to plan contingencies if something does go wrong.
Third parties have attacked over notable sim racing events held on other platforms in recent months. So while it may have been unexpected that competitors would inadvertently share IP addresses, if you’re hosting the most notable sim racing event of the year, these kinds of security issues should really be addressed for the future. Having worked on various digital products and projects, I’ve had experience of planning for vulnerabilities with cybersecurity specialists. So while I have sympathy for accidental sharing causing an issue, surely it should have been flagged up as a possible problem when you consider 180 drivers all possibly live streaming before, and during, a race?
The separate issue of disconnections is slightly trickier. Sporting regulations will never be perfectly acceptable to everyone impacted by an incident, and limits have to be drawn somewhere if you’re making rules on how to handle situations. It’s particularly unfortunate it impacted Verstappen, as the most high profile driver. And as he’s been hit by similar problems in the past (including in 2020, along with Lando Norris and Charles LeClerc). While momentary drops may be a client side issue (meaning that it’s the driver losing connection with the server, rather than the other way around), the fact that it’s been an issue at evert event, and that there were other noticeable glitches during the race for drivers including Verstappen, resulting in spins and other problems, suggests that a lot more could be done to keep the platform robust and stable. Particularly when it comes to key events in the sim racing calendar.
We’ve all had experiences which haven’t gone our way in sim racing, and certainly, as Le Mans commentator Ben Constanduros pointed out in response to Verstappen, one of the GTE cars impacted carried on and won the class. But at the same time, having arguably the most prestigious event on the sim racing calendar decided partly by a disconnection lottery, along with two red flags, does reflect badly on the hobby as a whole.
Given the owners of the event, license, platform and coverage, official WEC sim races won’t be moving to an alternative platform any time soon. And while I’d certainly prefer an event which allows smaller teams to compete across multiple splits, issues crop up during events big or small on any software service. I’m sure everyone at Studio 397 and the event organisers works hard to try and minimise them, although given the widely reported and ongoing issues with funding for Motorsport Games, it would be interesting to understand the level of resources which are being put into the Le Mans event. Hopefully the organisers will be able to learn from this year and minimise disruptions at the next running of the race, and it’ll be intriguing to see whether it impacts the drivers and teams who are signing up to compete in 2024.
Keep up with racing eSports and sim racing coverage, here. And you can see all the latest rFactor 2 updates and news, here. Or check out the full rFactor 2 car list, and the rFactor 2 track list. Along with downloading the demo version for free via Steam, or buying rFactor 2 for the PC.