One of the biggest selling points of iRacing is its proper endurance racing that’s unmatched by other racing sims. Every year they run about a dozen special events which include most of the major endurance races found on the WEC, IMSA, or VLN calendar. Each one takes place on a laser-scanned adaptation of the track with a field of cars that’s as close to reality as possible. There are no AI drivers here, just thousands of real drivers from around the world.
Well a couple weeks ago they hosted the iRacing 12 Hours of Sebring and I have no shame in admitting that I spent the entirety of a beautiful Saturday in front of my computer to help pilot a virtual car around a virtual track for 12 hours straight. And you know what? It was way better than going outside.
Taking the Plunge
This would be my first experience doing any special event in iRacing. In fact, I wasn’t even a member until four weeks prior when I was hardcore peer pressured into signing up for it. For the past couple of years I’ve been sim racing with the “Sim Racing Lounge” Discord server and some friends there insisted that we take the plunge and try surviving the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Well one day we made that commitment. Eight of us would set out on a goal to bring two cars all the way to the end of the iRacing 12 Hours of Sebring. The Porsche 911 RSR and Sebring International Raceway were the first things we all bought. The race was four weeks away and preparations began that night.
What follows is a chronicle of my experience running the iRacing 12 Hours of Sebring. The goal of this wasn’t to try and prove anything. I know full well that I’d never be able to do this kind of thing in real life at the level that’s being simulated here. But for four weeks, it sure was fun to pretend.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
As we would soon learn, there’s still a lot that goes into preparing for a virtual endurance race. But for many of us the first task at hand was to get to know Sebring and how the 911 RSR handled it. Most of us knew Sebring to some extent, but not well enough to be fast right away. So we did the only thing we could do… we started running laps.
All of the tracks in iRacing are laser-scanned so the surface is as accurate as possible, which meant the track guides found on YouTube that used real footage applied in-game. This break-down from The Drive by Leo Parente was the one that really made things click for me personally. I could take every lesson it taught and turn it into actual progress in my quest for a clean and fast lap. It was just one of the many videos we were all sending each other to help everyone get comfortable with the track.
I practiced after work and on weekends until I could drive the track with my eyes closed. Generally my times put me in a good spot compared to what most other guys could run and they were actually pretty close to real life times. Once I even managed a 1:55.99 (above) which would have theoretically been good enough to qualify P2 for this year’s actual race.
For the first time ever, I was confident at Sebring. I only had to focus on hitting my marks and could drive just as quickly at night as I could during the day. That would finally make me useful later.
Getting the Car Ready
While we were all working towards not sucking at Sebring, our “team principle” (we started calling him Toto Wolff) and others in our server were constantly providing new setups for us to experiment with. Only one setup could be applied to each car that was entered, so all drivers sharing it would need to sign off on the setup beforehand.
The depth of setup adjustments available in iRacing is pretty immense. Every car is modeled using real data from teams and manufacturers, so if something can be adjusted on the actual car, it can be adjusted in game. There’s an art to setting up a race car and I’m no artist. But that’s what we had Toto for.
His job wasn’t an easy one. Not only did everyone sharing the car have to be comfortable and quick with it, we had to consider the drastic track temperature change we’d see during the race and how the car’s behavior changed as the fuel level did (and it changed a lot).
We all ran every proposed setup for dozens of laps at a time in varying conditions and reported back to Toto. I took it a step further and would basically run an entire stint to see how long we could go on a full tank, measure tire wear, and provide feedback on how to compensate for the car’s changing behavior. I did that four times.
Meanwhile, our Toto was also whipping up custom liveries for both cars. It went through a few iterations before becoming what you see here. The design is identical between both cars but with slightly different and equally bright base colors. The idea was to make our cars easy to see so we were less likely to be punted off track. And no, the reptile scale pattern was not my idea. I still don’t understand that one. But my name was put on the car so I had to love it.
Anyone running an app called Trading Paints can see custom liveries uploaded by other racers, so we had a colorful field and motivation to actually make one ourselves. Toto took it a step further and even made us custom driver and crew suits. Sadly, those all had reptile scales too.
Something to Lose
There was a lot of work going into this effort amongst all eight of us and that started to make me more nervous about the race. Anyone that embraces this hobby is well aware that there are generally no real risks or rewards in sim racing when compared to the real thing. But the kind of race prep we were all doing had actually put something at risk: our time.
In the weeks leading up to the event, I had driven over twice as many practice laps of Sebring than I would actually run in the race and I wasn’t alone in that sad fact. Our Toto and others had tinkered with the setup so many times to finally give us one that was perfect. Toto also spent many minutes working on our liveries and adding custom driver/crew suits. And while this was all going on, all eight of us were grinding through regular season races to hit our minimum license requirement in time for Sebring.
All of that time and effort between all eight of us was done for this one race. I’ve never experienced this in sim racing before, but it felt like like we really had something to lose. If we did well, it would have given us a genuine sense of accomplishment and time well spent. And if it all went wrong, it would have been many hours from eight people wasted. None of us wanted to be the one who screwed it all up.
With setups, skins, teams, and stint schedules finalized, we all signed in on race day with high hopes to at least finish the race and maybe even get a decent result.
Sharing the #069 SRL Team Green car with me was Abe (our Toto), Jesse, and Bailey. Running the #690 SRL Team Yellow car was Jamen, Geoff, Mike, and Alexander who is a wicked fast driver from Germany. Yes, the car numbers were planned.
2,871 drivers among 1,030 teams were registered for this event, according to data compiled by Fuzzwah Racing. All of those teams are divided into smaller sessions or “splits” with the team’s collective iRating being the deciding factor. Car classes were Daytona Prototype (the old one because it’s an old sim), GTE, and GT3. The most popular class by far was GTE, so by the time we were shuffled into our lower split, there were no DPs or GT3s left. An all GTE server meant we had less traffic management to do, which was fine by me.
Qualifying was handled by Abe for team Green because I was still half asleep and Alexander did it for team Yellow because he is a wicked fast German. Team Yellow would start P13 and Team Green would start P17. In a field of 52 cars, we were pretty happy about that.
Now all that was left to do was the small matter of running that 12 hour race that we all spent the last four weeks straight preparing for.
All that time and energy spent led up to the moment we took to the grid. The drivers who qualified elected to start the race in each car. I was perfectly fine with not bearing that responsibility. My iRacing experience up to that point made me afraid to even qualify for most races as the lap 1 carnage was inevitable.
With hearts pounding and our nerves frayed, the pace car pulled in to the pits and the race was on. Both of our drivers kept their cool and stayed out of trouble, and fortunately everyone else did the same. Everyone there knew how long of a race it was and resisted the urge to let their public Forza lobby tactics ruin the race for everyone. That persisted for the entire race with only a few exceptions.
The opening stints for both teams were thankfully uneventful. We were running P19 and the sister car was just outside the top 10 when it came time for the first pit stop and driver change. With hotter conditions during the day, we could only do a single stint on tires before they got too worn out. We would do four one-hour stints with driver swaps at each stop and then double-stint drivers and tires in the later 2/3rds of the race as it got darker and cooler.
With a great opening stint for both teams, our aim was to just keep riding that wave of momentum and stay out of trouble. Finishing the race was our first goal and a good finishing order was just a bonus. Abe and Alexander had both set us up for success and the rest of us just had to not fuck it up.
We then proceeded to immediately fuck it up.
During our driver change we experienced some technical issues at the worst possible moment. Abe got out of the car and Jesse got in. After our full service stop was completed, he started pulling out of the pit stall and soon noticed that his wheel had no force feedback at all. You get penalized for reversing in pit lane too far, so he had to drive a full lap with no FFB and circle back around to the pits so another driver could take over. We were immediately a lap down in 40th place.
Bailey was on deck and hopped in the car. Before we could even start talking about how to fix Jesse’s wheel, Bailey got pit maneuvered. On turn 3. Of his out lap. We were now a lap down in 41st place with a small bit of aero damage. 11 hours to go and our race had pretty much fallen apart in 3 minutes.
And a short time later, a competitor spun out in front of Team Yellow’s car. With nowhere to go, they t-boned it and sustained heavy front end body damage that they would carry for the rest of the race. That’s because iRacing, the most expensive commercially-available sim on the market, doesn’t know how to do body panel repairs.
Going back to that feeling of having something to lose, this series of events was genuinely devastating. The only thing that was really said on the team radio was “it’s a long race”, and that was really all we needed to hear at that moment. It wasn’t over yet even if it felt that way.
And thus began a long and grueling recovery drive by all of us, especially those of us in Team Green, which will be continued in part 2.