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24-hour endurance race Le Mans has gone online

Of all the sports put on hold during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, motorsports have gotten off rather lightly. Between existing “sim-racing” scenes and the relative ease of plugging a steering wheel into a PC, even a calendar event like Le Mans 24 can find new life over the internet. The 24-hour endurance race kicked off in rFactor 2 this afternoon, giving esports drivers a shot at knocking their real-world contemporaries down a peg on the gruelling digital tarmac

To get the unfamiliar up to speed, Le Mans 24 is a day-long enduring race held every year in Le Mans, France. Only, thanks to the pesky issue of a global viral pandemic, this year’s race is currently being held in a facsimile of Le Mans in sim racing software, with drivers connecting from living rooms and garages scattered across the globe.

Whether behind a screen or a high-powered engine, sitting at the wheel for 24 hours is a tough ask. To that end, standard Le Mans rules for drivers apply, regardless of whether the cars are real or not. For first-time viewers, Le Mans have put together a handy guide to how the virtual endurance race is being run, and it’s all very much as serious as the real thing.

No driver is allowed to drive for longer than a maximum of 7 hours over the day, or more than three hours over a five-hour period. Of each team’s four drivers, at least two must be professional racers, with the option to fill out the rest with drivers who’ve made their name in sim-racers like rFactor. Of course, a number of previous Le Mans competitors are taking part in the digital race – including six overall winners – but this is a rare shot for more seasoned esports drivers to make a name for themselves.

As the commentators keep reiterating, sim racing comes with its own host of problems. While engine faults and flat tyres aren’t a concern, getting teams from 31 different countries to connect to one race comes with its own issues. Headphones can fail, inputs can fumble, and in the minutes I’ve had the stream up we’ve already seen one driver disconnect. The distance has also tempted some teams into pulling some truly wild shit, including secretly having a seasoned esports driver race in a Formula E driver’s place.

Le Mans is far from the only sport to take its game online during Covid-19 – whether that’s playing English Premier League matches in FIFA 20 or the Grand National replacing flesh-horses for digital animals. Motorsports perhaps make more sense than most – with the right peripherals, you can effectively simulate everything but the rushing wind and potentially-lethal crashes.

Put it like that, and it might even be preferable to run fast cars online. At the very least, you’re saving a pretty penny on fuel costs.

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Natalie Clayton

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