2 weeks ago I got to participate in the iRacing 24 hours of Daytona. It was a blast even though it did not go as well as I had hoped...
First off, I am a NASCAR guy, I like NASCAR, I watch NASCAR, and I know a little bit about the tech of NASCAR (i.e. what does raising the trackbar do.) I primarily race the NASCAR cars on iRacing. I don't know too much about road racing. I enjoy watching it, but I am by no means an expert in road racing. I do it for fun and really do not care where I finish. I just try to minimize the amount of times I crash.
So what made me decide to do the 24 Hours of Daytona even though I lack much endurance racing skill. Well, tbh, I had a free weekend, it was the first ever official 24 hour race, and I thought YOLO why not (I promise not to say YOLO again). So here is my race timeline
T - 48 hours
I decide that I want to do the race and purchase the
Porsche 911 GT3 Ruf RT-12 and begin practicing with it to make sure that I won't wreck everyone in the race. I was pretty confident at Daytona because it is actually quite an easy road course with few challenging turns or strange directional changes.
After getting some confidence with the car it was time to find a team. This race required a team of at least two people for driver swaps (yes, iRacing has those if you did not know). This proved to be a little bit more difficult of a task than I thought. I probed the forums looking for a team of competent drivers whose goal it was to make it to the end of the race and not crash the car too many times.
Thankfully iRacing had updated the code so that you theoretically could not wreck out of the race. They changed it so that the virtual crew would replace parts on the car at a significant time penalty, of course.
T - 24 hours
A couple correspondents had been taking place between assorted persons and I for finding a ride. Many people were looking for drivers for the BMW GT3 car or the HPD Prototype. I was unable to compete with those.
T - 12 hours
After much searching and private messaging a team of ad-hoc drivers was set up. All of us desperately looking for a seat so that we could compete and not have to spend 12 hours in front of a computer screen. We spent a couple hours trying the setup, making driver assignments, then agreeing to kind of wing it. Since we knew we had little chance of winning and just wanted to finish, that was fine with me. Somehow I ended up becoming the race strategist which probably happened because I put on a persona of seeming to know what I am talking about.
T +- 0 hour (8:00AM)
At the beginning of the race I was asleep in my bed. The team owner took the first stint as it was his responsibility to get our team registered for the race. Working out the time and rules, everyone needed to drive for 2 hours so that their minimum participation was taken care of in the race and we wouldn't have to worry about being disqualified. In hindsight, that was a stupid plan. I worked it so that each driver would do 2 hours and rotate each person until our minimums were established; however, we probably would have accomplished the same thing if we had divided our drivers up by morning/afternoon, evening/overnight, overnight/morning.
~ 10:00 AM
This was my introduction to the actual 24 hour race. I joined the server and found we had ~40 cars total in our event with 16 of them being HPDs and the remaining 24 being GT3 (our class), we started 39th. My teammate pulled the car into the pits got out and I got in. My goal for my first stint was to get familiar with the racing environment and not do anything stupid that would require me to explain to the next driver why the right front tire was located in the passenger seat.
Once I got out on track and settled into a rhythm, the going was excellent. The racers were cordial and understood that there were 22 hours left in the event. However, being in the slower GT3 cars, you could tell that some of the HPD drivers were losing their patience. Overall my first stint was a hum drum Saturday morning drive with the only real excitement being the two HPDs that decided to crash in front of me. Thankfully it was in the braking zone and I could slow to avoid.
I received the car in 17th position and bought it back after my stint in 9th position. Things were looking pretty good.
My stint was complete. I climbed out, my teammate got in and he began making laps. I then went off to get some food and comeback to see how we are doing.
I come back to find the car in the pits with suspension damage. Turns out we had some sort of steering failure and the car crashed into the outside fence. Well shucks, we knew it was early and many more people were going to have issues. A suspension repair takes 8 minutes so we waited for the virtual crew to bang out the damage, and we were back in the race.
I still haven't driven a second stint yet due to my poor planning of drivers and trying to get my minimum participation done. At this point we were ~4 laps away from pitting and performing another driver swap when the car broke loose on our driver in Turn 4 (road course config) and pile drove into the Turn 5 tire wall. It was most likely caused by the loss of weight in the rear of the car combined with old tires. This was a hard hit, after limping it back to the pits it was approximately 30 minutes of repair. Chances of finishing high diminished, but weren't gone completely.
So it turns out that our crew didn't pull out a new engine, but instead tried to fix the old one that we had. We of course didn't find that out until the engine exploded. After a lengthy tow, the crew decided to actually put another engine in the car. This was another 30 minute repair and switched us from competing to just trying to nurse it home.
Overall the race was going well, everyone seemed to be getting along and gave each other plenty of room on track. The cars were quite spread out both on-track as well as in the standings, so there wasn't much reason for people to race too hard. However, I did start noticing the field getting tired. There were more silly mistakes and single car spins happening than in previous hours. All we could hope for was that others would have the same misfortunes that we did.
I finally get back into the car for my second stint, the car looks a little different than when I first got it, but it still drives okay. At this point I was just putting in my 2 hours to help get the car home so that we can make it to the end. We were many laps behind the leader and 10 laps behind the next position. Our only way to make up positions was to hope that others would find trouble and we could stay out of it. We weren't even tracking our position because at this point, it didn't matter.
BAM! Another hit. This time we got a little piece of car and smacked the wall a tad. Enough to do some decent suspension damage and 12 minutes of repair. Needless to say, it has not gone well; however, we were still driving and not giving up on finishing this race.
~ 11:30 PM
I climb into the car for my final stint of the race. That suspension hit did a number on the car's power and drive ability. The engine didn't sound quite right and I was hoping not to have it blow up.
At this point, I start thinking about the end of the race, when our swaps were taking place, and how much fuel we would need. At the point I was diving we needed about 10 minutes more fuel to be able to make it the rest of the distance. The fuel stints were about an hour and the race officially started at 8:22 AM, we were stopping around 10 after the hour so we would have been 10 minutes short.
~ 12:30 AM
Then I learned that it doesn't matter. At this point the cars on my screen all disappear and the server kicks me. It now appears that all of us have had a major incident in the race. I try to reconnect in a panic to recover the car and finish the stint. I messaged our next driver, who was about to head into the race to get there faster to try to get someone in the car. I ended up reconnecting and taking the car back out. Lost 5 minutes over the ordeal, and of course, the car was filled with gas again so all of my fuel calculations were pointless.
At this moment, I pull into the pits and swap with out overnight driver. With my driving concluded it was time for me just to watch us finish and maybe get some sleep. However, since I planned out the overnight so poorly, we didn't have any backups for a few hours in case the driver got tired. I therefore stayed up for a little but while our overnight driver drove around just to be sure he was okay. At this point we were 18th out of 24 in class 115 laps down.
Remember how I said the engine didn't sound right, well it exploded. Nuked after our 3rd major crash a couple hours ago. Another 30 minute repair which I used as nap time.
~ 2:21 AM
Engine fixed back in the car. Overnight driver kept going, second relief driver came online, I am going to bed...
I get back up and find out drivers still piloting our mis-shaped race car around the track. There is about 90 minutes to go and the finish is in sight. 1 more driver swap 2 more fuel stops to go and everything seems good. There hadn't been any major mishaps since the 1:51 engine explosion.
As time went on I got more and more nervous. I wanted to cross the line at 24 hours. A suspension repair took 8 minutes and an engine swap took 30. I was hoping that nothing stupid would happen and we would be stuck behind the wall fixing the engine when the race ended.
This was the last pit stop. Everything was going to plan (for once) and the car would have just enough gas to make it across the line (+ a few extra laps if necessary). The next time we were coming to the pits would be the end of the race.
This was the point of no return for engine damage. Luckily the engine sounded fine. Heck, it was our 3rd one so they should have gotten it right.
This was the point of no return for the shocks. Frankly, this made me more nervous than the engine because it doesn't take much to mess up these shocks. One bump to the wall or another car and we were done for.
WE DID IT!!! We cross the stripe under the checkered flag and made it to the finish. The car had the crap beaten out of it, but it made it to the end of the race. Our team was formed 12 hours before the start of the 24 hour race and we held together through our many mishaps and came home in the end.
Final Result: 17th of 24 in class -175 Laps, not the greatest showing but we didn't have a DNF next to our name so we accomplished our goal.
Overall thoughts about the race.
Overall I had a blast. Seriously, I would not have thought that staying up and playing a video game with 4 others would be as much fun as it was. iRacing really did a good job catching the thrill of endurance racing with driver swaps and lengthy car repairs for major parts. Each stint had the pressure on you to not have to explain to the team why the car was found upside down in Turn 3. It felt like actually being in the crew behind the wall watching the car go around track. You celebrated the highs, got disappointed at the lows, all without leaving your room. If you remember the Top Gear UK episode where they did the 24 hour race in the BMW diesel, all of those emotions came through once that car crossed the line after 24 hours. Sure you weren't actually at the racetrack and breathing in the exhaust fumes, but the feeling were the same. This is probably the closest I will get to endurance racing in a sophisticated racing machine (outside of 24 Hours of LeMons or something).
I truly enjoyed the experience. There are many things I would have done differently, but in order to improve, you need to start somewhere. iRacing has set up a whole series of endurance races (~ 4-6 this year), which after this experience, I am going to have to block out some weekends so I can do more.