Good, the Bad, and the Heartbreak:
The iRacing 24 Hours of Daytona Story
This past weekend played host to one of the most popular sim racing events of the year, the inaugural 24 Hours of Daytona. For many people, the event proved to be the first true endurance race, a battle against the clock in hopes of securing a victory in the historic event. The race featured the HPD-ARX01C as the fastest car in the field, as well as the BMW Z4, Ford GT, McLaren MP4-12C and RUF Track cars in the GT3 category.
Together with fellow sim racers Salmaan Farooqui and Gianmarco Segura, I helped create a team known as Team Endurogate, a last minute entry into an event we have all been looking forward to for a while. Driving an orange, black and white McLaren, we entered the race with a goal of just surviving the race and getting to the end in the best shape possible. Follow along the journey as a bunch of amateurs try and tackle one of the coolest video game events around.
Neither Sal nor I had much experience with iRacing. Personally, I hadn’t played the game in two years, and when I did, it was almost strictly ovals. For Sal, he had lots of prior experience with the Daytona Road Course in Gran Turismo 5, but that’s it. We also came in with no other teammates, so the plan was for him and I to split the twelve hours by ourselves.
We were going to need a lot of practice.
Neither of us had good safety ratings heading into the event. I had a horrific 1.49 to start after some wrecks in my previous experience, while Sal began with a fresh 2.50. To get to the mark needed to enter the race, we would need to get to a minimum of a D 4.00 license, and if you’ve ever raced with the rookies, you know that’s a task you don’t want to take on.
After over a week of doing the same, repetitive rookie races over and over, we finally got to Class C and were eligible for the race. It took a lot of work, especially when internet issues and a poor laptop for gaming took its toll on Sal’s chances of grinding the ranks. I eventually had to take over and finish the rating for him, and 30 hours prior to the start of the race, the #555 Team Endurogate Mclaren was finally ready to be entered for the inaugural 24 Hours of Daytona on iRacing.
The night before we decided to melt our brains, we spent a few hours trying to figure out a good setup. That all went to waste when, thanks to brilliant planning, we totally forgot to load in the setup for the race, meaning we would have to go with a baseline setup for 24 hours. Damn.
While gridding for the event, we were hit with the biggest surprise of all. We had a third driver, Gianmarco Segura, who we didn’t know or invite on to the team. We were scared that he would screw up our plan with our stints, and after causing an incident in the warmup, we were rightfully concerned. We knew nothing about the guy.
Once the green flag signaled the beginning of the long, drawn out day of going fast, we were wonderfully shocked to see our performance early on. Gianmarco, who we eventually found out was a Class A driver (meaning he was quite the road racer), went from 20th overall to 6th in three minutes. By the end of his first stint, which turned out to be the first two hours of the race, he had gotten up as high as third overall after some prototype drivers struggled to make up for early mistakes.
For the third hour, it was all about conserving the lead we had over drivers outside the top five. It was Sal's turn to take the wheel, but unfortunately, the stint didn’t go so well. On lap 82, we had to do a nine minute pit stop to repair the car. Sal wasn’t able to get much practice in prior to the race, however, and it would take a while for us to really show our strength.
Once the car was good again, I would take over for the second shortest stint of the race, seven laps. On lap 89, I was involved in a wreck after making a terrible mistake through the back chicane, spinning out and damaging the car heavily. There was already damage from before after electing to not deal with some optional repairs, and more wear on the car in the short stint resulted in additional damage. We were forced to repair our car for 20 minutes, and once we were back on track, Sal took back over for a very strong, conservative three hours.
Sal would need to head off to work about seven hours into the race, and despite a clean run for the majority of his almost seven hours away, my next stint ended poorly. The car had clearly been through a lot, and after taking on the long back straightaway at the end of a fuel run, the engine blew in the car. This wasted 30 minutes in the pits that put us in a hole we would spend all night digging ourselves out of.
When we finally did get back on track, our race began to head in the right direction. Gianmarco did a good job at fighting back and secured a top ten spot for a while, while Steven came in and held on to the position, as the two drivers switched back and forth every hour. Some damage later on in the stint put us as far back as 24th, but after some luck, we were able to get to 14th by the time Sal came back.
Sal’s three hour stint to start off the night was the start of what really was a hard-charging effort. Sal was able to gain a lot of time on the cars in front, proving to be one of three fastest cars on the track consistently. He was involved in a minor collision with a fellow McLaren on lap 474, but he made it out alive before handing it off to me for what turned out to be a safe, yet productive double stint.
Gianmarco took over again on lap 520 after my mistake free run. Steven's plan was to run smooth and catch up to the 72 Backfire Porsche, and after it was all said and done, we gained about two laps in that exchange, putting us nine laps behind after being 14 laps down when Sal took over last. At that point, we were nearly 100 laps down overall, but that meant almost nothing in the grand scheme of things.
During Gianmarco's stint, which saw a short break after 30 laps, the 99 Porsche of Team Slowmo(tion) struggled and would require 15 minutes in the pits. For a big portion of the race, the 99 team had found themselves high up in the race standings, but misfortunates late allowed teams, such as ours, to catch back up.
Their struggles got worse quickly when, 25 minutes after getting back on the track, they were involved in another wreck that put then outside the top ten. The damage, paired with a wreck by the 72 Porsche minutes earlier, allowed Team Endurogate to battle find themselves in tenth place with three and a half hours in the race.
Around lap 560, the plan was to have Gianmarco run a double stint to allow the two Canadians a chance to sleep. All of a sudden on lap 590, Gianmarco had to bail. Steven's internet was struggling, so he woke up Sal to start what would be the first half of his final stint. Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling up to par during his first hour, but was able to soldier on. As a result, I would take over after a fuel run to allow Sal to rest for the final stint, which was set to be the final hour of the event.
During Sal's first half, the battle got intense with Nicholas Garforth of the Elite Two Racing #73 BMW. The BMW was faster and in better shape, and with three laps separating the two late in the race, a quick mistake by Sal could have been the death of the top 10. Luckily for Endurogate, Garforth lost control on lap 599 and slammed into a tire barrier, sending him to the pits for a big chunk of the 22nd hour. The wreck looked like it was all it would take for a top ten finish, as the next highest team, the highly damaged #17 HPD from Burks Auto Racing, was 11 laps behind.
However, the race wasn't complete. After some accidental over-aggressive driving by Sal in the final stint, the 555 Endurogate car was totaled in a hard collision coming out of the chicane on the back stretch. The crash would require 16 minutes of repair, a large sum of time that allowed the #73 BMW to catch right back up. Sal was able to return to the track with the damaged machine, just a lap behind the 73, and with a driver switch expected for the BMW, there was still a chance of chasing them back down for the position. Unfortunately, the damage to the steering proved to be too much for us, as a crash with just over 30 minutes to go took us out of the race, leaving us with a 15th overall finishing position out of the 40 cars that participated.
We had a few goals heading into the race. First, we wanted to survive the first hour. We did just that. Then we wanted to do better than our 20th place starting spot. Again, we managed to be successful in that regard. We also wanted to finish the race, and while we finished it in the pits, we never officially withdrew until the final lap had been completed. Did we fail on our ultimate goal of a top ten? Unfortunately, yes, but considering we met a bunch of our other goals at the same time, at least we can say it wasn’t a total bust.
In fact, it was easily the coolest video game moment I’ve ever been a part of. Looking at a computer screen for 24 hours with zero sleep in between is surely a tough task, but it was also one of the most interesting things I’ve done. A lot of people find endurance racing boring, but as we proved throughout, it’s just a bunch of small races packed into one where anything can happen.
We are set to take part in the 12 Hours of Sebring in late March, as well as the 24 Hours of Nurburgring at the end of the year. We don’t get much time to practice throughout the year, but when we do participate, we make it count.