This weekend, 50 cars will line up on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe starting line ahead of a gruelling 24-hour battle. But this is Le Mans with a difference. With this year’s race postponed until September, this weekend’s event will take place on simulators. We caught up with Xavier Combet, team manager of TDS Racing, which has partnered with Motul to field a car in the LMP class.
You’re racing a virtual Le Mans race this weekend, Xavier. Who’s in the team and how’s preparations going?
Yes, the race is this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. And we have free practice and qualifying this week. We brought in two gamers from Edge E-sports, Dennis Jordan and Alex Siebel. They’re specialists in e-gaming. On top of that we have two FIA-licenced drivers, Gideo van der Garde and Larry ten Voorde. We decided internally to ask the drivers to come to the TDS Racing workshop to try and recreate the real atmosphere of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
How different is this to real racing in terms of process?
It’s very similar. We will set up the pit board panel, put up some video cameras to do live streams and work with our engineers on the strategy and set up for the race. We want to gain some knowledge of the car on the sim as well. At some point we can hopefully find some identical points on the real car and the virtual car, so it’s good for us to understand and to try and improve the set up.
Will it be run like a real Le Mans race and how often will drivers change?
There is a regulation for the amount of time a driver spends on the sim (which I need to check [laughs]), but the minimum time is three or four hours and the maximum seven hours. So, it’s like a real 24 Hours of Le Mans race. We have to manage that with the drivers. We will come up with a strategy for changes. They will change seats maybe after every two or three hours.
Is the virtual car identical to the car you normally race at Le Mans?
No, the livery is a special one for this race. We have some new partners in the virtual race, so we decided to change the livery to reflect that.
How many people do you need to run this race?
In the beginning, we thought we could do it with only the drivers and two or three more people. But in the end, it’s not true. We are about 15 people in total, from the team manager to the drivers, as well as communications, catering and three engineers who will manage the car during the race.
Is this your team’s first sim race?
This is our first experience in simulator racing. We started the practice races and some private training last week and learnt a lot. It’s something to add into the process, because you have to choose the simulator, understand how the game works and a lot more things to be ready for the race. It’s not an easy exercise to be honest. There’s a lot to manage so that we’re ready and strong. In the end we want to try and be on the podium and win the race.
How do the organisers verify if people are sticking to the rules if everyone’s in different places?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I hope that everybody will respect the rules. It’s a game and we have to respect all the work from the teams and the ACO. Especially since the prize money will go to a COVID-19 foundation, and for that we have to respect the rules.
Does this count as an official Le Mans title?
For me, it’s only for fun. For sure, we will have a winner of a Le Mans virtual race and, who knows, maybe this will evolve into something. At the end of the day, it’s still a win at Le Mans, even if it is virtual.
Do you think sim racing will become stronger in motorsport?
I believe that sim racers dream about winning real races but often don’t have the possibility to become real drivers. What we try to do internally is keep a good relationship with Edge E-sports and their drivers. You never know what the future will be. Remember what Nissan Academy did in the past (with its virtual racer competition).
You’ve been a Motul partner for a long time. How did the collaboration for the virtual race come about?
We’ve been a partner with Motul since 2010 if not earlier and we have a very good relationship. Together, we try to work in a good way, like a proper partnership with exchanges from both sides. When the race was announced, Motul called me and proposed a partnership with the TDS Racing car, and I accepted of course. It makes sense to do this together.
In real racing, what difference does Motul’s lubricants make to your team's success?
It’s always important to work in the long term with the people around the team, and that includes the partners. We like to work with Motul because they listen to our analysis and feedback. It’s important for the team and a real part of our performance.
Picture credits: AOC / WEC / TDS Racing / 24H LeMans / Porsche