This weekend’s iRacing 24 Hours of Daytona marks the start of another year of virtual racing events on the platform that mirror their real-life counterparts.
These special events are among the biggest races iRacing holds and attract a number of real-world racers, this time including Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello who will be racing together in the LMP class in a WTF1 car.
Another big name driver confirmed to be taking part is Tony Kanaan who has been practicing with Alonso and Barrichello but will instead be competing in the GTE category.
It won’t be the first iRacing special event for any of them as they all took part in the iRacing 24 Hours of Spa together, winning the seventh split by two laps albeit with the help of a few sim racers.
All three drivers fully immersed themselves in the world of esports last year in a number of different events including The Race Legends Trophy and the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans on rFactor 2.
Alonso in particular has proven how ruthlessly competitive he is in simracing, going so far as to hide his true pace when practicing for the Legends races last year.
Asked in the latest WTF1 podcast about whether they race more aggressively because they’re friends and it’s only a virtual race, Alonso describes approaching the races with the same level of seriousness as he would if it were the real deal.
“While you are practicing you have fun and you try to keep the same spirit, but once the race starts I think we go into the mood,” he said.
“Obviously we are sharing teams so we are not after each other in the race normally, we are just team-mates, so we try to execute our part of the race and give the wheel to the next guy.
“We only enter these endurance races so far so it’s a long shot when you drive and you still have fun.”
That attitude extends to the considerable preparation done for the races as they don’t just have to learn the car and track but also to fine tune their strategy and car set-up.
Two-time F1 world champion Alonso is the most dedicated to these iRacing events, claiming that he’s done more practice so far than Barrichello and Kanaan.
“I do practice more than Rubens for sure, Rubens is busy with all the Argentinian races and Brazilian stock car and has a very busy schedule normally,” Alonso said.
“Tony has to do six, eight, nine hours on the bike every day so I am probably more into the practice and not into the iRating,” he added – responding to Kanaan’s argument that by having the highest iRating that he must be the best driver of the three.
A player’s iRating is built up by repeatedly doing well in races. The split a team is put in for any of the special events is determined by the average iRating of all the drivers in a team, and only the top split is broadcast on iRacing’s social media channels.
With many real-world drivers unable or unwilling to put in the time and effort to build up their iRating and be eligible for the main split that has the best sim racers, a number of well respected racing drivers are forced into competing against sim racers who aren’t at the top of iRacing’s hierarchy.
But that hasn’t prevented real-world drivers from joining in with previous special events with Job van Utiert in the second split of last year’s iRacing 24 Hours of Daytona and Robert Kubica in the second split of the 2020 iRacing 24 Hours of Nurburgring.
The novelty of seeing the likes of Alonso, Barrichello and Kanaan in virtual endurance races still hasn’t quite worn off, but their continued commitment to these major virtual races isn’t unique.
Since the iRacing 24 Hours of Daytona takes place during a time when a lot of racing series are on their winter break, that opens up the opportunity for a large number of otherwise free racing drivers to take part in one of iRacing’s biggest events of the year.
Last year Max Verstappen was a part of a four man team that was running second overall before connection issues put them far down the order and eventually out of the race entirely.
Despite him dropping out of the race just past the halfway mark, there was plenty of real-world representation on the grid with Kelvin van der Linde and Ayhancan Guven a part of the four driver team in the other Team Redline LMP car that ended the race sixth overall.
Sage Karam was behind the wheel of one of the Coanda Simsport cars and was ninth overall come the finish, while Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin finished fifth in the GTE category.
It’s also not impossible for real-world drivers to emerge victorious in the very top split, with Verstappen and Lando Norris a part of the four-driver team that won the 2019 iRacing 24 Hours of Spa.
That said the top sim racers are still the favourites for any special event with Coanda Simsport winning last year’s 24 Hours of Daytona with 2019 Porsche Esports Supercup champion Josh Rogers a part of the winning team.
The GTE category was also headed by the established sim racing teams and their best drivers with Team Redline beating Red Bull Racing Esports.
Not all of this year’s special events have been given dates yet but the biggest one that’s confirmed is the iRacing 24 Hours of Nurburgring which will take place in late April.
Mainstay special events such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Spa are expected to also go ahead later in the year.