Max Verstappen labels Virtual Le Mans race a “clown show” | FOS Future Lab
The 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual race has ended in controversial circumstances following a public chastening of the event by double F1 world champion Max Verstappen.
Verstappen, whose team had qualified in fourth for the 24-hour Esports event, raced into the lead and looked to be the favourite for victory, only for a series of technical issues to derail his charge and cause him to go off on a fairly scathing tirade on both the event organisers and the video game platform rFactor 2, which was hosting the race. The Red Bull ace, who was live streaming at the time, said: “They call it amazingly bad luck, well this is just incompetence. They can’t even control their own game.”
He went on to suggest this would be the last time he took part in the event: “This is already the third time this has happened to me now, that I get kicked off the game while doing this race, so it’s also the last time I’m ever participating. What’s the point? You prepare for five months to try and win this championship – you’re leading the championship – you try to win this race which you prepare for two months, and they handle it like this.
“Honestly, it’s a joke, you can’t even call this an event. It’s a clown show.”
As for the event itself, which did run to a conclusion, the result saw the Porsche Coanda team take the overall victory in the Virtual Le Mans Series, courtesy of a solid second-place finish following the dramatic and controversial finale.
Going into the season-ending 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, Verstappen’s #1 Team Redline car held the championship lead in the top LMP2 category, 18 points ahead of the #4 Vanwall. Sibling outfit BMW Team Redline led the GTE class by 24.5 points, with 50 available for a win in each class.
Each car had to field two sim racers and two professional drivers for the 24-hour race, leading to some interesting driver line-ups. Along with Verstappen, F2 champion Felipe Drugovich and F3 champion Victor Martins would take part, with ex-F1 racers Romain Grosjean and Tomas Enge also involved.
Some teams opted for additional sim-racing experience, as well-known sim-racers James Baldwin, Jimmy Broadbent, Marc Gassner, and Rudy van Buren all raced as pro drivers courtesy of their real-world racing exploits over the past couple of seasons.
It was the #20 Porsche Coanda that topped qualifying, outpacing rivals by 0.7s ahead of the six-car hyperpole event that saw it joined by the sister #23 car as the team locked out the front row. R8G Esports was quickest in both sessions for GTE, putting the #888 Ferrari on pole by two-tenths as four different brands occupied the front four spots.
With the pro drivers starting the cars, Verstappen quickly overturned the qualifying deficit to leap from fourth to first before the race was two corners old.
The pole-sitting #20 would slot in behind him while James Baldwin driving the #63 Mercedes entry would climb through the field to third in the opening four laps. Those three cars would soon form the lead trio, swapping the lead between them depending on their pit stop schedule and rarely more than 20 seconds apart on track.
Back in the GTE class, the #888 initially held onto its lead but dropped back to second behind the Prodrive Aston Martin after an hour. However, in a portent of what was to come, both cars experienced a server disconnection shortly after, falling down the order as they re-joined and promoting the #88 Porsche into the lead.
With just over four hours on the clock, the first major incident of the race occurred – just as the rain was starting to fall. Several cars appeared to disconnect from the race at once, immediately followed by a red flag to halt the race.
Citing “technical issues”, the race remained suspended for over an hour before resuming with a new formation lap – eliminating any gaps among cars on the same lap – only for the red flag to drop again just 25 minutes later.
Le Mans Virtual Series issued a statement soon after, advising that the event’s servers were subject to a security breach. This later transpired to be due to competitors who were streaming their own driving in the race accidentally sharing the servers’ “IP address” – the electronic location needed to establish a connection – resulting in attempts from unauthorised individuals to access them.
After another 90-minute break, the racing resumed for the final time, with 16 and a half hours remaining on the clock. That brought nightfall to the circuit at last, and the #1 car hit the front again. An entertaining battle with the #20 was broken up when the stewards hit the Coanda team with a drive-through penalty, allowing the #1 and #2 a significant lead. Remarkably, the #888 had fought back from its early race disconnect to spar with the #89 BMW for the lead.
However, disaster struck the #1 shortly after virtual sunrise. Verstappen himself suffered a disconnect from the race, followed by another as he re-joined. With the regulations only giving partial laps back in situations where multiple cars disconnect in a short period of time – as had happened 20 minutes earlier with the #20 and #23 Porsche cars – the former leader found himself now two laps down. That prompted him to retire the car, ending the race and championship challenge.
With seven hours remaining the team’s #2 car inherited the race lead and managed the pace through to the end of the race to win by 21 seconds from the #20 Porsche. That would mean Porsche won the overall series title, by 16 points from the #1 Team Redline squad. The R8G team’s victory in GTE was considerably more comfortable, taking the win by a clear lap from the #71 Team Redline BMW. That was also enough to see Redline secure the series win in class.
1 - Team Redline #2 - Bennett, Drugovich (P), Lulham, Rosenqvist (P) - 356 laps