Le Mans Ultimate Hands-On: A Work-In-Progress Sim


Le Mans Ultimate initially launches via Early Access with fewer features, and a lower, price, than its final version. Here's what we've experienced so far.

Words by Thomas Harrison-Lord with contributions from Michel Wolk and Yannik Haustein

All images taken by RaceDepartment in-game

The hybrid systems are primed, the tyres are stone cold and Eduardo Freitas is ready to ask you to start your engine laconically. The new official simulation game of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship releases today in early access, at last.

Here’s what we’ve learnt so far about Le Mans Ultimate – the good, the could-be-good and the not-quite-finished…

A quick word before we delve into the feedback. This title is an Early Access PC release. What you are about to read is not a ‘review’ but opinions on its current state. This platform is openly not finished and is set to evolve through the year.

Therefore, the opinions here are ‘in progress’, and we will revisit Le Mans Ultimate
to check in at a later date.

Off to a flying start​

If you think that the driving experience is the most important element of a simulator, then good news, Le Mans Ultimate does too.

When it is on form, you’ll be clinging on to your steering wheel over Sebring’s bumps like a Ninja Warrior competitor on the mega wall. This is savage.

Make no mistake – while there is a suite of driving aids, a slick main menu and what feels like an ever-so-slightly softened initial turn-in phase, this title is not an accessible driving game. There will be times, especially with the Hypercars, when you will want to curl up into a ball and cry.

This is especially pertinent the first time you hit the track in any of the top-class cars on anything but oven-warm tyres. Like the real-world series it replicates, tyre blankets are omitted. Exiting the pits, you are almost guaranteed to miss the first corner, then spin at the second.

Le Mans Ultimate Le Mans race start


Four laps later, you will still be trying to turn those rubber icons from blue to green, without creating a flat spot. Perhaps this is a little overdone, as the starting tyre pressures seem to be extraordinarily low, yet it does feel (what we imagine to be) authentically challenging.

Included is the 2023 FIA WEC season – seven tracks, four GTE cars, one LMP2 and then seven in the top Hypercar class, which is a mix of LMH and LMDh machinery. You will no doubt want to jump into the Le Mans-winning Ferrari 499P or de-winged Peugeot 9X8 first, but we recommend at least trying the LMP2 first.

That way you can attune yourself to the tyre model and crucially, the platform itself which is filled with idiosyncrasies.

These cars can swap ends on you, and the representation of a brake-by-wire system takes some getting used to. As it should, too. These are complex beasts.

Once you are up to speed, how the cars handle the track imperfections is mighty, from the spark-inducing Blanchimont to the way they straddle kerbs at Monza. Watching a slow-motion replay reaffirms our belief that there isn’t a more lifelike representation of these car’s highly tuned chassis elsewhere in sim racing.

Le Mans Ultimate Hands-On - Work-In-Progress


This is amplified by the sounds, which are uncanny. When we first saw the gameplay trailer for the 499P, we thought that maybe it was some real-world sound dubbed over some game footage – but mercifully, it is not.

The mix of turbocharged V6s and electrical harvest systems is intoxicating. But even the LMP2 sounds incredibly authentic. The Cadillac, for example, even runs on electricity at slow speeds before its V8 bursts into life like a firework.

The detailed cockpits also add to the heady mix of aural pleasure and supreme suspension, with dynamic time of day and weather providing the platform for some epic endurance events. We suspect that the latter feature will come into its own during longer online races.

What’s in the box​

Speaking of which, right now there are only two modes, with more on the way soon including an asynchronous co-op option. Race Weekend is the single-player experience currently, with single or multi-class events, formation laps that ape the real-world races and race lengths up to 24 hours in length.

Of note, in our experience after playing with both the overall AI level and the aggression setting, lapping cars does not seem to cause the AI any notable issues. Nor do they seem to make any rash moves even when they are clearly faster than the player, similar to an endurance mindset. They will occasionally bump into the rear of your car, though.

Le Mans Ultimate Online Stats


Multiplayer racing online is supported from early access day one, with the RaceControl ranking system native right away. You must increase your driver and safety rating through strong results and clean racing. At the end of each race, you can see if you moved up or down in detail and scroll through your entire history of race results.

Based on our early races last week, this is not to be overlooked. We have had close, clean, battles and when there has been some slight contact, the netcode allows for solid collisions. You have the confidence to go side-by-side with someone around a corner.

How this holds up when the sim racing fraternity floods the servers come later today remains to be seen.

Initially, in the beginner tiers, you will be limited to shorter races. During the early-early access hands-on period this past weekend, there were two fixed set-up events on cycle. Stepping up to intermediate and advanced levels unlocks ranked multi-class and Hypercar races.

In Active Development​

The online section of Le Mans Ultimate has the possibility to be the main reason to keep coming back for more during this development period. Points ranking across a series would be a welcome addition at some point. The main downside is an inability to host a server presently and therefore no online driver swaps or leagues – yet.

Further down the line, in theory, it could be used to hold special events and the Le Mans Virtual Series is set for a return “in the near term” according to the company’s CEO.

Le Mans Ultimate Porsche Night 02


For those into single-player racing instead, we’d love to see more than just a race weekend. This is crying out for a dedicated time trial mode with online leaderboards and the ability to run a season-long championship. We are hopeful something will arrive in the fullness of time.

Perhaps a bigger miss for some is the lack of virtual reality support, although, again, this is stated to be in active development. Ultra-wide and triple screens do work right now at least. Mind you, the in-game tool to adjust triples pops up using the old rFactor2 hotkey, but it is not yet functional.

It’s An rFactor 2 Thing​

While Le Mans Ultimate has a slick intro video and smooth top-level user experience, sometimes trying to set up important elements is like eating water with a fork.

If you are familiar with the lionised simulator rFactor 2, now over a decade old, the doyen of tyre physics lends its technology to Le Mans Ultimate – albeit built upon with noticeably enhanced visuals, the aforementioned sounds and driving assists.

It also lends a sub-menu system emblematic of a laser-focused sim outfit possibly not aware of what newcomers may require. We’re sure Michi Hoyer can navigate it with his eyes closed (love you, Michi), but quirks that were previously dismissed as just “rFactor 2 things” can be frustrating when paired with a more generalist ‘Le Mans’ moniker.

Cadillac Fuji Gameplay


You can add a virtual rear-view mirror to aid visibility, but the platform doesn’t let you know how. Nor does it list it in the assists or graphics menu. Instead, you press ‘3’ on the keyboard during gameplay for it to appear.

Now, if you are already familiar with rFactor 2, this is identical. But coming from a different game or sim, this can be befuddling.

The option to turn off the cockpit camera shake is under the steering wheel settings menu. Because of course it is…

The aforementioned Eduardo Freitas is in all the trailers, but he’s not in the sim as it stands. The in-game spotter doesn’t appear to do anything except call your lap times and the green flag at the start of the race so far – zero help with tyre temps or when to switch compounds.

Single-player races can be up to a day long, but because the main replay system from rFactor 2 is missing presently, the resume from replay function is also absent, meaning you cannot ‘save’ your progress through a race.

You can, however, let the AI take over control mid-event by hitting ‘I’ on the keyboard – but again, you’d be hard-pressed to tell unless you are an existing Studio 397 fan or delve into support forums.

Le Mans Ultimate Toyota Spa


Traction control is not listed in assists either, only modifiable via the in-race MFD. Which is realistic, and not a complaint. But perhaps in the assists menu, you explain that for newcomers?

There will be a cohort of ardent sim racing fans who will claim that this handholding is not necessary – but if Le Mans Ultimate is trying to appeal to users of other sims, they may be repelled by the set-up process.

We don’t think the driving needs dumbing down in any way, just some small explainers would help – how about during the lengthy loading screens?

Mind you, speaking of dumbing down, during corner turn-in the steering feels a little loose and indistinct in the first quarter, but that may be realistic as these cars have some negative camber and your front tyres need contact to apply more force. You can still tell that there is a lot of rFactor 2 under the hood though, so don’t worry.

The Ugly​

Then, we are afraid, must talk about the instabilities. Once again, this is early access and most of these are listed as known issues – but at the same time, we cannot report on what it may become, but rather what it’s like right now.

If you have Windows 11, the in-race setup menus are glacially slow, to the point of being unusable unless you switch on VSync.

If you skip qualifying the grid order is randomised, including all three classes, which can result in a GTE car in pole position ahead of Hypercars. Pandemonium ensues.

The AI often cannot handle formation laps, either crashing into each other or driving through the pace car.

We have experienced crashes so hard that the .exe file deletes itself, and then when Steam tried to re-download it, Windows Defender blocked it as a virus. Creating an exception avoids the block, top tip, and we are sure the game will be registered with Microsoft soon. But, obviously, the crashes are the main pain point.

Le Mans Ultimate safety car


There is a neat touch that when using a Fanatec wheel a little ‘LM’ appears in the digital read-out. Not so neat is the game forgetting steering wheel settings each time you boot it or being sometimes prominently out of alignment.

It also forgets the race length between qualifying and the race itself, defaulting to its own agenda. It decides that you should race for six hours instead of 90 minutes and it rarely remembers your race or weather settings the next time you come to them.

The list is seemingly endless. We also appreciate that these are what the RaceDepartment team has experienced on our particular hardware, yours may be different.

It is hard to imagine, though, that until recently, this was not going to be an Early Access release. Thank goodness it is…

Progress To Be Made​

Le Mans Ultimate then – when you are hurtling down the Mulsanne straight at night in a Toyota Hypercar on your own, it can be a spectacular, transcendent, experience.

But, as it stands, it can be frustrating to just get it to work and that’s a real bummer. Early Access somewhat inoculates the criticisms, but only to an extent.

We hope this is a mere bump in the road – the potential is there, but it is not realised yet. We’ll be watching the progress closely…

Have you purchased the early access version of Le Mans Ultimate? Let us know how you are getting on in the comments below or discuss in our forum.
About author
Thomas Harrison-Lord
A sim racing, motorsport and automotive journalist. Credits include Autosport Magazine, Motorsport.com, RaceDepartment, Overtake, Traxion and TheSixthAxis.

Comments

Premium
... didn't have the resources for internal testing to make sure everyone's hardware was stable...

That sums up a lot of software development IMO. It will be tested with the kit available to the dev team and under most circumstances that works for everything, but there's always going to be stuff that doesn't work.
A "switched on" hardware manufacturer would perhaps supply a sample of their products ( and software drivers ) to the development teams to allow these to be tested with the software.
That would allow said hardware manufacturers to add a little "iRacing certified" or "rFactor2 certified" badge against their product(s)...
 
The Oreca honestly feels like an entirely different game than the hypercars. When the tires are cold the FFB is still at least communicative and you know your grip isn't optimal. As the tires warm up you then notice the increase in grip. It's intuitive which I think is good.

The hypercars, however, are the opposite. Cold tires have basically no FFB and the cars are completely unresponsive. I'm actually fine with the hypercars struggling with cold tires. I think other sims could make it more punishing as I said because we see IRL cars on cold tires struggle for a lap or two. My issue though is the hypercar tires are seemingly incapable of hitting optimal temps and that IMO leads them feeling unbelievably edgy compared to the Oreca and GTEs. It's frustrating because the LMDhs are actually built with LMP2 chassis and yet they handle so drastically different from the Oreca that it leaves me scratching my head.

Another thing I noticed in practice mode is when you load into the track the factory default setup is not loaded. A completely different "temp garage" setup is loaded instead and there is a massive difference in the diff settings, brake bias, and suspension settings as well. I haven't seen anyone mention this, but I think it's worth pointing out as some may be driving with this temp garage setup and I'm not sure it is a good setup compared to the factory setup. It's just weird that this setup is only loaded when you first load in and you can't access it again if you load the factory setup. It's weird.
Fiddling around with the setups today... the hypercars can feel decent and stable, but the default setups are terrible. I adjusted the diffs (less power, more coast, more preload) and ARBs (more front, less rear) to less oversteery settings, and the cars feel good and I was finally competitive with the AI at 100. Brake migration also needs to be around 1.5% for my driving style. Too little and you lock the rears, too much and you lock the fronts. Soft tyres are the way to go, good grip after a corner or two. Mediums are sketchy as hell coming out of the pits, but also need less than a lap to be decent. Ignore the temps...
 
Premium
Soooo i have given the game some time @Weekend (first time longer sessions).
For now i finally am more or less happy with the ffb (didn`t knew before the hypercars should have almost no ffb on cold tires :D ) and overall with the game, but there are 2 major things right now which drives me crazy:

a) of course the Slow-Menu bug. Makes me fiddeling around with setuos just impossible for now.I tried few things which i ocassionally found, but no luck. Is there any solution out there ?

b) When i choose the race-length within the race settings - the qualifing lenght is always correct as i set it up, but nearly every second time the game forgets the race-lenght setting.
So if i want to make a 24min race, and i realize at start the game has choosen 6h .... only option is to restart again.
As long as there is no midgame save option its´ useless anyway.
 
Soooo i have given the game some time @Weekend (first time longer sessions).
For now i finally am more or less happy with the ffb (didn`t knew before the hypercars should have almost no ffb on cold tires :D ) and overall with the game, but there are 2 major things right now which drives me crazy:

a) of course the Slow-Menu bug. Makes me fiddeling around with setuos just impossible for now.I tried few things which i ocassionally found, but no luck. Is there any solution out there ?

b) When i choose the race-length within the race settings - the qualifing lenght is always correct as i set it up, but nearly every second time the game forgets the race-lenght setting.
So if i want to make a 24min race, and i realize at start the game has choosen 6h .... only option is to restart again.
As long as there is no midgame save option its´ useless anyway.
That game's state is just sad. I hoped to be proven wrong after having stated this new management team seemed incompetent, while really believing in a MSG revival with this game, but these software issues, that have nothing to do with the simulation aspects, not solved after at least 4 patches, are a huge concern. I thought I would hear good news about LMU this weekend, and they are just all bad. It is absolutely sad. There are, maybe, still some months to go, to make that game a Cyberpunk 2077. But CD Project had more businesses than one "last chance" game to rely on. Now it is a matter of Motorsport Network decision. I assume something between this company and the Le Mans one is maintaining the game. Let's hope it will be enough to support the game.
 
Premium
I'm a little concerned with how meager the follow-up patches were and how quiet it's been since

Maybe it was AMS2 where on launch we had large, frequent patches of serious things fixed

It seems to me Reiza nailed continuous integration / continuous deployment long ago and MSG still isn't there
 
There is a very big patch coming that was planned for the end of last week - two weeks after release. But an issue crept in wich lead to a delay. Nothing to get worried about right now. They have indicated to spend the first three months to make the game stable and fix the bugs. So that's your timeline on how things will go. If the game is still in a similar state as now by the end of May then you could start to worry, but certainly not at this point. Chill out guys. :)
 

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