An Oreca 07 in a pitbox at the Circuit de la Sarthe during the night with lights illuminating the surrounding area.

The Bigger Problem of Le Mans Virtual

Over the weekend, the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual was held and it ran into a lot of major issues. But its existence does speak to a bigger problem for the sim racing community.

Image credit: Studio 397

Cast your mind back to the 13-14 June 2020. We were approaching the end of the suspended motorsport season when nearly every big name real world motorsport driver was participating in sim racing, and there was one event that stood above the rest in terms of prestige and professionalism.

The inaugural running of the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual was a huge success and it has since spawned two seasons of the Le Mans Virtual Series. The third running of the event concluded last weekend, and well… it ran into a lot of problems that are already very well documented.

But we have already covered the myriad issues that befell the 2023 edition of the race, so there’s no point recapping them again. Instead, there’s a bigger issue at play with this event. To really explain it, we have to rewind back to when the inaugural race took place.

Allowing All Drivers

The week after the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual’s first edition, iRacing held their own annual 24 hours of Le Mans as one of their very popular Special Events. Anyone who has a subscription to iRacing are able to compete in many major motorsport races across multiple splits with drivers of similar skill.

Through these events, players can get their own taste of competing in the likes of the 24 hours of Daytona, Nürburgring and Spa as well as the Bathurst 1000 and the Daytona 500 since they couldn’t do all that in the real world.

Our very own Emily Jones did both Le Mans 24 hours sim races in 2020. Having competed with the all-women entry of the Richard Mille Racing Team in the Le Mans Virtual on rFactor 2, she then hopped onto iRacing the following week and ended up winning the second split. But fast forward a year and the iRacing Le Mans is notably not taking place.

With the promise of making a standalone video game, MSG entered into an exclusivity deal with Le Mans organisers ACO. This subsequently meant that no other platform could host a 24 hours of Le Mans. That could have been somewhat okay if they allowed the event to be run in the style of iRacing‘s Special Events with multiple splits, allowing anyone who wanted to race Le Mans to do so.

But, no. The 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual is a standalone event, exclusively open to teams who are invited and who can pay the four figure entry fee.

It’s not just Le Mans that this has happened to. Only a month ago, the IndyCar Series entered into an exclusivity deal with MSG but unlike the Le Mans case, this deal meant that not only was iRacing prevented from running any Indianapolis 500 events, but they weren’t even allowed to run any broadcast events with drivers racing any IndyCar chassis.

The pushback from sim racing fans is very loud. Despite promises of standalone games for both IndyCar and Le Mans, MSG’s attempts to bring both of these motor racing juggernauts to a wider audience of people on consoles has rather ironically made it even more closed off.

An Exclusive Club

Motor racing is and always has been reliant on money. If you play a game of football then you have some idea of what it’s like to be Lionel Messi, or going on to a tennis court and playing a match can make you feel like you’re Roger Federer. If anyone has any hope of being Lewis Hamilton, they need to become a professional racing driver and it’s just not in the cards for some people.

This sport began as a playground for the rich, and whilst many drivers in high level competition nowadays are paid professionals, there are still plenty of drivers who compete as a hobby and are known as ‘gentlemen drivers’. Any hope of competing in racing is solely reliant on what money you have to bring to the table.

So unless you have a parent who is either loaded or a famous racing driver, it’s not likely. But even for those who do get to race in real life, they’re pretty lucky if they get to travel around even their own country competing at many different tracks. More often than not, people turn up at the track most local to them to thrash their vehicle around, so there’s not much in the way of variety.

Enter sim racing. What is lost in terms of G-forces and lack of the ‘seat of the pants’ feel, it more than makes up for with the vast amount of cars and tracks. Plus, at a fraction of the cost.

What Motorsport Games are doing by not permitting the running of any events like the 24 hours of Le Mans and Indianapolis 500 that allow anyone to compete is turning sim racing effectively into its real world counterpart, and not in a good way. The exclusive club of only 33 drivers who get to race in the Indy 500 and just short of 200 for Le Mans means not everyone can do so, and the ones who can’t do so take to sim racing to do it.

The whole point of sim racing is being able to get everyone as close to the experience of actually participating in Formula One, endurance racing, rallying and so on.

If more and more companies keep getting exclusive licences, the greater the divide within sim racing will become. That’s not what it should be about. Yes, licencing has existed for years when it comes to certain content and tracks, a good example of that is the Monaco circuit currently only being officially licenced on the Codemasters F1 games.

But imagine if you will, the organisers of F1 Esports saying that no community could run organised broadcast events on F1 22. Drivers from your average-skilled league racer who still uses driving line and ABS, to even some of the top drivers from the Pro Championship like Jarno Opmeer and Lucas Blakeley would be left without a means to compete.

Suddenly the only way to race competitively on the F1 game is by being in the Pro Championship, and what if you’re not a highly-skilled player? There’s no hope. This contempt for the average player is so blatant to see, and it can’t keep happening.

What Can be Done?

Ultimately, those who hold these exclusivity deals are the ones who can do what they want. It all comes down to the consumer in the end, because if they speak in the language that these companies seeking to profit will understand, no number of words can ever make as much of an impact.

The people who make these games and organise these events need to recognise the importance of allowing us average sim racers to indulge in our fantasies of competing in these major landmark races. It’s what sim racing is all about.

Take that away and all that is left is essentially real world motorsport on a video game, with only the elite taking part. With all the hype around competitive major esports racing, the average experience for any hopeful sim racer is being quickly forgotten about.

What do you make of the current state of sim racing? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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