The second edition of the Virtual Le Mans 24 Hours is taking place next weekend, and will feature 17 junior single-seater racers.
During the first global lockdown period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Le Mans 24 Hours organiser ACO approved and helped run the inaugural edition of the Esports race, which had a 50-car entry list and was won by Rebellion Williams.
The official Le Mans Virtual Series has run since, with the final round of the 2021-22 season being the 24-hour race and taking place on January 15/16.
There will be a class for a virtual version of the Oreca 07 LMP2 car, and then a GTE class open to several different cars. Each car will be raced by two real-world drivers and two Esports pros. In LMP2 are eight of the junior stars.
World Endurance Championship team ByKolles has Formula 2 racer Bent Viscaal to partner its usual driver Tom Dillmann, who is a driver coach in F2 and Euroformula, and Viscaal’s long-term rival Felipe Drugovich is representing the crack Redline Esports team in a car shared with Formula E’s Oliver Rowland. Redline initially had Alpine junior Caio Collet in its second LMP2 car, before swapping him out for reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen.
W Racing Team is running Formula Regional European Championship star Franco Colapinto as it tries to poach him for its real-world LMP2 programme, and fellow FREC driver Gabriele Mini is driving for Panis Racing.
French simulator racing brand Raceclutch is the official Esports partner of the Alpine F1 team and so is running its junior Victor Martins, while British Formula 4 champion Luke Browning teams up with IndyCar champion Alex Palou at Fordzilla.
German automotive parts company Mahle has created its own Esports team and has picked W Series star Beitske Visser and Phillippe Denes as two of its drivers, and a special guest car has been entered for Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya who will share a simulator with his F4-driving son Sebastian.
W Series has entered its own team into the GTE class, with Ayla Agren and Fabienne Wohlwend piloting a virtual BMW M8 for the series. Redline and Romain Grosjean’s R8G team have also chosen that car in their pursuit of GT honours.
R8G has French F4 race-winner Elliott Vayron (who replaces Pierre-Louis Chovet in the car) and FIA Formula 3 Championship frontrunner Alexander Smolyar, while Redline has picked Smolyar’s rival Lorenzo Colombo.
Three teams fielding junior series drivers will run the Porsche 911 RSR: Absolute Racing (Johnathan Hoggard), the Wolverhampton Wanderers football club (Bart Horsten) and former F1 driver Alex Yoong’s Axle Sports operation (with his son Alister at the wheel).
Aston Martin’s long-time sportscar partner Prodrive has a ‘factory’ presence on the Virtual Le Mans grid with its Vantage GTE, and its line-up includes Formula Ford 1600 racer Logan Hannah.
Red Bull initially had Liam Lawson down for the event, but the F2 star has since dropped off the entry list.