The 2017 iRacing Daytona 24 Hours took place on the weekend of 21st-22nd January. The 13 parallel races saw over 700 teams from around the globe were competing for glory in the first 24 hour race of the year. The prototype class featured the mighty Chevrolet Corvette C7 Daytona Prototype, whilst the GT3 field had their choice of the German GT3 cars currently in iRacing – the Audi R8 LMS GT3, the BMW Z4 GT3, or the Mercedes AMG GT3.
For the first time, Legends Racing would have two cars in an event of this magnitude, both running in the Prototype class. The #109 car – driven by Gary Hickman, Adam Parle, Paul Richards and Darren Seal – would be racing in split 2 of 13, whilst the #609 – driven by Steve Elson, Geoff Rose, James Steel and Mike Taylor – raced in split 7.
Steve, James, Mike, and Paul would make their 24 hour racing debut, and for Steve and James in the 609, this would also be their first taste of endurance racing including driver swaps, they really were being thrown in at the deep end!
The strategy for both cars had been laid down in advance, each driver would burn through two tanks of fuel before handing over control to the next driver. Generally, in racing the field spreads out relatively quickly, and the frantic first couple of laps give way to drivers finding their own space on the track and establishing their rhythm. At Daytona, the long stretches round the oval – and the draft that accompanies it – means that the field runs much more closely than normal, and for an extended period of time, and consequently it was only in the latter part of the first stint that the rhythm for the race was finally established. When the first driver swaps took place, both cars were holding their own, in the #109, Darren was moving up to 10th, whilst Steve had carried the #609 into 7th.
Whilst these races run over 24 hours, it is the first few minutes, and indeed the first few hours that are arguably the most important; not in terms of making up positions, but in preventing damage to your car. Whilst you undoubtedly need to have pace and consistency on the track, you also need to minimize both the number of visits you have to the pits and the duration of them. It is frequently said in racing that to finish first, first you must finish, and a clean start to the race was the initial step towards completing the last lap. Whilst the #109 had several car-to-car contacts during the race, only one of these required any repairs, and were able to be completed during scheduled stops. The #609 did not fare quite so well, the quartet losing several laps through a combination of unforced errors unavoidable contacts.
With several hours behind them, all the participants in the races would be affected by the event that has subsequently become the main talking point, a server or connection issue that caused many teams to lose connection, and drop out of the race. Whilst the cause of the issues is still being investigated by iRacing, the result was a specific type of warping, or, essentially, communication errors between the clients and the server. Despite having experienced the problem in the Gathering of Tweakers Endurance Series, there was nothing the team could do, in the #109 Darren lost his connection, and with it the team lost 3 minutes, or approximately 2 laps, and dropped 3 places in the overall standings. Whilst there was evidence of further ongoing issues during the remainder of the race, the #109 wouldn’t drop out again, whereas the #609 crew were fortunate and were not affected at all.
With the bulk of the early laps in the #109 completed by Darren and Adam, the unenviable “night shift” was handled by Gary and Paul, and the two highest rated Legends drivers soon fell into the routine that was race, refuel, repeat. There would be a number of scares and near misses during the night with other competitors demonstrating the effects of mental fatigue. Having lost several laps due to the server/connection issues, the team would need to unlap themselves to progress further up the standings. Consequently although the position of the #109 would remain relatively static through the mid-part of the race, slowly but surely the cars ahead were being reeled in. The #609 also largely held station during this period, laps lost due to required repairs being carried out meaning that they too had large gaps ahead of them that would need to be reduced in order to move up the order.
With three quarters of the race run, the #109 were up to 8th, the #609 in 12th. With some good fortune a top ten finish for both cars looked to be within reach.
Ultimately, for the drivers of the #609, the finish was somewhat anticlimactic, damage sustained in a collision requiring some lengthy repairs, 5 laps were lost, and the team dropped to 14th. Other teams also encountered problems late in the race, reshuffling the order once more, and the #609 finished 12th.
The close of the race for the #109 was not without issue either, a second spurious penalty caused not by any on-track misdemeanor, but by the ongoing server issues plaguing the race, and one which had major implications on the teams result. Whilst the 15 second stop and hold penalty could be combined with a driver swap, being required to pit early to serve it severely compromised the strategy of the team, and condemned the #109 to requiring a “splash and dash” just prior to the end of the race. This additional visit to the pits saw the team drop to 10th position. Whilst the 9th place machine was tantalizingly close ahead, the 11th placed outfit of GTL-VRT Gold were similarly close behind, and brought with them the threat of finishing outside the top ten. Indeed, on the last lap a clump of GT3 cars filing through the bus-stop saw Gary’s progress impeded, and the gap was closed further still. GTL-VRT Gold would exit the bus-stop chicane right under the rear wing of the Legends Prototype and benefiting from the draft, and with the GT3 cars now cleared, it was a drag race to the line, one that fortunately the #109 finished marginally ahead in.
Despite the event being marred by the issues leading to multiple disconnections and constant discontinuities, for Legends Racing, the event was a success. Although neither car was able to repeat the 2nd place finish achieved in the inaugural iRacing 24 Heures du Mans, both cars completed the race, and both finished in creditable positions. Some of the more recent additions to the team experienced endurance racing with driver swaps for the first time, and with it cemented their place in the team. In races such as the Daytona 24, every driver plays their part, whether they are in the car, acting as a “spotter” or crew chief, or just lending moral support. The iRacing Daytona 24 was a team event in the truest sense of the word, one that all the participating Legends found to be thoroughly enjoyable, if physically and mentally draining, and occasionally punctuated by moments of frustration!
The team are already looking ahead to the iRacing 12 Hours of Sebring , which takes place on 11th & 12th March. When the event ran in 2016, Darren Seal and Adam Parle finished 2nd in their race, narrowly missing out on the win. In 2017, Legends Racing aim to run multiple cars, building on the experiences from Sebring, Le Mans, and most recently Daytona, and targeting repeating or bettering past results.