iRacing’s premier road endurance race – the Le Mans 24 Hours – ran once again on 10th-11th June 2017.
In the inaugural race in 2016, Legends Racing finished 2nd in the prototype class in split 5 of 9, in a race that saw new additions Gary Hickman and Adam Kell cementing their place in the team, and relative rookie Geoff Rose participating in his first 24 hour event.
In the 2017 race, an almost unchanged quintet of Legends once again drove the HPD ARX-01c. Steve Elson, a new addition to the team since the 2016 event, would take the place of Geoff Rose, with the remaining lineup of Gary Hickman, Adam Parle, Darren Seal and Adam Kell unchanged from last year.
The week running up to the event was a busy one, iRacing’s additions of the Ferrari 488 and Ford GT GTEs meaning a lot of teams had their work cut out to get up to speed, getting their cars painted and setups tweaked. For the Legends, the challenge was getting used to the different dynamic between the classes compared to 2017, learning how and when to pass the new cars, whilst simultaneously tweaking the setup as race day approached. With the five drivers becoming more and more comfortable, focus shifted to longer stints and overall race strategy, and who would drive when. With the running order decided, the Legends were ready for the event.If the 2016 event was popular, but the 2017 event proved to be even more so. Over 700 teams joined the event, racing in 13 splits. The Legends quintet found themselves in split number 2, with some extremely fast competition. The 2016 race was hard work and the 2017 running of the race promised to ratchet up the difficulty several notches … and then some. There were some familiar names in both classes, SimatoK, Trinity MSports amongst those in the prototype class and Thrustmaster Mivano and Team Chimera to name but two in the ultra-competitive GTE class.
Gary posted the fastest qualifying lap for the team in the days running up to the event with a laptime of 3:31.616, but his blistering lap still only sufficient to place the team 23rd of 29 in the prototype field in split 2. Pole position was an almost incomprehensible 3:28.946 by F4H Motorsport.
Having looked through the grid, and cast an eye over the competition, the team set out their immediate goals. Goal one – survive the opening few laps, and the first hour. Goal two – finish the race. Goal three – place inside the top 15.
After a 60 minute warmup period, the starting drivers took to the grid for the rolling start, and as the Patrouille Acrobatique de France thundered past and painted the sky with the tricolour, the race got underway with Adam Kell at the wheel of the #501 Legends Racing HPD.
In the start of any race such as this, the vast majority of teams look to establish a rythm and avoid trouble. Whilst the team’s conservative approach meant that the team had dropped to 25th at the end of the first lap, it also meant that trouble was avoided on lap two, trouble that massively impacted teams starting further up the grid. Baseline Racing Team, XRS Team Racing, Team DFTBA, AplineEagleRacing and RDS iRacing all involved in a massive incident on the Mulsanne on lap 2.
As those involved limped or were towed to the pits, Kell and the #501 machine moved up to 20th. In the first hour of racing seconds and places lost or gained are largely immaterial, it’s laps lost through damage at this point that prove to be the major factors in the overall result, and through this initial stint, Kell avoided these pitfalls with aplomb. With the first 30 minutes completed, the team were able to pause for breath and take stock. The pace at the front of the field was electric, this would be an extremely tough race, moving up the standings would be a massive fight.
Without any fuel saving, the HPD could complete just 13 laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe, and on lap 13 Kell brought the car into the pits for the first of many times, took on fuel and tyres, and headed back out for the second half of his first stint in the car. Ahead, whilst the leaders pitted, 2nd and 3rd did not, managing to eke out a 14th lap, and already different strategies were emerging and shaking up the running order up and down the field.
As Kell brought the Legends HPD in for the second stop, and to hand over to Le Mans debutante Steve Elson, the team found themselves in 20th, seconds behind 19th placed TNT Racing, and with a significant gap back to Origin Front Row Racing. As Elson took to the track, the leaders lapped the #501 for the first time, reinforcing the incredible pace on display at the sharp end of the race.
Elson’s first stint passed without incident, though his lap-times were slightly hampered by some bodywork damage that had been collected during Kell’s time in the car. Somehow the damage had been missed by the team, and it was only fully repaired during the pit-stop when Elson handed over to Adam Parle. Later in Elson’s stint, an incident involving Virtual Jnrs and Worldracing promoted the #501 to 19th.
Elson handed over to Parle on lap 53, who then took full advantage of a quieter track to post some consistent times, and through a combination of this and other teams suffering ill luck, the team found themselves progressing up the standings. Lap 56 marked the last time the team would sit outside the top 20, and sat 15th when Parle handed over to Seal on lap 79.
Continued consistency from Seal, Kell and Hickman saw the team in 13th by the 9 hour point. Car to car contact lap 111 caused the team some concern, but fortunately there was minimal damage. Other than the contact, it was business as usual – run lap after lap, then pit for fuel and tyres, and repeat. Through the night progress continued to be made up the standings with Parle, Hickman and Seal behind the wheel, advancing up to 11th with 9 hours to go, and the team moved into the top ten on lap 223. A significant setback was suffered shortly after Hickman brought the car into the top 10, as he – and a significant number of other competitors – suffered a disconnection from the server. The problem was one that dogged splits up and down the event, and one that has caused much discontent on the iRacing forums. The team lost a couple of positions, and went a lap further down as a result, but fortunately had Darren Seal ready and waiting to drive, and he was able to jump into the car at short notice to take over.
The connection issue suffered by the team, and the relative gaps to the competition was the catalyst for a change in strategy that saw the team commit to fuel saving to get an extra lap from the tank, and entertaining double stinting the tyres – something the team hadn’t done thus far in the race. Trying to reduce the number of pit stops and minimising the time the car was stationary for was key to any chance of further progress up the standings.
As the end of the race started to finally come into view, there was no prototype on the same lap, and with three quarters of the race run, it looked very much like 10th was as far up the standings as the team were going to go, but further connection problems saw one of the top ten cars – Champs iRacing HPD – lose multiple laps and promoted the Legends into a single digit position – 9th.
Gary Hickman brought the Legends HPD safely home after the 24 hours had elapsed, the team having completed 388 laps, and driven nearly 3300 miles. The top ten placing was a great result for the team, though the issues that blighted the race did take the shine off the result a little. Nonetheless, it was a fine performance, and a very enjoyable event.