Goodyear and the Le Mans Virtual Series: When the pros play catch up
A key element of the Goodyear-supported Le Mans Virtual Series is the participation of real-world racing drivers. The requirement for each team to include a ‘Pro’ driver creates an interesting squad selection conundrum, as teams seek big-name motorsport stars who are also accomplished in virtual racing. In the same way that amateur drivers are the differentiator in the Pro-Am classes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the best real-world drivers in the Le Mans Virtual Series determine which teams ultimately rise to the top.
An example of a top Pro-ranked driver is Gordie Mutch, who benefits from sim racing experience. The ‘Lockerbie Lion’ is a 20-year-old professional driver from Scotland who this year suited up for Praga in the Goodyear Britcar Endurance Championship. In the Le Mans Virtual Series, where Goodyear is the official tyre partner, Mutch represents Romain Grosjean’s R8G Esports outfit in the top LMP2 class.
“The Le Mans Virtual Series is one of the best, if not the best, sim racing series in the world,” says Mutch. “The quality of drivers there is exceptional, with huge Pro drivers and esports drivers there as well. It's a hugely competitive series, and one that I've really enjoyed experiencing.”
As the designated Pro driver, it’s Mutch’s job to be as close as possible to the pace of the esports experts in his Oreca 07. His background has helped him to achieve that. Shortly after his karting debut in 2009, Mutch started sim racing on Forza before shifting to Project CARS. Things moved on quickly from there:
“I moved to iRacing and worked really hard to get to a pro standard, then got an email from Romain Grosjean, asking me to join R8G,” he says. “The rest is history, and I'm now racing in Le Mans Virtual Series, hunting down some wins and hopefully the championship.”
Virtual tyres, real learnings
Learning how to use virtual tyres is of paramount importance in sim racing. As an official partner of the Le Mans Virtual Series, Goodyear has developed a virtual tyre specifically for that championship which draws on data used in real-world motorsport products.
“If you're coming in as a total learner to sim racing, you'll learn a lot about the tyres,” Mutch notes. “Very quickly, you'll learn that in a longer race, medium tyres are better than softs because the softs will be really fast at the start of the stint but then they'll be a few seconds off. On mediums, you can do double stints, but on the softs you can't.”
Mutch believes that it’s “absolutely” possible to apply Le Mans Virtual Series tyre strategies to real-world races, and as a result the experience of sim racing has helped him to improve on the tracks that Britcar visits. On the other hand, the similarities between the formats mean that real-world drivers can get even closer to the sim racing specialists of the Le Mans Virtual Series.
“It gives a very real representation of tyre strategy in motorsport,” Mutch reckons. This is largely because virtual tyre modelling has evolved so much over the last few years, through the inputs of manufacturers like Goodyear, which brings a wealth of experience designing real-world racing and road tyres.
“Especially in the way the tyre heats up and the way it degrades,” he says. “For one, you know it's working because every time we go into a long race, such as the Spa 24 Hours, we really had to do a lot of testing as to which tyre compounds to use. This is a perfect example, because the softs will degrade a lot faster than the mediums but they'll be quicker initially. So absolutely, the evolution in the tyre physics has been huge, and it's working really well in the Le Mans Virtual Series.”
Goodyear is one of the world's largest tire companies. It employs about 74,000 people and manufactures its products in 57 facilities in 23 countries around the world. Its two Innovation Centers in Akron, Ohio, and Colmar-Berg, Luxembourg, strive to develop state-of-the-art products and services that set the technology and performance standard for the industry. For more information about Goodyear and its products, go to www.goodyear.com/corporate.