What next for 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual?

Just over a year ago, the first-ever virtual edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans became the largest online racing event in motorsports’ history and registered a massive viewing audience. With this year’s real-world Le Mans delayed until August, what’s next for the virtual event?

What next for 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual?

To refresh your memory, the 2020 Le Mans Virtual was held on the date of the originally-planned race date – which had been pushed back to September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A joint venture between the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the FIA World Endurance Championship, Le Mans Esports Series and Motorsport Games, it brought together 200 drivers from 37 different countries, racing on 170 simulators worldwide in 50 entries racing around rFactor2’s virtual Circuit de la Sarthe. 

The race was won overall by Rebellion Williams Esport, with Porsche winning the GTE category. The grid was star-studded and attracted current F1 stars Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly – joined by the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Jean-Eric Vergne, Antonio Felix da Costa, Stoffel Vandoorne, Simon Pagenaud, Nelson Piquet Jr, Olivier Panis, Simona de Silvestro and Tony Kanaan. They all raced with the world’s best Esports gamers in teams of four drivers per car.

Le Mans Virtual Studio

Le Mans Virtual Studio

Photo by: ACO

A cumulative audience of 14.2million people watched the 25-hour broadcast event, which was shown in 57 different countries – including Eurosport, ESPN and Sky Sports. It garnered 8.6 million views across Facebook, YouTube and Twitch and achieved 131.5 million social media impressions on the hashtag #LeMans24Virtual. The event won many awards, including Best Live Experience at the Leaders Sports Awards and a Pioneering and Engineering trophy at the Autosport Awards

With all that under its belt, what's next? A significant move has been former WEC CEO Gerard Neveu joining Motorsport Games as its Motorsports Advisor. At the time, he said: “I’m excited to work with the team to build upon the company’s existing major live events and continue to help spread the joy of virtual racing with fans around the world. 

“Virtual racing and Esports have become major parts of the future within the world of motorsport and I’m honored to get to be a part of the phenomenon. By connecting real life motorsports with virtual racing events, we can create a whole new community that goes beyond just watching on TV, to actually participating in world class racing events.” 

With this year’s anniversary of that groundbreaking event having come and gone, the question remains how to take that momentum forwards? Of course, first there’s the not-so-small matter of the real-life Le Mans 24 Hours – which takes place on 21-22 August. Then what?

Le Mans Virtual Studio

Le Mans Virtual Studio

Photo by: ACO

It turns out that there’s some amazing news for fans of gaming, Esports and sportscars in general… 

“What can we tell you… We have so many exciting plans in the pipeline,” says Neveu. “First, in an agreement between Motorsport Games, Le Mans and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, I can tell you that we will have a dedicated video game targeted to launch in 2023 – to coincide with the centenary of the Le Mans 24 Hours. 

“This is under development, and we have a dedicated team working very hard on it. It will reflect the ambience of sportscar racing and this magical event, I’m sure all sportscar fans will find it very interesting. 

“Until then, we shall also develop the Le Mans Virtual into a series of races, a regular Esports championship similar to the WEC format. We will use the same model: combining the best esports and pro race drivers, with events at four tracks – with LMP2 and GTE cars as before. Alongside this, there will be races open to the public, so everyone can enjoy. 

“Finally, I can tell you that the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, racing at the Circuit de la Sarthe, will be run again this coming winter. We will follow the same route as before, with very famous drivers taking part and a great broadcast for the fans to follow, and we plan to develop the quality of this event to another level.  

“We’ll have some more exciting news about this after the real-world Le Mans takes place in August.” 

So there you have it – the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual will return in the winter, along with a fresh Esports series of races to enjoy. Not only that, a brand-new Le Mans video game is scheduled for release to celebrate its centenary – just as the exciting Hypercar category will be truly hitting its stride in 2023.

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