Rebellion-Williams wins first virtual Le Mans

A happy virtual weekend for the team amid a period of real-life struggle

WILLIAMS eSports had a successful weekend across virtual motor sports, winning both the inaugural virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans (alongside Rebellion Racing) and the final virtual F1 race.

The endurance e-race took place from 2pm on Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon (24 hours later, funnily enough), when the real-life race was supposed to take place. The legendary event was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic but is now due to take place in September.

Fifty teams took part in the virtual version, run on the rFactor2 gaming platform, with a number of big names among the drivers, including multiple F1 world champions and real-life Le Mans winners. One entrant, Fernando Alonso, is both — but exited the race early after, in his words, “a combination between human error and a game glitch,” alongside teammate and former Ferrari F1 driver Rubens Barrichello. Alonso had to use his first pit stop to serve a penalty he had picked up and could not refuel, meaning that he broke down on his next lap.

The race was eventually won by a team comprising Haas F1 reserve driver Louis Deletraz, 2018 GT World Challenge champion Raffaele Marciello and sim racers Nikodem Wisniewski and Kuba Brzezinski. The four drove for Rebellion-Williams, a partnership between Swiss World Endurance Championship (WEC) team Rebellion Racing and British F1 Team Williams Racing.

It has been a tough few years for Williams — despite having won nine constructor’s championships and seven drivers championships in its 33-year long history in F1, it has found itself at the back of the grid in recent years and reported a loss of £13m in 2019.

A weekend of (albeit virtual) wins then, while not doing much for its long-term woes, will hopefully provide a small bit of much-needed cheer for the team. This is especially true for driver George Russell, who, having acclimatised to starting and finishing races near the back, has won the last four virtual Grands Prix in a row, finishing with a crushing win at the Canadian GP e-race yesterday. He said that the months of sim racing has kept “the competitive side of us busy and interested”.

The Rebellion-Williams Virtual Le Mans drivers credited a tactic of fuel saving for their win, relying heavily on slipstreaming and switching off engines. The car ran out of fuel seconds after winning.

The team faced heavy competition from ByKolles Racing, a German outfit competing in the WEC. During the final period of the race, when a red flag brought the front running teams closer together, the ByKolles car was being driven by the team’s real life driver Tom Dillmann. ByKolles eventually finished 17.8 seconds behind the winners.

Alonso and Barrichello were not the only F1 names to struggle in the race. Wunderkind Max Verstappen, alongside McLaren driver Lando Norris, representing Team Redline (a professional sim racing team) hit technical issues after leading for a stint, retiring and then reappearing after the red flag 18 laps behind the leaders. The team finished in 25th place.

In the GTE class, meanwhile, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc endured his own technical issues, at one point finding his Ferrari 488 GTE upside down in the pit lane, and eventually finishing 18th. Porsche dominated the class, at one point looking like it would take all three top spots before driver change issues caused a hindrance.

Virtual issues haven’t dampened Leclerc’s enthusiasm for the sport, however, with the driver tweeting that he now wants to compete in the real life race.

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