This past weekend, we raced in the 2024 iRacing Daytona 24 powered by VCO. I’m documenting the experience because so much happened in the race, and I’m afraid I’ll miss out on the highlights. A lot has happened, and while I did a live stream of the race, I’m no video editor, and there are some good highlights to take away from the experience.
Our Daytona 24 Experience
For the uninitiated reader, iRacing is a sim racing platform that uses a DLC and subscription model to run an automated platform. Since I started, most racing I’ve done consisted of regularly scheduled league racing, specifically targeted at the South African sim racing community. It still is my preferred format, but recent changes in my life have led to my schedule failing to play nicely with the races hosted by Sim Race South Africa. I’ve now turned to iRacing to get my racing fix. I can hop on late at night when my wife and son are fast asleep, knowing others are also looking to get their racing fix. iRacing uses a Safety Rating and an ELO score called iRating to handle their “matchmaking”. Safety rating is a gating mechanism for certain types of cars. If your safety rating is too low, you aren’t eligible to race these cars. Think of cars like F1, LMDh or GTP (prototypes), GT3 and multi-class events of the same cars. Drivers get sorted into multiple splits using their iRating when more drivers sign up for a race than available slots. It also helps put you into a split where the racing is more likely to be closer to your skill level. There’s very little sense in putting two drivers on track when their lap times differ by 5 seconds!
What makes the iRacing platform fantastic is its Special Events. These tend to be copies of significant real-world motorsport events1 a week before the event takes place. The Daytona 24 is a copy of the Rolex 24 at Daytona hosted by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA for short). Now, before you gasp, the Daytona 24 is a team event. While I’ve read of drivers who manage to complete the events single-handedly, iRacing’s rules explicitly state that a team needs at least two drivers, both driving “fair share”2. We entered as a team of three, which, if we were to each drive an equal amount throughout the race, equate to roughly 8 hours of driving each. I initially hoped that we could enter a team of four drivers, but we did not find a fourth and decided to push ahead and compete in the race with just the three of us. It’s important to note we’ve previously entered a team of three drivers into the Nürburgring 24 last year, the difference being we raced in the Toyota GR 86, which is arguably a less taxing car to drive than a GT3 or an LMDh even if we were driving on the Green Hell.
Our Trusty Steed
We entered the Daytona 24 in the Cadillac V-Series.R. It boasts a naturally aspirated, 5.5-litre V8 with a Dallara P217 chassis. It’s a beast of a machine, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll appreciate the sound it makes:
I also took some time to throw together a custom livery for our team, because who wouldn’t want to race in custom team colours?! The South African flag painted onto the cockpit was a happy accident, and I’m pretty proud of how the livery turned out:
I kicked off initial preparation for the race early in January 2024. We had known that we were entering the race, but we had a quick chat around the team to understand who was interested in the race and who was not. That’s when I first realised we’d likely be racing as a three-driver team. It’s decided, it’ll be myself, Ross & Martin.
Me being the telemetry nutcase I am, then promptly went onto the Garage 61 website to go dig for a baseline setup to use. Garage 61 is a fantastic site that uses a little companion application you install on your computer to upload telemetry information and setups. You can even share telemetry and setups with anybody on the platform! I leveraged this to find a setup used by a driver with the fastest Daytona time using the Cadillac V-Series.R, loaded it onto our team’s profile and started doing laps. I then grabbed a copy of Pete Mobroten’s Sassy Apps Endurance manager utility and gathered all the data needed to start planning stints. The basic data consisted of the following:
- Average lap time for each driver
- Lap count target per stint
- Pit stop duration
The endurance manager utility is a complicated Google Sheet that helps project what your race could look like. The basics of building an endurance race strategy are running your stints such that your last stint is roughly the same amount of laps as a regular “full-tank” stint. If you’re projected to do 30 laps per stint and expect to do 100 laps in total, you will have a fourth stint consisting of only 10 laps. These stints present challenges because you need to think more deeply about your pitstops. How much fuel will you need for only 10 laps? Do you take a new set of tyres? Will taking tyres increase your pitstop time? Will running two stints, each with 20 laps and both taking tyres, be better?
As you can see, having the last stint not be a full stint presents the team with a strategy call that can easily be the wrong one. Like the example above, the options for avoiding a stint like this are minimal in a shorter race. In contrast, in a 24-hour race, you will likely be doing enough stints to use fuel-saving techniques to eke out an extra lap per stint to help prevent the need for a “splash and dash” stint at the end. In endurance racing, less time spent in the pits often means more time spent driving laps. It might be easy to assume you need to use fuel saving for every stint, but there is a point of diminishing returns. The spreadsheet made this easy by setting all stints as fuel-saving stints, looking at the total lap count, and comparing it to other permutations where only some stints needed dramatic fuel savings. The basics of the strategy boiled down as follows:
- 27 lap stints
- one stint is roughly 40 minutes
- each driver will drive two stints in succession before handing the car to the next driver
- we’ll use fuel saving on some of the stints closer to the end to ensure our last stint has a decent lap count
- projected to do 32 stints in total
Strategy aside, we all used the weeks leading up to the race to run some practice stints to ensure we were comfortable. A quick spot-check of my activity on Garage 61 showed that I drove just over 350 laps three weeks before the race. That’s roughly 2,000 km of driving on Daytona alone, which makes it clear that I take my preparation for a race like this quite seriously. I could have done double that, but time and other duties meant I needed to prioritise my life differently.
Our chosen timeslot would have our server open @ 14:00 SAST, so I decided to minimise the time I’d be awake. With a little one in the house, that didn’t quite work out, but I went to bed early the night before, and it left me more rested than usual. I weened myself off coffee for the week before, knowing that I could be dependent on it to stay awake, so I hoped to help increase the potency of a caffeine dose whenever necessary. I’ve bought some muesli bars, Powerade and easy-to-prepare food to keep me fueled. I hop onto some practice servers with my team to do some last-minute laps to ensure I’m comfortable and that my sim rig is stable. We also make sure to test that everybody is comfortable switching drivers.
A few hours before our slot goes live, Ross, my teammate, says that his internet has gone wonky. He’s getting extremely slow speeds compared to what he’s expecting and is in contact with his ISP to try to fix the issue. The only problem was that Ross was our fastest driver with the most experience. I had planned for him to do qualifying and start the race. Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs at you, but I quickly make peace that qualifying and race start duties will fall on me. I register our team for the race and hop back onto a practice server to start doing some qualifying practice runs as well.
Slot Starts Up
While the slot starts up @ 14:00 SAST, it starts with a 30-minute practice session. All three of us connected to our assigned split, and we started doing our final checks. I kick off my stream and continue doing qualifying laps as practice. Martin is silently witnessing what’s going on, learning how to check for the quality of his connection while Ross is dealing with his ISP to see if it fixes the problem. We are assigned to split #28 out of 45 for the chosen timeslot.
The race’s qualifying format is slightly different from traditional motorsport events. Due to the virtual nature of the race, iRacing puts everyone onto the track with no traffic. That is, we basically each qualify as if there is nobody else on the server. Qualifying runs for about 10 minutes, but we only get two flying laps. The first flying lap I do is a 1:32.665. It’s not the fastest I’ve ever done, but it is within 2-3 tenths. On the second lap, I managed a 1:32.141. I beat my personal best by almost one-tenth! The lap felt solid; I hooked up the critical corners and set a decent time. It leads to us starting in P13.
I was stressed starting the race, but I made my first mistake LONG before we even hopped onto our split. The Cadillac V-Series.R has a setup option that configures a fuel target on your dash. I had initially configured this to aim for a 28-lap stint for fuel-saving stints, but we were confident we could make 29 laps, so I adjusted the setting shortly before we hopped onto our split. I should have noticed that the setup I worked from had a critical flaw: the Traction Control Gain was too low. We later discovered that Martin’s steering wheel has a positional rotary encoder, and we only noticed later in the race that whenever he gets into the car, it sets the TC value to the lowest value possible. We had done a driver change on a practice server, and I took the setup loaded on the car as my “baseline” to make the final adjustment, failing to notice the critical change.
I started the race with this setup loaded and successfully navigated Daytona’s infield section on lap one. The scariest corner is the tight corner that leads back onto the oval. There are some bumps that would easily unsettle the car if you’re not careful. As luck would have it, the lowered TC setting, hot track and bumps at that corner led to my demise on lap 1. I spin, and the car behind me crashes into me, leading to me being shown the meatball flag to pit and have the damage fixed. I’m gutted, but I drive back to the pits and wait for the +- 8 minutes to pass while our car gets fixed. As troubled as I am, the race has barely started, and I know we are capable of a recovery drive, thinking that a finish in the top 10 might still be on the cards. Expectation management is something you learn to do when racing because you need it to stay sane when you know a win isn’t on the cards. We’re racing drivers in the end and want to win, but at some point, you need to be realistic.
When repairs on our car are complete, I go out again and drive a double-stint. We’re multiple laps down on not just the GTP field but also the GTD field. Being on the same lap or a lap down on a GTD car is dangerous. They are quite a bit slower than the GTP cars and won’t receive a blue flag as a warning that a faster car is approaching. I manage to un-lap ourselves and get us to the same lap as most of the GTD field by the time I finish my double-stint. Martin takes over, knowing he’ll be in a good spot as soon as he’s lapped the GTD field. Having the slower class cars receive a blue flag helps everybody stay more aware of what traffic around them is doing.
Martin drives a fantastic stint but forgets to pit on his last lap. In the mad rush to figure out what to do, he accidentally locks up and slides into the barrier. Martin tows the car back to the pits, waits while the damage gets fixed, and drives the second half of his double-stint. Ross’s internet has finally stabilised, and he hops into the car. Ross initially plans to do a triple-stint and drives like a man possessed, but he also discovers the issue with the TC setting! He starts blinking3 at the end of his second stint. Ross mentions that his connection statistics are unstable, so I hop into the car just as I return from a break I took. He says the TC issue to me, and I get my head down to do another double-stint. We are well ahead of the GTD class now and slowly clawing back laps on the car ahead in the GTP class.
During this stint, I mentioned that I’m glad the Daytona 24 only happens once a year. More specifically:
You only have so many Daytona 24s in you.
I’ve recently been dealing with the idea of my mortality. Kids have a funny way of bringing forward these thoughts. My attitude has had a definite shift towards something more positive. Whatever “big thing” I tackle, my opportunities for these big things will be limited. There is no do-over for this race in 2024. If we had decided to quit, we would’ve willingly taken a loss, knowing we could only attempt it again in 2025. It’s one of a handful of times I refer to making sure I enjoy the journey instead of purely getting fixated on the destination.
The rest of my double-stint is uneventful. I slowly claw back laps on some of the cars ahead as they are either getting caught up in accidents themselves or I’m outpacing them. I did have some words with the drivers of another car, complaining I wasn’t letting them go even though I’m a lapped car to them, but the rules of blue flags in endurance racing do not require me to let cars lap me. I’m not allowed to defend, but I noticed that I was slightly faster than the car trying to lap me, and they were mostly catching up due to me running into GTD traffic in awkward spots on the track. Once I complete my stint, I return the car to Martin for him to run a double-stint. Martin retakes control of the car, and we then figure out that the positional rotary causes the TC Gain value to be changed whenever he takes over the car. He runs a good stint, and I take a break while Ross spots for Martin, with Ross taking over for a triple-stint afterwards. I try to nap, but I get too distracted by watching videos on YouTube. I return in the middle of Ross’ triple-stint to allow Martin a much-needed break while I get ready to take over from Ross and run a triple-stint myself.
I start the triple-stint somewhat weary, but for everybody to succeed in this race, doing the triple will be very important. The first stint’s laps fly by, and the second stint’s laps go by a little more slowly, but that third stint is nearly the death of me. I hopped in around 1 AM, and my triple-stint finished around 3 AM. During the last stint, it felt like the number of laps left kept increasing every time I looked down at the fuel gauge, but slowly, the laps dwindled. My pace dropped a little, and I almost put the car into the wall a few times when I almost drifted off. After handing the car to Martin for him to do a triple-stint, I still had to sit with him until 4 AM before Ross’ resting time. I dipped in and out of consciousness during this last hour, and I witnessed Martin making a mistake in his first stint, leading to him damaging the car and needing to pit for repairs late in the stint. Ross arrives around 4 AM to take over spotting duties and get ready to sleep on the couch. I set my alarm for 6 AM and fell asleep almost immediately.
Ross takes over from Martin and drives yet another monster stint while I sleep so soundly that I oversleep, but luckily, I wake up at 6:30 AM. I rush back to my sim rig to relieve Martin. I still feel bad about leaving him with 30 minutes less resting time, but I’m grateful that I had the extra 30 minutes of rest. I take over from Martin, still dipping in and out of consciousness, while Ross completes another triple-stint. At 7:30 AM, I took over for what I believed was my last double-stint for the race.
The first stint ends poorly. Twenty-three laps into the stint, I go for a move to un-lap myself on a car we are likely chasing down for a position at the end of the race. I knew it was a somewhat risky move, but they opened up a gap for me when they lifted early to stay behind a GT3 car through the Le Mans Chicane. I kept my foot in it, intending to overtake them, but I still stayed behind the GT3 and capitalised on getting past the GT3 before turning 1. The other GTP car did not leave me enough racing room and collided with our rear quarter, ultimately causing damage that sent me to the pits. Somehow, they managed to continue without being forced to pit for damage, although I suspect they would have had some aero damage that they would have chosen to fix at their next scheduled pitstop. I exit the pits after losing yet another few laps on the leader, with most of our hopes for a top-15 finish now reserved for the bin. I pull out another inspirational line:
We need to create our luck.
If everybody’s races continue, we will likely not occupy any positions. As we’ll later see, anything can still happen right up to the end of the race. I’m a firm believer in making sure I create luck for myself. Many things in the world are out of my control, but I can work hard to put myself in the best situation possible so that when the moment arises, I’m ready for it. In this case, it means running good, clean laps. If any of the drivers ahead have issues, we need to be there to pick up the pieces, but it will be impossible if we give up. My second stint goes over relatively cleanly.
At the end of this stint, I handed the car over to Martin, and he drove a pretty uneventful but solid stint. He managed to run 1:33.322 during this double stint before handing it over to Ross. Ross also runs a clean double-stint but starts having connection stability issues towards the end of his stint before handing it back to me. While they were driving, I quickly headed out to buy myself and my wife some croissants and coffee. I did it last year with the Daytona 24 since I’m rarely up early enough on the weekend to get extremely fresh croissants. I scoff down my food and head back to prepare for what I expect to be my final single-stint.
While I’m busy driving my stint, Ross says he’s not having much luck stabilising things, so Martin and I decided we’ll both drive double-stints to get the car to the checkered flag. I had a pretty uneventful stint, although I kept the car in P14. Martin takes over the car for the final stints and maintains P14. In the end, creating our luck was what was needed. We mostly capitalised on the fact that other teams had crashed and lost time while repairing their cars in the pits. Martin brings the car over the checkered flag. We’re all shattered but glad to have made it to the end.
That covers the entire journey. For those readers interested, I include links to the original live streams below. I could be a better broadcaster with these, but they serve as lovely mementoes for me to reflect upon at the end of the year.
These tend to be endurance-type events of various formats. Not all major events are covered as iRacing needs to hold the relevant licencing to host said events. They used to host the 24 Hours of Le Mans but removed the event from the platform due to a licensing dispute. ↩︎
Your connection is unstable when you’re blinking in iRacing. From other people’s perspective, your car will disappear momentarily before suddenly appearing again. Situations like this are extremely dangerous as other drivers might place their car overlapping yours. When your connection then “syncs” again, you are suddenly making contact with another car, which will lead to an accident. ↩︎