Virtual Le Mans Series: A chance for Macau’s pilots?

24H Le Mans organizers have announced in the French town a virtual championship to be called “Virtual Le Mans Series.”  At this championship, the best manufacturers, teams, drivers and virtual drivers will compete, with professionals competing alongside simulator amateurs. 

Perhaps this is a chance for Macau’s virtual pilots, who cannot find the means or support to compete with the best despite the wealth of the Macao SAR, to end up as part of a real-world team.

The Virtual Series will start on 17 September in Bahrain, continuing on 8 October with the 4 Hours of Monza, on 5 November with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, and on 3 December with the 500 miles of Sebring, before ending with the first virtual 24H of Le Mans on 14 and 15 January 2023.

The announcement was made last Friday during the long-awaited press conference of the FIA and the Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO). The press conference took place in-room at the MMArena, on the outskirts of the circuit.

The main representatives of the FIA, the ACO, and programs under development were present: Pierre Fillon, Richard Mille, Christophe Ricard, and Frederic Lequien, Director General of the FIA WEC, and Stéphane Darracq, Director General of the ACO. 

In the front row was FIA President, Sheikh Mohammed ben Sulayem, and legends such as Jacky Ickx, Hughes de Chaunac, as well as the Le Mans record holder and the ambassador chosen for the Centenary of the 24H, Tom Kristensen.  Kristensen has had nine Le Mans victories.

Various topics were addressed at this press conference: changes to the regulations, Le Mans 2022, the Centenary of the 24H of Le Mans, the FIA WEC news, the green development program, and the next Le Mans Series Virtual Championship.

Despite COVID-19, which had slowed down the development of sports programs, this year there is a record number of participants. At the start of this year’s edition, there were 62 cars for 186 drivers, with more than 1000 people involved.

In 2025 there will be a new regulation that will run until 2030, which aims to reduce CO2 emissions and the cost of competition and vehicles: balancing the chassis and changing all fuel to hydrogen.

Richard Mille, Chairman of the FIA Endurance Committee, announced that work is being done on the creation of a new class of vehicles that will be based on the current structure of the GTs. The new class will likely be an extension of the current GT-AM, but that is yet to be confirmed. This new category will start in 2024 and the denomination, although not finalized, will be of the LMGT type. The new regulations will aim to lessen the problems of manufacturers who had to adapt their factories each time regulations were changed. It will correspond to a simple vision inspired by the current GT3, which will be associated with a small Le Mans kit, putting an end to the limited series and allowing more private teams to compete.

Also available from 2024 will be the LMGT3 Premium. The philosophy remains the same: apply to GT what was done with Hypercars, while controlling costs.

Kristensen spoke of the honor of being chosen as the ambassador of the Centenary, for which preparation has already begun. Kristensen highlighted the fact that this edition marks the 25th anniversary of the first time he lined up at Le Mans. He said, “Le Mans is more than a passion, it’s a lifestyle” and the Centenary’s aim will be to take the “Spirit of Le Mans” even further. This is what inspires people, brings hundreds of thousands every year, and has millions glued to television screens. “They respect Le Mans. You live that dream, or you will not stand on the podium.”

Frederic Lequien has announced the extension of the contract for the WEC competition in Bahrain until 2027, where he will also finish this year’s season after passing through Monza and Fuji.

The main focus of the press conference was  the Mission H24 program. On May 14, at Imola, after much work to achieve homologation, the first car powered entirely by hydrogen finished a race with an acceptable level of performance before then breaking the speed record at La Sarthe on the 8 June. The development of the hydrogen program responds to the concerns of many people and of motorsport in general. This is anticipated by the FIA, the ACO and Richard Mille himself, President of Green GT. 

As early as next week, private trials will begin to improve the performance of the Mission H24 vehicle, with the idea being to see the hydrogen prototypes competing in 2025. In a projection of the circular economy, this year Le Mans had a “hydrogen village” with information about how this fuel works,  from the production of bioethanol, a catalytic process, as the basis of fuel. The adoption of these measures will reduce the WEC’s CO2 emissions by 30%. This year, Total produced a 100% renewable fuel named Excellium Racing 100%, which will reduce emissions by 65% by 2022. Competitive motorsport is today’s laboratory for tomorrow’s solutions.

A further novelty of the 2022 edition allowed anyone to, on the eve of the race, walk, skate, or cycle the entire perimeter of the track, curve by curve, from Tertre Rouge to the Porsche curve. Motorsports is at the service of environmental awareness and health.

Sérgio de Almeida Correia, MDT, Le Mans

Sustainable races

After strong initial advances, 2022 will be marked at Le Mans as the year of alternative energies. This is not only because of the brutal damage caused to the environment over the last century, but also because sustainability has become a watchword in all spheres, including in services, industry, transport, or business. Motorsports are no exception to this trend, and it may even be said that the sport has prioritized the improvement of environmental conditions inherited from the 20th century by drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels.

The MissionH24 prototype with hydrogen recently ran in La Sarthe. Piloted by Stéphane Richelmi, it set a new speed record at the Haunaudières, reaching 290.8 km/hour. Never has a non-fossil fuel vehicle driven so fast.

It is expected that, in 2025, according to the wishes of the FIA president expressed in 2018 and reiterated in the FIA/ACO/WEC press conference held here in Le Mans, competing cars will be entirely powered by electricity or hydrogen. These will be the cars of the future.

From car manufacturers to tires and fuel, it seems that everyone is finally moving in the same direction. Michelin, the largest French tire manufacturer, and long linked to motorsport with multiple successes, is currently producing a very high-tech tire with a 53% sustainable composition.

Total, the French fuel giant, is also taking the same path by being associated with the Mission H24 project. With a large profile and lots of information, it is using all available resources to attract visitors and convey its message. This includes interactive simulators and games for visitors, a Formula E, and a hobby about wind energy.

Peugeot joined this year’s edition with a temporary exhibition, “Allure Le Mans”, inaugurated by Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de L’Ouest, Jean-Marc Finot, president of Stellantis Motorsport, and Yannick Dalmas, a former 24H winner.

Categories Sports