HomeNEWSMax Verstappen wants to win Le Mans – practically, that is

Max Verstappen wants to win Le Mans – practically, that is

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Max Verstappen simply loves to race — whether in real life or in video games.

The 25-year-old Dutch driver, who won his second consecutive Formula One world championship last season, will put his gaming skills to the test this weekend when he headlines the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, a prestigious sim-racing version of the French endurance race. The event, which runs on sim-racing platform rFactor 2, saw a total of 180 participants — a mix of real-life drivers and professional sim racers — compete in teams of four.

Just like a real Le Mans, teammates race for hours at a time throughout the day. In the virtual version, however, they compete in their own sim-racing rigs from their respective homes.

“I started running [in video games] With a regulatory track when I was 4 or 5 years old,” Verstappen said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I don’t really have much free time anymore to compete in Big Sim races, but it’s very important for me and the team – and we Hoping for a great weekend to bring home the win.”

Established in 2020, the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual was created as a pandemic stopgap to replace that year’s postponed, real-life Le Mans. But it proved to be a surprise hit, generating more than 20 million viewers across TV and streaming, later spawning an entire sim-racing endurance series featuring real-life carmakers including Ferrari, Porsche and BMW.

Verstappen has been a key participant in the series since its inception and is delighted to bring more attention to the event.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing the sim-racing community gain more and more recognition over the past few years,” he said. “Everyone can see how professional it has become.”

Verstappen is no stranger to esports. Since 2015, he has participated in various SIM races with Team Redline, a long-standing esports organization. He says his team’s approach to this weekend’s race is no different to how he prepares for a normal Formula One grand prix.

“We treat it like a real, live race,” he said. “We are fine-tuning the car’s setup and testing it in the hottest and coldest conditions, in rainy and dry weather and in both night and day. There are weeks of preparation that go into it and a lot of people don’t realize it.”

Verstappen spoke to The Washington Post about his game plan for this weekend’s race, his fascination with sim racing and why he thinks it makes him a better Formula One driver.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Launcher: You have participated in Virtual Le Mans every year since its inception in 2020. Why is this race so important to you?

Max Verstappen: Well, I like endurance racing in general, I like track and I like good competition. There are a lot of great teams taking part, so that all comes together to make it a very fun race for me.

Unlike most of us, you drive a real racecar almost every weekend in Formula One. Is it hard to adapt to sim racing when you’re used to the real thing?

Verstappen: Yeah, you really miss the G-force. And in real racing, a lot depends on what you feel through the wheel. I must say, though, that simulators are getting pretty accurate — I’d say it’s about 90 percent accurate to a real racer now.

It’s becoming fairly common to hear about up-and-coming drivers taking up sim racing. Is this a generational thing, and is sim racing a legitimate part of the racing landscape now?

Verstappen: Yes, I think so — and many real racers like to drive in simulators in their spare time. I still think that for someone who grew up only using a simulator, going straight into real-world racing is a big step. But we’ve seen it before, so nothing is impossible.

Another key difference is that real racing has a certain physicality — you have to be fit and well trained. In a simulator, even if you don’t have it, you can still manage to be really fast.

Everyone sets up their sim-racing rigs differently. People will keep it in their living room, their office or even their bedroom. How do you arrange it in your Monaco apartment?

Verstappen: Bedroom? I don’t think the girlfriend would appreciate that! Especially since you spent most of the night talking to your team members – and I definitely don’t think he’ll appreciate it. But here in Monaco, the living room suits me.

You often hear stories of people getting distracted while sim racing, whether it’s pets, phone calls, or simply the doorbell ringing. Does this kind of confusion happen to you?

Verstappen: During practice, yes. I have two cats, and they are always running around. My girlfriend has a daughter, and sometimes she can tap me on the shoulder. But on race day, I make sure no one interferes — I close the door and no one is allowed within 10 meters of my simulator.

Are you a big gamer outside of sim racing?

Verstappen: Mainly with FIFA, yes. A few years ago, I was really serious about it. I was trying my best at a professional level. But you can’t really combine being a Formula One driver and a high-level FIFA player. Now most of my free time is spent on simulators, but if I get some spare time, I can still sneak in a few FIFA games.

How do you manage your 24 hours during a virtual race like this? When you finish work, do you stay up most nights to see your teammates?

Verstappen: Yes, once I left the simulator [after a stint], I’m always on my phone to see what’s going on in our driver chat. And I keep the broadcast on TV to follow what is happening live.

At last year’s Virtual Le Mans, you dramatically crashed out of the race as dusk approached. Do you feel extra motivated to win this year?

Verstappen: These things happen in Formula One too. You will be upset, and people will ask, ‘Are you looking for retribution or redemption?’ But I never look at it that way. Last year, it was a very big and unnecessary mistake and I felt sorry for my teammates because we could have won the championship. For this year, I just want to have a strong race — we put everything into it, now it’s up to us to deliver.

Does sim racing make you a better formula one driver?

Verstappen: The main thing is that on all simulator platforms, I race non-Formula One cars. So, you have to adapt and change your driving style, as each car demands something different like steering input, throttle and driving line. I’m constantly learning and adapting what I need to do in each car to go as fast as possible.

At the end of the day, it helps you when you go back to Formula One, because you have all these experiences in the back of your mind. Sometimes you may not be completely happy with your Formula One car setup, but you can draw on all your different experiences in the simulator.

So, basically, it makes you a more well-rounded racer.

Verstappen: That’s exactly what I’m trying to achieve.

Gregory Leporati is a freelance writer and photographer covering esports, technology and motorsports. His recent work has appeared in GQ, Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork, and Ars Technica. Follow him on Twitter @leporparty.

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