VCO VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW: THE WINNERS OF THE iRACING 24H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS

  • An interview with Joshua Rogers, Jeremy Bouteloup, Joni Takanen and Mack Bakkum from the VRS Coanda Simsport team following their victory in Spa.
  • Rogers: “We always try to be among the best when it comes to saving fuel.”
  • Bouteloup: “Your mind is always on the race.”

Munich – Joshua Rogers, Jeremy Bouteloup, Joni Takanen and Mack Bakkum produced a driving and tactical masterclass last weekend to take victory in the iRacing 24h Spa-Francorchamps powered by VCO, which forms the third leg of the VCO ‘Grand Slam’ on iRacing. Just one day after their triumph, the quartet from the VRS Coanda Simsport team were guests in the VCO Esports Studio. Speaking to Ben Constanduros, the four drivers gave a detailed insight into their preparations for the race, their strategies, and how they celebrated their victory. They also revealed why they opted for the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 for the virtual Ardennes marathon.

You can watch the latest episode of the VCO Esports Studio here:
https://v-c-o.info/EsportsStudio9

Ben Constanduros: Mack, how much preparation goes into winning a 24-hour race like that?

Mack Bakkum: That depends on the event. This time, I think we had a little less time than usual, as many of us also drive in the Porsche Esports Supercup on iRacing. We would normally start to prepare about two weeks in advance. This time, we started about five or six days before the event, and then practiced two to three hours per day. It is not just about driving. There is a lot more goes into it than that, for example testing different strategies with the car, or seeing how the tyres behave. On the whole, I would say that we probably put in about 15 hours per individual.

Constanduros: Joni, what is the process from the start of the preparations? What are the first steps?

Joni Takanen: Basically, we make a basis for the set-up and see how it develops. It is about getting a good feel for the way the car behaves.

Constanduros: In a GT3 race, you have plenty of different cars to choose from. How do you select your car?

Takanen: We look at the Balance of Performance, which is released about a week before the race. We can test before that, but once we get the BoP we can really start testing different cars and see which is best suited to our driving style.

Constanduros: Jeremy, you chose the McLaren. There were only four McLarens in the top split. Was that a unanimous decision?

Jeremy Bouteloup: It was maybe unanimous in the end, although we still had doubts a couple of days before the race. Spa-Francorchamps was also the venue for a race in the VRS GT Sprint Series on Saturday. That gave us a few valuable insights. We saw a lot of BMWs there and were not entirely sure whether the McLaren would prove to be the right car. I did a race in a McLaren earlier in the week, which went pretty smoothly. I used that to prepare a database. From then on, I believed that the McLaren would be a good choice. Ultimately, however, you can never be certain. Because we did not have so much time, we were unable to familiarise ourselves with all the details and you can miss things. In the end, it paid off.

Constanduros: Josh, What was the reasoning behind choosing the McLaren? Was it all down to the fuel efficiency, bearing in mind the strategy?

Joshua Rogers: Yes, I think that was probably the most important aspect. We usually try to push the limits of strategy in endurance races. We always try to be among the best when it comes to saving fuel. Not every team takes that approach. Another important point is long-run speed. That was very impressive. The Ferrari and Audi were stronger in the opening parts of the stints, but our car got faster and faster from midway through the stint. The other guys could not really keep up with us in that regard. Another aspect was the top speed of the car. That made it a little bit easier when it came to clearing traffic. Personally, I was a little bit sceptical about driving the McLaren before the race, but I got used to it.

Constanduros: It was presumably also very important for you to get pole position and to have clean air on the opening lap?

Rogers: Yes, that definitely helped. In a 24-hour race, pole position is always important as it allows you to stay out of the mess and avoid losing time at the start. It is important to save fuel and start the race well. I think everyone else was basically doing the same thing. Unfortunately, we were not able to break away. However, the most important thing was to stay out of trouble in the first stint. Pole definitely helped us do that.

Constanduros: Mack, do you feel it was imperative to have a car with that strategic advantage and that fuel advantage? Ultimately, you were still incredibly fast without that.

Bakkum: I think all the cars were good when it comes to performance and lap times. However, I always look to have something that another car cannot do. Going an extra lap per stint was something that no other car could do – not without having to save a lot of fuel. For me, that is always the most important in an endurance race. For example, there have already been so many races that we have won because we were saving fuel and other teams were not. Maybe we dropped a little bit of pace at the start, but we would always make up for that over such a long race.

Constanduros: Having selected the McLaren, what was the next step? To make the car a little less ‘on edge’?

Takanen: We started to try things to make the car understeer quite a lot. After that, we added elements to ensure that we could consistently drive it at the limit for one or two stints.

Constanduros: I didn’t see it live, but somebody had a half spin at some point in the night, didn’t they?

Takanen: That was me. I lost control once, and I think Mack did too.

Constanduros: What happened?

Takanen: It was a lap when I was stuck in traffic. Fortunately, I did not hit anybody and was able to continue. In total, it probably cost us ten seconds.

Constanduros: Mack, what is your excuse?

Bakkum: I have no excuse. I just made a little mistake. I guess I could make an excuse that I was really tired, but everyone was and I was the only one who made the mistake. It was a brief lapse in concentration, then you are on the curve and spinning. Luckily, it did not cost us too much.

Constanduros: Jeremy, once you have chosen the car and got the set-up sorted, how do you decide who is going to drive when?

Bouteloup: It is a question of balance. First, you have to check everybody’s availability, as it may be that somebody cannot drive at a certain time, or has to go at a certain time. That is always the first step. Once we know that, we ensure that the drivers get enough rest – especially in the night. For example, somebody could do the first half of the night and then rest, while another duo take the second part of the night. It is about guaranteeing the right balance between driving time and rest time for everyone. We want to maximise our performance. The best way to do that is for all the drivers to be as rested as possible.

Constanduros: Josh, does tiredness affect your performance if you have done too many stints?

Rogers: To be honest, no. It is something I have got quite used to over the past few years. Once you start driving, the adrenalin kicks in and you forget about the fact that you are tired. The challenge is staying awake in the lead-up to your stints, although watching helps to keep you sharp.

Constanduros: Mack, do you always have a second driver spotting as a reserve?

Bakkum: Yes, we always have that. We always make a plan, in which everyone is scheduled to do a certain stint, then we also have a back-up driver planned as well. There is always someone to take over if we have a network crash or something else happens. In general, it is also good to have someone to keep you awake, because driving at four in the morning can be quite tiring. For example, when I had Josh next to me, it really helped me stay awake.

Constanduros: Do you speak to each other while you are at the wheel?

Bakkum: That depends on the driver. When Jeremy is driving, he likes to mute and really focus on the race. I’m a bit different – especially at night. I think I spoke to Josh on every lap. Particularly on the straight, I like to take my mind off other things.

Constanduros: Jeremy, why don’t you want to chat to anybody? Is it because English is not your native language so you would have to concentrate a little more on what you were saying? 

Bouteloup: Possibly, but I think I would do the same even if it were in French. I just lose my focus if I start talking too much. I feel I concentrate best and am at my most efficient when I am alone. That is why I was muted during pretty much all of my stints, except when I had to talk about fuel – but that was only for about 20 seconds each time.

Constanduros: Jeremy, do you sometimes leave your screen to recover?
Bouteloup: Yes, now and again, especially because, at some point, it gets a bit tiring sitting in the sim rig for hours. I think the longest break I took was 15 minutes, and even then I was still checking the race to see how things were going. Getting out of the rig is mostly just for physical reasons. Your mind is always on the race.

Constanduros: How were the celebrations at Coanda headquarters after the race? Was there much partying, or did you just go to sleep?

Rogers: It was quite casual. We just had a barbecue and then wound down a little bit. I was just thinking about going to sleep. I didn’t get too much rest in the night.

Constanduros: The season still has a long way to go, and there are still a lot of races to come, including the iRacing Petit Le Mans powered by VCO, as well as a few other endurance races and the TAG Heuer Porsche Esports Supercup. Were you already thinking about the next project the following day, Josh?

Rogers: Yes, pretty much. As much as you might like to have a rest day, you don’t often have time for that and have to get back to work as soon as possible. The schedule is very busy at the moment, so you can’t afford to waste any time. The iRacing Petit Le Mans is something we will be looking to do, if the calendar allows it. I’ve never taken part in that, so it would obviously be nice to drive there. I am sure it would be a good experience with GTE cars against the prototypes.

Constanduros: Mack, do you prefer multi-class racing to a race like the iRacing 24h Spa-Francorchamps, in which only one class of car is racing? 

Bakkum: I prefer mutli-class races, especially if you are in the fastest class. Having other cars on the track is a great element for me during the races.

Constanduros: Jeremy, what are your preferences?

Bouteloup: I am not sure. I really like Spa-Francorchamps, because it is an endurance race but you don’t have to struggle too much with traffic. I think that makes things easier. At the same time, as Mack said, it’s quite a nice experience when you are in a multi-class race and are in the fastest class. Particularly when you have prototypes, which are much faster than GT cars.

The VCO iRacing “Grand Slam” 2020
25th/26th April, iRacing 24h Nürburgring powered by VCO
20th/21st June, iRacing 24h Le Mans powered by VCO
11th/12th July, iRacing 24h Spa-Francorchamps powered by VCO
3rd/4th October, iRacing Petit Le Mans powered by VCO

About VCO

Virtual Competition Organisation (VCO) brings together different stakeholders in Esports, from simulation or gaming platforms and interested partners to active teams, drivers and the community. In a rapidly growing sector, VCO stands for professionalism, focus and a broad media presence. With its international network, VCO provides solutions for the best possible conception and implementation of Esports projects of all kinds.

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