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Mon Dieu – Le Mans really is the greatest racing event in the world!

Originally published in SimRacer Magazine (Volume 1, Issue 7)

Monday, June 1, 2015, 11:00 – Executive VP Steve Myers calls me down to his office for an unscheduled meeting.  I walk down the hall to see what is so urgent and arrive to find VP of Art & Production Greg Hill and Associate Producer Kevin Iannarelli already discussing something. Steve is not one to start a meeting with friendly chit-chat so he gets right to the point – We came to an agreement with Le Mans and we need to laser scan and photo reference next week. Are you available to go to France this weekend? Of course the only sensible response is oui! It’s days like this that I really like my job 🙂

Greg spends the next couple of days making travel arrangements – no small feat to find hotel rooms for six people one week out from the biggest endurance race in the world! The rest of my week was a whirlwind as I attempted to wrap up several projects and plan for the trip.  I experienced a minor scare on Friday when I couldn’t find my passport – luckily my wife knew where it was!

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Sunday, June 7, 2015 – Off to the airport. Since direct flights from Boston to Paris were unreasonably priced on short notice we opted for the scenic route through Iceland. It turned out to be quit enjoyable and I plan to make a longer stop on the volcanic island nation the next time I head across the pond. Sunday turned into Monday and next thing you know we were sitting in traffic on the peripherique around Paris. Several hours — and a couple of coffees  – later, we were in the central square of the village of Le Mans to meet our track contact and pick up our credentials. Public scrutineering was in full force and it was great to see so many cars and fans already taking in the event. Full media access and two passes to drive our cars on the circuit. You can’t get better access than that!

Once credentials had been sorted we headed to the circuit. Since we couldn’t get on the track surface until Wednesday we immediately began photographing trackside objects. We split up into several teams and began wearing out our cameras.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015 – After a really long day, about 36 hours without sleep, we were feeling a little fresher having slept in to about 7:30. Today’s assignments were similar to Monday’s as we still couldn’t get on the track surface. Photographing the trees, homes and business along Mulsanne straight was fun, even when we were be watched by curious homeowners and sometimes yelled at. We weren’t doing anything nefarious but if you look at it from the homeowner’s perspective it is a bit weird to have half a dozen Americans shooting photos of your house and property. No police were called, no one was arrested and most importantly no one was hurt in the making of this virtual track. We did nearly lose one of our photographers when he inadvertently stepped in a post-hole that was dug for the temporary armco and left uncovered. Luckily he was uninjured; more importantly, his cameras were also undamaged.

I think the best way to get a real sense of just how long the Mulsanne straight is, is to walk it. I goes on forever!

Jack Davidson and I even managed to do a short interview with American racing driver Jordan Taylor. He happens to be an avid iRacer and races for Corvette Racing in the #64 car – yep, that’s right, the same car that won GTELM Pro class! So much for the iRacing curse. You can see some of his interview here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 – Having made very good progress on trackside objects the past two days – six photographers lets you cover a lot of ground – we planned to arrive early at the track to see if we could get on the racing surface before our allotted time of 12-2pm. Getting there early paid off as we were able to get on closer to 11 and stayed until after 3pm. Unfortunately this day also brought us some rain. Not a big deal for the photography but the laser scanner was not too happy. A good quality scan would have to wait until Thursday, which coincidentally, was the last time we would be allowed on the racing surface. No one said it, but I think we all went to bed with a final thought, prayer or wish for a clear day tomorrow. If we didn’t get the scan on Thursday it would literally have to wait an entire year.

Thursday, June 11, 2015 – The day began with checking out of our hotel as we need to move further away from the track since all of the rooms nearby Le Mans had already been booked for the race weekend. Once at the track we were able to get on the racing surface a little early again. Thankfully the weather was perfect and the laser scanner was able to capture the precise detail that you have grown accustomed too. Again, we divided into teams and were able to finish photographing everything we needed – the track surface, barriors, signs, light poles, fences, gravel traps, houses, corner worker stations, garages, grandstands, etc. If you can see it from the track, we have pictures of it! Once again we were yelled at, this time by some corner workers who didn’t understand or frankly really care why we were on THEIR track. The one police officer who did stop me seemed fine once I showed her my credential – got to love the all access pass!  We finished up in the evening and half of the crew headed back to Paris to catch a flight the next morning. The rest of us moved to our new hotel, about an hour from the track in the beautiful town of Chartres.

Friday, June 12, 2015 – We had planned to use Friday to finish up the trackside photography but since we were done with that and there wasn’t much on track activity we decided to head to Paris for the day and see some of the sites. It’s a beautiful city and a place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. I won’t bore you with the details of our walking tour but I will say it was great to be back in Paris. I lived in the city many, many years ago and this was my first time back. Felt a little like going home again.

Saturday, June 13, 2015 – Early alarm so we could get to the track and beat the traffic. I guess we should have left a couple of hours earlier if we wanted to get in before the crowds. Luckily our all access passes still worked and we were able to find a nice parking spot in the infield not far from the paddock. Today was our chance to see, experience and photograph the facility in a race setting:  the crowds, the carnival, the pits, corner workers, the shops and displays. Everything had really come alive and the circuit had a completely different feel now that several hundred thousand race fans had arrived.

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We watched the pre-race ceremonies and start of the race from a balcony near the media center – it’s a great place vantage point.  We could see the tens of thousands of spectators jammed on the front straight. I have been to countless races and never experienced anything like this. The Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sebring 12 hour, even the Indy 500 pales in comparison to the Le Mans experience.

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We shot more photographs throughout the afternoon and into the night. We’ll use these for reference so we can incorporate the atmosphere into our digital version of the circuit.  As you can imagine the track has a completely different look and feel once it is populated with race fans!

Having worked until literally the middle of the night and then driving an hour back to our hotel we were completely wiped out. We never did manage to make it back to the track Sunday as we needed to catch up on some sleep. We eventually hit the road and headed back to Paris for the night so we could catch an early flight back Boston.

It’s hard to put into words what it was like to be at Le Mans and to be a small part of the team that is bringing iRacers this great track. Everything came together so quickly and thanks in large part to Greg’s ability to plan, organize and keep us on track (see what I did there?) the trip was a huge success. We even managed to keep this all a secret. None of us posted anything on social media about being at the race. No one wore any iRacing gear – quite a change for a marketing guy like myself who lives and breathes our brand and almost always wears something with the iRacing logo emblazened on it. I actually had to go out and purchase a couple of new shirts before I left as literally 90% of my shirts say iRacing on them!

With more than 35,000 photos, a complete laser scan and even video reference of laps driven in the rental car we have everything we need to recreate this iconic track.

While the release of this track is still a long way off, I know that we’ll bring you the absolute best version possible. From the perfectly modeled track surface, to the subtle details on the houses lining the circuit – it will be unlike anything you have ever seen and it will be worth the wait, I promise.

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Daytona Is Where I Want To Be

What a weekend for iRacing! The RACC runoffs, the Rolex 2.4 and our involvement in the Rolex 24. Sean Siff and  I were in Daytona this past weekend supporting our teams and many drivers who were competing for the coveted Rolex watch.

Our weekend in Daytona started-off a bit ominously as it appeared the iRacing curse had struck again. The curse is not really a curse but more of a string of bad racing luck. The two cars we sponsored last year both were wrecked on track – Marcos Ambrose’s Camry at Pocono and the Daytona Prototype shared by Ambrose and Carl Edwards didn’t even make the green flag at Montreal. I had hoped we were starting with a clean slate this year but just as we arrived at the track on Thursday I received an e-mail from the office informing me that Jimmie Johnson had just wrecked the GAINSCO car.  Yes, the very car we had partnered with for the Rolex 24! At first I thought the e-mail was a joke but I quickly realized it was not.

As soon as we got to the infield of the track we headed straight to the 99 car’s garage to survey the damage. Initial reports were not good as the team was planning to go back to Texas to get the backup car. They were hopeful they would be ready with a new car in time for the race-no guarantees though. This was not good but there was nothing we could do at this point so we moved on to meet with our other driver, Andrew Caddell. Andrew was driving for Rehegan Racing in a Mustang, competing in the Fresh From Florida 200 in the Continental Challenge Series. This is the support race that will be aired on SPEED on February 13 at 7 p.m. eastern time.

Andrew is an iRacer and an accomplished racer in the real-world having won the Mustang Challenge series for the past two years. iRacing was sponsoring Andrew for this race in his orange Mustang. Our logos were featured on the doors and the roof. Andrew and his co-driver Kenny Wilden were struggling in practice, only managing to post a top 15 time. Eventually the team sorted out the setup and Andrew was able to qualify third. After Andrew provided his blog update we called it a day and planned to regroup Friday morning.

An early wake-up and straight to the track to check on our cars and get some interviews for 3 Wide Life, a racing show for which iRacing is the primary sponsor. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the 99 team was able to repair the car over the night after Jimmie Johnson used his personal helicopter and jet to shuttle parts to the track. In fact, the car was already on track when we arrived! Things were looking up for iRacing!

A few more driver interviews were completed including Jimmie Johnson and Alex Gurney, and then it was time for the Continental Challenge race. We were lucky enough to get to the grid in time to wish Andrew luck and then watched the race from the pit stall with the rest of the team. What a great place to watch a race! Caddell made a clean start and the race was going well until the first caution. Upon the restart the car developed a problem, it was down on power. It turns out it was due to a cracked header. The car was still handling well and Andrew managed to hold onto a top ten finish, which is a testament to his driving ability.

After the Continental Race, we headed to the Gainsco corporate party where we were demoing our software to Gainsco employees and the drivers of the 99 car – Jimmie Johnson, Alex Gurney (a long-time iRacer), Jon Fogarty and Jimmy Vasser. After some brief words by Bob Stallings (team owner) and a Q&A session with the drivers the driving competition began. Obviously we were running the DP at Daytona. Bob Stallings posted a time of 1:59.802. Jimmie went next laid down a really quick time right off the bat, he posted a 1:43.703 on his first flying lap. Jon Fogarty went third and put up a time of 1:54.122. Alex then posted the fast lap of the driver competition, a 1:42.537 and the crowd went wild. It was a lot of fun coaching these world class drivers and all of them noted how great the software was.

Saturday morning was another early day to the track. Our mission was to track down another iRacer competing in the Rolex 24, Justin Wilson. We wanted to get a quick interview for 3 Wide Life and managed to meet up with Justin at his RV. The interview took place on the walk from the RV lot to the drivers meeting. It was sheer madness fighting through the crowded infield while trying to keep the camera and mic focused on Justin. Kudos to the crew from 3 Wide Life!

At 3:30 pm the race got underway and the 99 car was running well. The team settled into a comfortable fifth place. Positions changed as cars adopted different pit stop strategies but the car was in a good spot when we left for the evening. I wasn’t about to attempt the all nighter!  In the middle of the night the car did head to the garage for some minor work which put it down a couple of laps but, when we arrived at the track in the morning, things were still looking good for a possible podium finish for the Red Dragon. Unfortunately that all changed around noon, when there was less than 4 hours to go. Jimmy Vasser reported on the team radio that he was showing zero oil pressure. He pulled it off the track and it was towed back the garage where the team ultimately diagnosed an oil pump belt failure. The race was over for the 99 team.

While we were certainly hoping for a victory in the Rolex 24 (I was secretly hoping for a new watch) the entire event was a huge success for iRacing regardless of the finish. We got tons of exposure to racing fans both at the track and around the world, and three of the top four finishing cars had iRacers on their driving teams (P1 – Joao Barbosa/Action Express, P2 -Justin Wilson/Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, P-4 Colin Braun/Krohn Racing). Being part of the race weekend was a fantastic way to connect to motorsport fans. Daytona really is the place to be this time of year!