| 13.3°C Belfast

Northern Ireland duo Watson and Eastwood ready to race F1 stars Alonso and Verstappen in virtual Le Mans 24 hour



Top gear: Andrew Watson is already a virtual race winner

Top gear: Andrew Watson is already a virtual race winner

Top gear: Andrew Watson is already a virtual race winner

It promises to be the ultimate challenge of this virtual race age - the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It should have been happening for real this weekend but like all other motorsport events, it has been cancelled. Rather than let the historic race fall by the wayside, the ACO organisers and the World Endurance Championship have teamed up with Motorsport Games to run it on simulators - all 24 hours of it.

Taking part from their homes will be Ulster endurance drivers Charlie Eastwood and Andrew Watson, who join some of the biggest names in the sport such as Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, Red Bull's Max Verstappen, double F1 champion Fernando Alonso and Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

And the four-man teams will include expert gamers for the first time.

Eastwood, who was leading the GTE/AM category in the World Endurance series when Covid-19 brought racing to a halt, will be part of the Aston Martin team, sharing a Vantage GTE with Alex Lynn, Harry Tinchnell and Italian gamer Tiziano Brioni.

Watson will drive the Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR in the colours of Premier League football club Wolves in company with Ben Barker and two gamers, Dubliner Adam Maguire and Italian Eros Masciulli.

"It is going to be quite a challenge," admitted Watson, who is back at his London base after spending the initial part of lockdown at his parents' home in Donaghmore. "A full 24 hours on a simulator is going to be daunting and we have had to work out the best way to approach it.

"Everyone is limited to seven hours in the 24 but no longer than four in a single session. In the real race we would look to be doing double and even triple stints but on the SIM we think it might be difficult to maintain your concentration for much more than an hour at a time.

"It is all being taken very seriously and it looks extremely realistic with pit stops for fuel and tyres, robot mechanics attending to damage to the cars and different weather elements being thrown in - just as you get in the real race.

"Ben and myself along with our two gamers have been running test sessions for the past week and we're being helped by a number of people including our Porsche race engineer, a strategist from the Garage 59 team I also drive for, as well as a nutritionist and a physio.

"But how we will cope over 24 hours is anyone's guess," said Watson, who has already racked up two virtual wins in the Porsche Cayman series. Now he is looking forward to locking horns with the likes of Ferrari ace Leclerc as well as his pal Eastwood.

Belfast man Eastwood, who now runs his own company supplying SIM racing equipment, will take part from his home in Essex in a three-car Aston Martin squad having already helped them take the team prize in the All Star Pro Cup virtual series.

Belfast Telegraph