Gran Turismo 5: racing 24 Hours of Le Mans for real. “Ten hours in… this is hell”.
I’ll never be a racing driver. It’s tough to admit that, having been so resolutely convinced of my destiny as Ferrari’s next F1 poster boy throughout my formative years. But at 25, it’s time to take stock – I can no longer extract enjoyment from beating young children in indoor kart championships (by loads, I might add).
Alas, I can also no longer expect that call from Stefano Domenicali, no matter how thoroughly I maintain my bi-hourly email campaign, ingratiate myself with his family and friends, and lurk in and around his house in the dead of night. No, the closest I’ll get to the racing driver lifestyle is, inevitably, in videogames.
That’s why this challenge seemed like a good idea to me. I’m an obsessive Gran Turismo 5 player, and I’ve always been awestruck by the fact that a 24-hour race of Le Mans actually exists in the game. I mean, even real-life Le Mans 24-hour drivers race in teams of three. Surely taking on that race on your own is the ultimate challenge in virtual motorsports? ‘I’ll do it!’ I thought. ‘That’ll assert my status as motor racing’s greatest ever unscouted talent! How do you like me now, Lewis Hamilton? Eh?’
With that infallible logic die-cast in my brain, it was settled. I would race for the full 24 uninterrupted hours around the Circuit De La Sarthe against the toughest cars Gran Turismo 5 could muster. No driving aids, no traction control or automatic gears – just me, the track, and my steely determination.
Some amount of preparation was needed, or course. I cleared out my living room, reducing it to a TV, chair, and desk to house my racing wheel. To sustain myself for the full 24 hours, I amassed a bumper crop of the kind of food a ten-year-old would buy if left in charge of the household finances for a day. Oh, and enough energy drinks to have you forget what it’s even like to have a solid bowel movement. Preparation’s half the battle, after all. All that was left was to actually drive the laps and win the race. Which would be a walk in the park, right? A really, really long walk in the park…
Okay, so maybe I didn’t prepare quite as thoroughly as I could have done. It turns out you need to be at level 35 to even take part in the race, and at 6pm the night before the big drive, I’m a lowly level 32. Not to worry, though, I’ll just grind out some of the more rewarding online races, secure the required status and get an early night before the big race tomorrow. Problem: it takes me nine hours. It’s now 5am on the day of the race itself, and I haven’t been to sleep yet. To be honest, those nine hours were miserable, too, and the prospect of 24 more of the bastards feels like a used nappy being stuffed into my unwilling mouth.
Between making various dull race preparations and shifting furniture around, I get three hours’ sleep before finally, at 4:33pm – already tired and groggy – I embark on what will definitely be the longest 24 hours of my life. I choose the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP (Team Oreca Matmut ’10) as my steed, and fit a level-three turbocharger to it – to give me that edge when my mind’s all shot. I give her an oil change and a wash, take my place on the grid of 12 similar Le Mans cars, and begin. I’m immediately beset by rain.
My first lap in a twitchy death-trap with low visibility around other twitchy death-traps with low visibility goes surprisingly well, though. I’m less tentative on the brakes than my AI opponents: K Reeves in his BMW LMR Race Car ’99, P Muench in his Bentley Speed 8 Race Car ’03, and manage to get on level terms with wily N Petridis and his impressive Bentley Speed 8 Race Car ’03 just before the circuit’s final chicane section.
Then I get cocky. I try to out-brake Petridis into turn one and land like a beached whale in the gravel trap. By the time I’ve wriggled free, I’m 11th, and that’s where I continue to spend the next few hours.