24 Hours of Le Mans: Fabien Barthez in the simulator
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24 Hours of Le Mans: Fabien Barthez in the simulator

When 1998 world soccer champion Fabien Barthez retired from football, he began a new career in motorsport. He will be competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next June, so last Wednesday he underwent training on the AOTech simulator, in line with race regulations.

The rules for the 24 Hours of Le Mans (18 and 19 June) state that drivers who have not driven at the race before, have not taken part in the race for at least five years (so any race since 2011) and all bronze-rated drivers who did not take part in the race in 2015 are required to undergo a day’s training on a professional simulator to familiarise themselves with the race’s very specific conditions.

Although he made his first outing in Le Mans in 2014 in the LM GTE Am class, Barthez is bronze-rated so had to submit to this requirement.

The purpose of the day-long session is to inform drivers about the advanced safety procedures that apply during the legendary French endurance race, and for Barthez it served as a useful reminder of the ins and outs of the Le Mans circuit.

Together with his teammate Timothé Buret, who will be racing at Le Mans for the first time this year, Barthez spent three hours on the simulator. The session was divided into six 30-minute slots during which the pair (re-)acquainted themselves with the track and its potential dangers and found out where the marshals are positioned. They also learned more about how to handle the traffic, what to do during the daytime and night-time safety car and ‘slow zone’ procedures, and how to cope with the unexpected such as a sudden change in grip on a section of the track, which can often happen at Le Mans. It was an excellent induction for Timothé and a good revision session for Fabien as they gear up for the race in their Ligier JS P2.

At the end of the day’s training on the cutting-edge AOTech simulator, the machine sends individual driver activity reports to the ACO. Race officials at the 24 Hours of Le Mans use this data as they monitor the drivers’ track performance during the test day, another mandatory step before the practice sessions and race.

The AOTech simulator is an incredibly sophisticated piece of equipment, comparable with flight simulators or those used by the big F1 or LM P1 teams. In the 2016 version, drivers are seated in cockpits very similar to those found in LM P or LM GTE cars. The partnership between the ACO and AOTech helps significantly improve track safety for drivers as well as the marshals located all around the circuit. Twenty-four drivers set to take part in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans have already undergone simulator training, and other sessions are planned up until 2 June.

Simulator training is also available to competitors in the Road to Le Mans and Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli, the curtain-raisers to this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Le Mans Classic (8-10 July 2016) which uses the full circuit and includes ‘slow zones’ in the regulations for the first time this year.