Louis Delétraz at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, real and virtual
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Louis Delétraz at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, real and virtual

In June 2020, Louis Delétraz won the first Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans before taking part in the real race three months later. The Swiss driver has already had remarkable success in endurance, namely earning the LMP2 title in the 2021 European Le Mans Series. Here is a look at his experiences at both the real and virtual versions of the 24 Hours as he gears up to defend his virtual win this weekend along with Nikodem Wisniewski and Kuba Brzezinski, his two simracer teammates from 2020, as well as Argentian driver Agustín Canapino taking over for Raffaele Marciello.

These days, simulators are part of a professional driver's daily routine, so competing in the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans has proven itself a natural evolution. It allowed Louis Delétraz the opportunity to get to know the circuit virtually but in competition: "The Virtual 24 Hours provided excellent preparation for me because there was a true race rhythm like having to sleep, recover, etc. We did so many kilometers that the virtual and real ones were pretty close, and afterwards I did my rookie 24 Hours in LMP1 (smile, Ed.). It was thrilling to win [the Virtual 24 Hours] since it is the biggest esport event in the world, and I was proud to do so with Rebellion Racing."

The unique nature of the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which two professional drivers team up with two sim racers, required specific preparation to win: "The goal of a professional driver for the Virtual 24 Hours is above all to measure up to the sim racers. Raffaele Marciello and I trained intensively with Kuba and Nikodem, our two sim racer teammates. The work you do to keep focus is also very different. In a real car, you feel it react with your body, but in a simulator, it's all visual. In a virtual race, I really feel the fatigue during double, triple and quadruple stints because it's so different from what I'm used to. It was also different when we won. Of course we were very happy, but the celebration was very short and there was no podium, no celebrating with the team and teammates and no Champagne."

Since then, Delétraz has quickly established himself as a young talent to watch in endurance. After his first 24 Hours of Le Mans in September 2020 with Rebellion Racing (LMP1), last year with Team WRT he came within minutes of a win in LMP2 lost in the final lap. "At Le Mans in 2020, I had a lot to learn and was lucky to have such a veteran teammate like Romain Dumas (winner in 2010 and 2016, Ed.), as well as Nathanaël Berthon who had also done the race several timesThey both taught me a great deal because, to be honest, in the first laps I asked myself what I was doing there. Yet I do know fast cars, having driven Formula 1s, but at Le Mans it's still 350 kph in the straight and super fast in the Porsche Curves. Everything went well, the team trusted me to qualify, but in the our brake and clutch problems cost us the podium. But, that first participation facilitated my arrival in LMP2 where the field is slower but highly competitive."

With Team WRT, Delétraz also experienced one of the keys to success in endurance: the gel of the team, a collaboration very different from the remote environment of the Virtual 24 Hours: "With Robert (Kubica, Ed.) and Yifei (Ye, Ed.), it was fantastic because the harmony within a driver line-up is as important as a good car. Robert and I would say hi to one another in the paddock in Formula 1 back when I was in F2, and we got along well immediately when we actually met. We are both passionate about auto racing and want to win. Yifei is younger with a little less experience, but he's fast and very easy to work with. There was no ego and that made things easy in my opinion."

Between his win at the Virtual 24 Hours with Rebellion Williams Esports in 2020 and his LMP2 title in the European Le Mans Series with Team WRT in 2021, Delétraz's recent career in endurance somehow blurs the line between virtual and real motorsport. "Virtual auto racing is a great complement to 'real' racing as the two worlds cannot live one without the other anymore, especially since competing in motorsport in the real world is so expensive, and sim racing opens new doors for those hoping to carve out a career in auto racing." This weekend, Delétraz will seek a second Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans victory then compete in a double program in the FIA WEC and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

PHOTOS: 2020 & 2021 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: the ORECA 07 of Rebellion Williams Esports with which Louis Delétraz won the first Virtual 24 Hours in 2020, Delétraz seated in his simulator at the wheel of the Rebellion from his rookie Le Mans in 2020 and driving Team WRT's ORECA in 2021.