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  • Writer's pictureDavey Euwema

From Reddit post to podium

It's funny how easy certain things in life can come together sometimes. For quite a long time, I had held an ambition to properly get into long-distance team racing on the racing simulator iRacing. For those that aren't familiar with the platform, iRacing allows you to team up with up to six other drivers to contest full-length endurance races that last anywhere from three to twenty-four hours.

I had been wanting to do this for quite some time and last year I first briefly had a go at it. The first outing, racing a Mercedes in a three-hour contest at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, was a disaster. I was taken out in a gigantic, multi-car pileup on the opening lap of the race, so that was pretty much that. A second race, racing in the IMSA Endurance Series at Daytona, went a lot better. I didn't crash and ultimately finished eighth in class.

The first race was not exactly a positive experience

After that, things died down considerably. The person I raced with entered into a team of his own, so I didn't really have anyone else to race with. That's when it dawned on me: why not start from scratch? I decided to put up a post on Reddit asking for team-mates and within a few hours of the post going up, a team was formed. It consisted of me, another Dutchman and a guy from Germany. The name I proposed for our new squad was Dragon Bridge Racing, which was adopted.

The name has a decent ring to it, but its origins are rather... obscure. A while back, during a writing assignment, I was tasked with writing a tourism blog about the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana. In the center of town, you can find a bridge with dragon statues on either end. The bridge is called Zmajski most in Slovenian, which translates to 'Dragon Bridge'. Weirdly, the name stuck in my head and I figured it would make a pretty decent name for a racing team.

As enthusiastic as I was about this new venture, I also opted to take the lead on livery design for our Mercedes-AMG GT3. I decided on a colour scheme based on the black-and-pink liveries used by French sportscar operation Oak Racing in the 2010s. With a bit more colour, I ultimately settled on this:

For our championship of choice, we settled on the GT Endurance VRS Series. The format was fairly simple: only GT3 cars were eligible and races would take three hours. A major plus to this series was that it had a Sprint variant, running at the same track during the week. This provided a good opportunity to practice.

That's good, because for race one we were going to need all of the practice we could get, since we formed our team just in time for the round at the fearsome Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, Australia. I personally consider it one of the top three most challenging racing venues int the world, due to combination of very high speeds and merciless walls that will take you out in the blink of an eye in case you make an error. What's that saying about 'run before you can walk?'

And yet, much to my surprise, I qualified nicely in the top fifteen for our first race as a team. While the top cars in the split were significantly quicker, I knew from a few sprint races earlier in the week that avoiding trouble at this track was almost a guarantee of a good result. Outright pace wasn't the key here - staying alive was.

Unfortunately, hopes of a decent result lasted only until the end of the second racing lap. The start had been clean and I had even managed to gain a position or two, but at the final corner of lap two a BMW spun in front of me and parked it right on the racing line. Despite my best efforts, I just could not avoid it and hit it fairly hard. The car was able to continue, but immediately I felt that top speed had been severely impacted. This resulted in a loss of about 10-15 kilometers an hour down Bathurst's long straights. I knew right then and there that this was going to be a long race.

For the rest of my one-hour stint, I could do pretty much nothing but sit and watch as one car after another overtook me. Still, I was relatively pleased with my first stint. I fought the best I could with a wounded car and avoided scattering pieces of Mercedes all over Mount Panorama in a gigantic shunt, which is a plus in my book. I handed the car over to the other Dutchman in the team and went to get some dinner.

When I returned about 40 minutes later, the news was not good. The car had hit the wall hard only minutes after I had handed it over and we had spent fifteen minutes in the pits getting it repaired. We were now seven laps down, but defiant - we were going to make it to the end no matter what. Fortunately, thanks to one of iRacing's weird quirks the lengthy repairs had actually fixed the top speed issues we had been suffering from since my early contact. The car was back up to speed and for the remaining hours, we used that to good effect by slowly climbing back up the order.

We kept our noses clean for the rest of the race and brought the car home in eleventh overall, just one place shy of a top-ten finish. Given everything that had happened, certainly not a bad result on debut.

Race number two took place at Watkins Glen. Even amongst America's excellent collection of racetracks, this New York circuit stands out as one of my favorites. Spirits were high and my own morale took a further boost when I qualified ninth overall - not bad in a field of over forty cars.

The opening stint started off well. I was able to match pace up front and fight, which was a huge confidence booster for me. Unfortunately, about 30 minutes into my stint, I made a race-ending mistake. In trying to overtake a BMW, I acted too aggressively in an attempt to regain the racing line at the Esses and paid the price dearly. Contact led to a massive crash and another lengthy repair.

Even though my team-mates were adamant it wasn't my fault and that netcode was to blame, I disagreed. I felt responsible for being too aggressive and apologized. Like in Bathurst, we soldiered on with a wounded Mercedes and once again finished just shy of the top ten in twelfth place.

We had now done two races with decent race pace and poor luck. We all agreed on one thing: the speed is there, we just need to keep it clean. The next shot at that came the following weekend at Monza. Weirdly, leading up to the weekend I couldn't find the same confidence as I had managed to find at Bathurst and Watkins Glen. I felt like I was lacking speed, making too many mistakes and falling foul of iRacing's brutal track limits at the Temple of Speed.

This was further worsened by a diabolical performance in a practice sprint race earlier in the week, where I was involved in an incident twice and earned a first-ever penalty for gaining too many incident points. I'm pretty sure it was my worst ever performance since joining iRacing.

Surprisingly, the race on Sunday evening went a lot better. At this point, I'd more or less christened myself the team's qualifier and starter by this point and put the car twelfth on the grid. Again: not too shabby, considering over forty cars were taking part. Even better: I finally managed to work my way through a stint without any crashes or damage. In fact, the stint went so well that by the time I came in to hand the car over, we were running as high as third.

This, as it turned out, wasn't an anomaly. Through a combination of pace, a bit of luck for us and lack of it for others and some teams running other strategies, we were a consistent top five runner. Soon it became apparent a top-three finish was even potentially on the cards in just our third race as a team.

There was just one more obstacle to clear: fuel strategy. We had worked out prior to the start that the two-stop strategy used at Bathurst and Watkins Glen wouldn't be sufficient due to the high fuel usage at the flatout Monza track. Initially, we decided that we would come in for a short fuel stop inside the final hour, but now that a potential podium finish beckoned, that changed.

Instead, we went on what I could only describe as a tremendous fuel saving run. As usual with fuel strategies, it became an incredibly tense affair. But finally, luck was on our side for once. Two cars that were closing in and formed a threat to our third place both crashed out in separate incidents. When we discovered that a third chasing car was going to be disqualified because one driver had been behind the wheel since the beginning, we knew we were pretty much safe.

And so, we brought the car home after a mega stint without having to make an extra stop for fuel, taking third place. It was a confirmation of what we knew ever since Bathurst: if the pendulum would swing our way, we could do well. But even then, even we would have to admit that a podium finish in just our third race wasn't really within our realm of expectations.

Of course, we won't stop there. This weekend, we're set for another three-hour race at Imola. Ultimately, our aim is to step up to longer events and eventually maybe even do a 24-hour race. Will we get there? Time will tell!

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