Now that the checkered flag has waved on the 71st Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, you might think Sebring International Raceway will fade from the international motorsports spotlight and return to its workaday role until next spring.
If so, you’re only half right. Although the sounds echoing across Kristensen Corner, Gurney Bend, the Tower Turn and Ulmann Straight shifted to those of the testing variety during the week and Historic Sportscar Racing machines this weekend, the “virtual” Sebring boasts another major event on the international motorsports calendar this weekend also — namely, the iRacing VCO Sebring 12.
As was the case with the iRacing VCO Daytona 24 earlier this year, the iRacing VCO Sebring 12 features a lineup of GTP, LMP2 and GTD cars piloted by sim racers from around the world. Top teams such as BMW M Team BS+Competition, Apex Racing and RedLine Racing along with Lando Norris’ Team Quadrant and Roman Grosjean’s R8G team are expected to compete.
The BMW M Team BS+Competition effort in particular reflects the growing synergy between the real and virtual racing realms. Witness the fact that BMW factory driver Bruno Spengler led a 1-2-3 sweep for a BMW M Team BS+Competition that fielded entries for the likes of Nicky Catsburg, Philipp Eng, John Edwards, Connor De Phillippi and Robby Foley in iRacing’s IMSA Sebring Super Saturday back in 2020.
Then just last week in the real racing arena, Foley and Vin Barletta won the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 — the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Sebring — in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 (G82) sporting a livery that gave a nod to the BMW M Team BS+Competition.
“There’s a lot of synergy between (the real and sim racing programs) for sure. It was great to have the BS+Competition livery kind of half and half on the car,” Foley said of the special “Zebring” paint scheme that included half the car decked in gray and white zebra stripes. “We do that in the sim world all the time, but we’ve had few opportunities to do that in real life, so it was cool to get them a win and represent sim racing in real-world racing as well.”
That synergy goes very deep indeed when it comes to Foley. In a real sense, sim racing helped pave the way for his real racing career after he suffered a life-changing injury in high school.
“I started with iRacing in 2010,” says Foley. “I had a really bad leg injury playing football which kind of kickstarted my racing career in a way. Long story short, when I was not walking on crutches, I played iRacing.
“I had a Logitech G27 (steering wheel) and I learned a lot of my foundation for driving cars on iRacing. So, 13 years later it’s kind of cool to have iRacing on a GS car and to win at Sebring. To be able represent BS+Competition, Turner Motorsport, BMW and iRacing in the real world is kind of a surreal experience.”
Not only did sim racing help Foley develop the basic racing technical skills, it opened the door to his professional relationships.
“My relationship with BS+Competition started my relationship with Turner Motorsport,” he says. “I kind of connected those dots, and both Florian Haasper (founder of BS+Competition) and Will Turner (owner of Turner Motorsport), they share a passion. It’s an easy synergy; the content creates itself and the interaction has been great. We’ve gained some fans in the real world and, conversely, we’ve been able to shed some light on the virtual world.
“We had about a half dozen of our BS+ teammates at Sebring, and it was kind of a dream scenario to win the Michelin Pilot race. They are all talented racers in their own right; they just haven’t had the means or the good fortune to race in reality, yet. They do a great job in sim racing, and it’s cool to chat about the differences from the sim to real racing, but also the things that are similar. So, it was a really cool experience in general.”
Although personal commitments will preclude Foley from actively participating in Saturday’s iRacing VOC Sebring 12, the fact that he could share some of the knowledge he gained last week at Sebring racing Turner Motorsport’s BMW in the Michelin Pilot Challenge and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (where he, Patrick Gallagher and Michael Dinan finished second in the GTD class during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring) is a change from the norm. For while motorsports has become accustomed to stories of drivers preparing for real-world races on their sims, in this case, Foley’s real-world experience will help the sim racers prepare for the iRacing VOC Sebring 12.
“The most obvious is that in a 12-hour race, anything can happen!” Foley says. “We had a couple of technical issues but we just had to stay in the game. Saturday it was a bit of a crazy race. It kept us all on our toes, especially the strategists given how the race evolved.
“The format of the racing is a little different in iRacing, obviously. There’s a green flag and then a checkered flag 12 hours later without any yellows. But there are things like how to drive the track and some tips and tricks on what’s important for the car setup.
“It is different enough. … For example, in real racing the track temperature changes a lot. It changes in the sim as well, but certain things behave differently. The tire model as well is different to the Michelins we’re on in the real world, but it is close: You’re driving the same car, running the same gears, same corners, there’s enough that you can have a good conversation with someone who’s driving but they’re driving their computer.”
Looking back on Sebring, it was almost a perfect weekend for Foley: a 1-2 finish for Turner in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race and a runner-up GTD finish (behind the Paul Miller Racing BMW) in the Twelve Hours. What could be better? How about another win for BMW M Team BS+Competition in this Saturday’s iRacing VOC Sebring 12?
Catch all the action Saturday starting at 8 a.m. ET at twitch.tv/iracing or youtube.com/iracingofficial.