A race win and 2nd overall in the LetsPlay.Live Project Cars ANZ Finals has me grinning from ear to ear.
It was an absolutely mega night and I’m so stocked with the result, I was not expecting that going in. I was relaxed going into the finals at the LetsPlay.Live studio thinking I would be sitting 4th but somehow it always comes together for me at these events and I had an epic night of racing.
What a night to get your first win of the series 🏎💨🏁
After 7 weeks of racing from home I had earned my spot in the finals. This meant a paid trip up to Auckland to compete in two races live in the LetsPlay.Live studio within the iconic Sky Tower. It’s easy to imagine I was super pumped for the experience. I’ve competed in a few live events now so I know they are a bundle of fun.
This series takes place of the game Project Cars 2 and is open to Australians and New Zealanders. There were 7 weeks of online races, 3 races each night with new cars and new tracks from week to week. Those 7 weeks formed the championship with the top 8 and the end of those 21 races qualifying for the live finals in the LPL Studios in Auckland. The finals were made up of two races at Bathurst, 15 laps each, using the 2013 Ford Falcon FG, a car familiar to any fan of the V8 Supercars.
Going into the finals I was fairly relaxed as always. I know there are some top drivers in the series, I came 4th during the season after all, so for me just making it to the final is the reward. I went into the finals week as I always do, putting in the practice but ultimately not expecting a big result just hoping not to be too slow and mostly just enjoy a free trip. In saying that there was a small part of me hoping to do well knowing that Bathurst has been good to me in the past.
I arrived in Auckland on Wednesday morning. First to the hotel (our stay in Sky City all paid for), I’ll take that as a win. With time to kill I wondered down to the waterfront. Not a bad way to spend what would normally be a work day. Then that night most of the drivers met up at the bar and shared in some banter about who had the best chances.
Thursday rolls around and it’s time to get the game faces on. Not really though there was plenty of just chilling and hanging out with the other drivers as we waited to get in to the studio for some practice. I love going to these events which always feel like friends weekends away which I don’t think you would get in any other competitive environment. Shout out to the other drivers who are awesome people.
Getting into the studio the immediate impression is it’s tight. I’ve been in the studio once before but only with one racing rig setup just for me. Previous competitions have been on stage in the Sky City Theatre so this was new. The LetsPlay.Live studio is awesome but when you try fit 8 racing rigs in there it sure becomes a squeeze with the doors barely opening before hitting up against the racing seats.
After squeezing in and picking our spots everyone got to setting up the rigs the way they like them. I lowered my wheel and made sure my rig didn’t have the rubber brake stop. My brake pedal at home has no resistance, it goes straight to the floor much like the accelerator, and while this isn’t like a real car I drive best with it that way after all my hours of practice. And in the studio that day we added a few more practice hours to that tally. Curiously we also had to muck around with the screens settings to reduce the saturation. It was a bright colour overload when we first sat down.
It was cool to get a good amount of time to enter all our own game settings and get comfortable with the rigs. It’s an often overlooked part of these events but makes a difference as adjusting to a whole different setup is a huge factor in any live event. The setups LetsPlay.Live provide are good though. The Thrustmaster T300 wheel, Next Level Racing Ultimate GT Rigs, Logitech headset, and top quality monitors make quite the combo.
During the day we stepped away from the practice a couple of times for interviews. First it was the LPL production interview, this is where the small clips that play during the intros come from. It’s almost weird to say but these are becoming familiar territory, this being my third LPL finals event. It was more of a casual chat rather than interview as I had full confidence they could just take the small clips they wanted out from all the garbage chat and speaking mess ups that surrounded it. The other interview we did was for Autocar NZ and it was the most casual interview I’ve been a part of, I loved it. It was a case of four at a time which made it really interesting to hear everyone elses responses and have a bit of back and forth. Not much of it got included in the resulting article but if you want to see for yourself it’s available on the Autocar NZ website.
With all that out of the way it was time for a final little bit of practice before the races. Throughout the day we had been able to keep an eye on each others times. Murphy’s Law seemed to be the man to beat in terms of hot lap pace but Bull was very close and Madzie was finding progressively more time. I considered myself in the mix to make it a top 4 battle but was still thinking that realistically something would have to go wrong in front for me to have a real shot. I knew that stuff can go wrong, and with the lose cannon Murphys Law up there I figured there was a good chance of something going wrong.
In that last practice session I was pushing to try prove to myself I could set a lap time to really compete with that top group, wanting to make sure they knew I was a threat. A few of us were practising in a lobby and Madzie set an early time right up there with his best of the day. It was my target and then bang I hit a top notch lap to narrowly beat it. But it wasn’t the tidiest lap so I didn’t even take a second to celebrate, I was straight pushing to see if I could do slightly better the next lap. That next lap was awesome, I hit my marks at each corner the car behaving exactly as I wanted it to. I knew I was up on my time early in the lap but I didn’t dare watch the times, I just kept trying to focus and push as hard as I could. I came to the line nervously finishing the lap hoping I had done enough to improve. I looked up at the time and holy hell I didn’t just improve I absolutely smashed it going a full 1 second faster! The fastest lap time of the day! Fast enough to be a world record for default setups. What a mega lap. Everyone was shocked, not least of which was me. I really hadn’t expected to be top of the pack, it hadn’t happened all season. But there it was, the ultimate lap time right there on my screen. Everyone’s practice stopped as they came around to confirm it was real. Suddenly I had gone from thinking I was only an outside chance to being a real shot at the title and the races were not far away. I was going to have to give it a real good push to go for the win.
It was made easier by the fact one of the drivers, Seca, was clearly there only for fun. Seca might not have been favourite but I’m sure he would have been another one in that top group if it wasn’t for the fact he chose to wear a big furry Husky suit while racing. I still don’t totally understand it but I totally love it as Seca chose not to show his face on stream and instead have a laugh the entire night wearing his suit. Even going as far as having an interview wearing it at the end of the night and barking his answers.
Into the races and it was full focus. I was so keen to do well but Bathurst is a tough track to tame requiring incredible car control to keep it off the walls. Qualify for the first race and I manage to put the lap together and set myself up to start 2nd in the race. When the lights went out for the race start I got a shocker, a common occurrence for me in Project Cars. Heading into turn 1 I was nervous knowing how quickly a race can end there so took it easy, suddenly finding myself in 4th as I headed down to turn 2. Into turn 2 and Murphy’s Law causes trouble far sooner than expected. Hitting Bull they both find the wall and just like that I’m back into second. After that I was pushing and pushing. It was lap after lap of trying to find a way past Madzie in the lead while also pushing to keep a gap on the cars behind. I had good pace but every time I got close enough to try something I would make a small mistake a drop back a little bit again. With the race being 15 laps long there was no need to panic it was just keep the head down and keep pushing. On lap 10 it finally paid off with Madzie making a mistake and giving me the opening to jump past and take the lead. After that I was nervous. I know the calibre of drivers behind me and I know how easy it is to make a small mistake that ruins your race at Bathurst. Trying desperately to drive safe while also being fast I eventually made it to the finish and got the race win three seconds ahead of Madzie. WOOHOO!
Then it’s time to reset and do it all again. In qualifying I didn’t quite put it all together and ended up third. When the lights went out and race number two started I once again got a crap start. Defending into turn 1 I managed to hang on to 4th ready in a position to have to fight my way past the top drivers in the series. It was two wide into turn two ahead of me once again and I couldn’t help but hope to see a repeat of the first race. It was all clean however and would be the start of a big battle between the top 4 over the next few laps. The battle continued onto lap 4 when heading up the mountain Murphy’s Law got it all wrong once again. This time he did it on his own sliding wide and collecting the wall in a big impact. I was right behind him instantly trying to work out how I could possibly get around the carnage with walls close on both sides. After smashing his car Murphy must have known instantly that his chances were done as he steered back into the wall to stay out of my way and proceeded to rage quit. I wasn’t aware at the time, focusing on my own race and in the other room from him, but was told afterwards that it was a proper temper tantrum with thrown headsets and slammed doors. I do have to thank him though as his move to go back into the wall and get out of my way allowed me to get past unscathed. Never mind the temper tantrum though the rest of us were racing and Murphy’s incident had spread the remaining top 3 out a bit. I was pushing to try catch up but wasn’t at my best, potentially that first race had taken a bit out of me. I tapped the wall a couple of times and picked up damage. Damage that cost me time every lap and meant I was out of the fight for the lead. Madzie ended up taking the win hanging on by the skin of his teeth over the hard charging Bull while I came home a solid 3rd!
With a race win and third place finish I ended up placing 2nd overall in the finals! What an epic result that I’m super proud of. Of course there is always the niggling thought that I wish I could have done more but full credit has to go to Madzie who drove absolutely brilliantly on the night to pick up a well deserved win.
That was it for the sim racing but I wasn’t straight back to Christchurch, instead sticking around to head out to the real track on Saturday. Saturday was my Dad’s birthday and was also a test day for the 2kcup at Hampton Downs, the perfect opportunity for father and son to hit the track ( Happy Birthday Dad!). The excitement to get in the car ahead of the new season was cut short however on Dads out lap. All suited up waiting my turn I wasn’t expecting to see Dad straight back in the pits but in hindsight I’m glad he didn’t stay out. He came in complaining of the car feeling way off suspecting something had broken with one of the wheels. Looking around the car I kicked the left rear tyre and it wobbled around. That shouldn’t happen. Turns out the CV had shorn off at the end of his out lap leaving just the brake assembly holding the wheel on and ending our day before it had really begun. Such a big shame but also a relief that there was no more damage as it easily could have speared Dad hard into the wall.
After a nice Birthday brunch on Sunday is was time to head back to Christchurch. Another awesome weekend under my belt with an awesome result in the Project Cars finals which nets me $300 prize money. Somehow I always seem to do well at Bathurst.
Huge thanks to the LPL crew for putting on the whole event. Big thanks to the other drivers who I had a lot of fun hanging out with during the event. And huge thanks to Dad for everything he does with the 2kcup car. Well thanks for everything up to and excluding the breaking it bit.