Consistency. Avoiding trouble. And standing next to your team-mate as the best man at his wedding. Those are the three things that basically will ensure a victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual.
Well, maybe not that last one. But for Jakub (Kuba) Brzezinski and Nikodem (Niko) Wisniewski, their beyond-the-grid friendship is pretty admirable.
The two have been part of the Williams Esports team for four and five years respectively. Sim racing has been a big part of their lives for over a decade, actually. Both drivers are from small towns in Poland and discovered their love for motorsport in different ways.
“At first, I was interested in Formula 1 and then I stumbled upon some racing videos on YouTube. I was like, ‘This seems like a cool way to do some racing without spending too much money.’ And that’s how it started,” said Brzezinski.
“I would say similar for me, but my sister’s husband was into a game called Richard Burns Rally back in the day. He bought the wheel and I tried, and I really liked it,” Wisniewski reflected.
“And I would say that’s how it grew more in a professional way because I joined some rally esports leagues.”
From there, the two found themselves joining sim racing leagues, which eventually led them on a path to Williams Esports. A move that allowed them both to simply focus on racing.
“You obviously get paid, so you can make a living doing that. And that’s great,” said Brzezinski.
“And then you’ve got managers who take care of all the staff, contacting organisers and making deliveries, you are provided with the equipment. We can really just practice driving and only worry about that.”
“Being part of [Williams Esports], I almost forgot how it was before,” both friends laughed. “It’s great that our hobby changed to the professional way.”
Three years ago to the date, the two sim drivers, alongside then Rebellion Williams Esports’ teammates Louis Delétraz and Raffaele Marciello competed in the 2020 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual…and they won.
It was the first-ever event of its kind, due to the COVID-19 pandemic pressing pause on the real-world race at Circuit de la Sarthe that same season. Now, the 24-hour virtual competition is a staple in sim racing and arguably the biggest esports event of the year.
“Back in 2020, we had a very good line-up. And at first, we were a little bit worried about the professional drivers doing a sim racing competition. We thought they wouldn’t really take it seriously,” admitted Wisniewski.
Both he and Brzezinski were on vacation with their girlfriends at the time (now wives) and their teammates were constantly practicing together, sharing their telemetry data with them and discussing the car’s pace.
“It was a really cool experience to learn from them. Because they are pro drivers, they really know how to drive. And we had to show them the sim way. It was a lot of effort and preparation. But it paid it off at the end and it was an amazing feeling to win such a big race.”
Fast forward to 2023, and the two Polish pals are sharing the # 53 AMG Team Williams Esports car in the LMP class with pro drivers Sami-Matti Trogen and Agustín Canapino at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, kicking off Saturday 14th January.
“Having finished third and second in the past two editions of the race, this is my chance to finally reach the top of the podium,” said 2021 Super TC2000 touring car champion Canapino upon being announced as one of Brzezinski’s and Wisniewski’s team-mates.
The game plan is pretty much the same as it’s always been: prepare for every scenario possible.
“We don’t want to be surprised in the middle of the race,” said Brzezinski.
“You know, it’s 3 am, half the team is asleep and no one knows what to do, right? We want to avoid that scenario and be fully prepared beforehand where in the race, it’s not about making up your mind on what you want to do. But having a plan and just executing it.
“We love endurance racing. It’s like pure racing. Everything is important – not only your pace, but being smart, staying out of trouble, strategy set-up.. .and also how you prepare for the endurance part of it. Our aim is to win,” Wisniewski added.
Practice and prep aside, something else stands out about the Poland natives. Their admiration towards each other as teammates is infectious and probably stems from the close relationship they’ve formed both in and out of the simulator.
“Niko is really talented, but in a way where it’s very easy for him. He shows up and he’s fast. I’m like, the exact opposite. I need to put in work, study telemetry and I will get there eventually. Having someone like Niko who a lot of times can show me how fast it’s possible to go…that’s great.”
Though the two are roughly 300 kilometres apart, they plan trips together and hang out in the real-world, too.
“Our wives are good friends and I was the best man in Kuba’s wedding,” Wisniewski gave a smirk.
“Building lasting relationships with your teammates, who eventually become friends and sometimes even stand beside you as you marry the love of your life…that’s a bigger win than any esports trophy, if you ask me. Of course, taking home another 24 Hours of Le Mans championship would be pretty awesome.
“We need to stay out of trouble, but also think about the victory because this is in our spirit.”
Watch Kuba, Niko and the rest of the AMG Team Williams Esports team in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2023, happening live on the Traxion YouTube channel at 1 pm GMT on 14th to 15th January.