Motorsport Games CEO: Le Mans Ultimate Isn’t “Just a Reskinned rFactor 2"

Le Mans Ultimate isn't "just a reskinned rFactor 2"

Le Mans Ultimate isn't "just a reskinned rFactor 2"

Le Mans Ultimate has hit Early Access, and while several promised features are absent in the current build and some bugs need to be squashed, it has a lot of potential. As the first official Le Mans title in a long time, it’s the only game where you can race every car from the 2023 WEC season including the powerful Hypercars like the Toyota GR10 and Cadillac V-Series R.

Under the bonnet, Le Mans Ultimate runs on the same engine as rFactor 2. Its underpinnings may be familiar to seasoned sim racers, but Le Mans Ultimate is setting a new benchmark for virtual endurance racing.

As Motorsport Games CEO Stephen Hood puts it, Le Mans Ultimate is more than “just a reskinned rFactor 2.”

Tinkering under the bonnet

“If there is criticism around Le Mans Ultimate, it's that it is just a reskinned rFactor 2. It’s very far from that,” Hood told RacingGames. “The underpinnings are there in the same way that the latest version of F1 can trace its roots way back to F1 2010 and the technology before that. We’re lucky that a lot of that technology can be carried across from rFactor 2, which is a great toolkit.”

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Studio 397 is taking the “best components” from rFactor 2 while also building on and improving the platform. From the tyre model to the state-of-the-art graphics, Le Mans Ultimate is a significant leap forward from rFactor 2 in several ways.

“Every area has been upgraded,” Hood tells us. “We did significant work on the tyre model to support Hypercars because of all the energy and regeneration systems,” using data supplied by manufacturers “under very strict contracts and agreements.”

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“It’s not just about pouring that data into rFactor 2. We worked with their pro drivers and esports drivers to refine the handling. It’s one thing to have a 1:1 match in terms of numbers. But you’ve also got to capture what it feels like to drive these cars. What does it mean to be part of Ferrari? What does it mean to drive the Glickenhaus? That was important.”

“This is a labour of love, not just the guys making the ultimate simulator in a laboratory. It’s got to have that passion in there and I think that’s very evident. I can’t wait to see what people think when it launches.”

rFactor 2 add-on would be “the cheap way out”

Since launching in 2012, rFactor 2 has received numerous add-ons with DLC like the BTCC car packs adding new racing disciplines. Although it uses the same engine rFactor 2, Le Mans Ultimate is a standalone game featuring all cars and tracks from the 2023 WEC season. Making a Le Mans add-on pack for rFactor 2 would be “the cheap way out” according to Hood.

“It would have been very easy and probably safer to take things across wholesale, put new content into this and call it Le Mans Ultimate. Externally, people probably suggest that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Le Mans Ultimate screenshot Hypercars
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“An add-on is the cheap way out. Studio 397 has an ambition to deliver on this labour of love. An add-on pack for rFactor 2 probably wouldn’t have done it.”

“There’s a clear divide between Studio 397 and Motorsport Games even though they’re all in the same family. rFactor 2 has been around for a long time. When you read the online sentiment around it, people say it has great force feedback and AI and is great to drive, great AI."

"But they don’t like all the other stuff. It’s difficult to upgrade, the quality is variable, and all these kinds of things around the content. That’s because it’s been around a long time.”

“We wanted to start afresh and utilise the best components or rFactor 2 to build something that will stand the test of time and be suitable for endurance racing. I think they made the right decision.”

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The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a race like no other. Taking place in France, it’s the ultimate endurance test, with drivers racing for 24 hours while battling to keep their cars running. Le Mans has a long racing game history, with WEC Le Mans hitting arcades in 1988.

However, we haven’t had a dedicated Le Mans game since 24 Hours of Le Mans on PC in 2002. Over 20 years later, Le Mans Ultimate is bringing endurance racing to a new generation of players.

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“It’s not just about driving as fast as you can every lap like in F1. It’s about taking care of the machine,” said Hood. “It’s about being part of a team, which is why we care about things like coop because you can have three drivers in a car. That’s unique. Le Mans is a goldmine for game design content and ideas. The fact it’s got a huge following is icing on the cake. We’re making sure Le Mans comes back with a bang.”

Le Mans Ultimate isn’t just a new era for endurance racing games. It’s also a new era for Motorsport Games.

A new beginning for Motorsport Games

Le Mans Ultimate arrives during a turbulent time at Motorsport Games. Financial turmoil led to the publisher losing the NASCAR, IndyCar, and BTCC game licenses. As the only IP in the pipeline for Motorsport Games, to say that a lot is riding on Le Mans Ultimate is an understatement.

But Hood, who was Motorsport Games’ President between 2019 and 2022 before returning as CEO last year, is hopeful that Le Mans Ultimate will be a new beginning for Motorsport Games and help the company "move on from the past."

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“I came back to the company to take the very hot seat in late April last year after a quick review of the online sentiment around Motorsport Games. People are very happy to throw rocks. I suspect some of the people who throw rocks online have never played a game the company has produced. It becomes an easy tone for people to cast shade over Motorsport Games.”

“I don’t think the company previously did a great job communicating with their audience. With NASCAR 21: Ignition, we put a game out too early, and maybe charged too much for it and set the wrong expectations. We’re doing things differently now."

“If we think it’s early access, we’re going to call it early access. If we want to charge a lower price to get people on board and try to win them over with the quality of the product then we will. I would argue that’s quite different to the way the company operated previously. It disappointed me because I was here from day one, so I knew what the intent was for the business."

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“It was disappointing because most of the staff are Studio 397 and I don’t think they’ve ever put a foot wrong. This is a labour of love for them. The brand name is completely linked to endurance racing and Le Mans."

"Of course, the shade from Motorsport Games may affect them from time to time. But we’re very clear that if we can put out a great sim racing title we can move on from the past. It’s not the same company it was previously.”

“I call this season 2. And in season 2 we’re very different from what had gone previously. Prior group and regime had their own decision-making process, and ours is different. Le Mans Ultimate is another positive step forward for us and we hope people give Studio 397 a chance.”

Can Le Mans Ultimate turn things around for Motorsport Games? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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