2023 heralded the beginning of an exciting, new era for sports car racing – with the eagerly anticipated arrival of the automotive behemoths into the Hypercar category. Heavyweight bouts between revered cars and some of the world’s best drivers – all fighting for supremacy has skyrocketed the interested and excitement for Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Whether it’s the orchestral feast of the Cadillac, beauty of the Glickenhaus, emotion of Ferrari, history of Porsche, innovation from Peugeot, the indie spirit of Vanwall or the efficiency of Toyota – the Hypercars are undoubtedly the stars of a golden era for sports car racing.
And it is no different for Le Mans Ultimate, as the latest title from Studio 397 will assemble all 2023 FIA WEC Hypercars in one game for the very first time. We also can’t forget the formidable LMP2 Oreca and wealth of GTE cars heading to the tracks!
We recently went behind the scenes with the track team and this week we remove the clips, take off the panels and dive under the skin of the cars with some of our vehicle build team. We gathered Paulo Matias, Laurent Evenisse and Mirza Rustemović to talk about their day job… building cars. It doesn’t get better than that surely!
Before we enter the virtual workshop, a little background on the guys. Paulo has been a lifelong motorsport fan and started modding on GTR2. The man from the Azores has been working on rFactor 2 the last two years and has previously worked on the Call of Duty franchise. Laurent from France has been with the studio before time itself began and has a vast amount of experience – building some of the most exciting cars on rF2 and now Le Mans Ultimate. Our third and final member of the team we managed to grab is Mirza who hails from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He began modelling cars in 2001 with GTR1 and some of the first early DLC cars for Assetto Corsa and has been with the S397 team since 2018.
A fine line-up. Let’s get to it!
We are in a golden era for the FIA WEC and the 24 Hours of Le Mans right now – it must be exciting to be working on this project?
Paulo: Le Mans has always been my favourite event; I grew up watching it on TV every year – the cars were just so exciting! The project is very special for me, I like Le Mans and the FIA WEC cars this year are just incredible and it’s an exciting era for the championship with all the manufacturers searching for victories.
Laurent: The cars are brand-new and there haven’t been this many brands for such a long time and it’s a new project completely and a big departure from rFactor 2 which means we can bring a fresh approach and bring in exciting features, which provides pressure but also the motivation to do these cars and the series justice.
Mirza: It’s exciting to be working on a new game, an official game. We havenew updates we have been working on, so it’s refreshing to be working with new techniques, new materials. It was nice to see the cars up close in Portimao earlier in the year – this gave me a new perspective on how they look, how we can make them more realistic, and I think we were just eager to get working on this project.
The question everyone wants to know… the team must have the dream job! How do you go about building a virtual Hypercar?
Paulo: It is a dream job for sure and to work on the Hypercars is incredible. Although we are all artists, we do things in different ways, but we get to the same outcome in many situations. These cars are brand new and very fresh, as we have new CAD and new ways of doing things. I start with a single polygon on the CAD file and go from there until the entire car is covered. I increase the resolution of the mesh, building out the car and bringing together all the polygon building blocks all the way to the finer details. Having the CAD is essential as the cars all have unique shapes – so we want to make all these cars 100% accurate. References and photos are essential as well as you can compare CAD to real car – some things change from the original CAD, as the car develops in real life – such things as wires, aero etc.
Laurent: Although we might use different software, the global build picture is the same. The CAD has been very important as it gives us the real dimensions and volumes and we can check them with reference photos throughout the season as teams evolve their cars. We have everything at our disposal to do the best job and it is a great experience to have all that information and relationship with the manufacturers.
Mirza: This job is the next best thing to designing the real cars! Although some of the cars are similar to rF2 – We haven’t had this much data and reference material – that is the beauty of working on an official game. I start refining quite quickly by snapping mesh onto the CAD. We all work differently I suppose but the most important thing is that all the vehicles all align together at the end, and we are in constant communication to see how everyone is doing. Portimao like Paulo said was very useful as you get to see angles of cars that race photographers might not take and see little hidden details.
What is it like to be working with all the teams and manufacturers?
Mirza: It’s been fantastic, and all of them are great to work with – very professional and they want the best representation of their car – so they have been giving us not only the CAD but extra bits of information. I have been tasked with the Toyota and I am the senior lead on the Vanwall and Peugeot to help bring the final polish. In Portimao, we had a good tour around the Cadillac garage and spent a good amount of time with the team manager. We also had good, open conversations with Mr Jim Glickenhaus who understood what we were trying to achieve.
Laurent: We have divided the cars up and worked on the cars we wanted to work on, perhaps because we are big fans of them. The two highlights for me have been the Porsche 963 and Cadillac which I am really enjoying – as it’s a very interesting car.
Paulo: I spoke to as many people as possible when we were at the circuit and was good to speak to the team manager at Toyota John Steeghs. I even took footage of tyre change practice and how people operated on the car and how the car interacted. We have a lot of reference photos for each team. The Ferrari 499P has a very special place in my heart so I have overseen the modelling this car and have also built a new Oreca from scratch.
One thing in our team is that we share work. We see who is faster, who is more experienced in certain areas, and we shift things around accordingly. A prime example was the Oreca, I looked after the exterior, while Laurent took charge of the interior. I also look after other members of the team who are building other cars such as the Porsche 911 GTE and giving them feedback.
How long does it take for a car to be built? From firing up the computer for the first time to seeing it turn a wheel on track for Quality Assurance (QA) testing?
Paulo: These cars are very demanding, and we want them to be, as we really want to make them the best cars we have ever made. We wanted to work on different ways of presenting these cars and bring together a step forward over rFactor2. The cars are more detailed – with new features materials and textures. It can take around three months before it goes to be tested is normally a good window of time – but we always want to refine and develop.
How much detail are you putting in? Are there any cool things to look out for regarding the cars?
Laurent: There are some exciting, cool new details coming. One of my favourites is the dynamic build-up of dirt on the car bodies and windows. We have been working on it for a while and wanted to bring it in for this game. We have a few prototypes currently and we are refining to make it as realistic as possible.
Our goal is to make thing more lifelike and realistic. It’s not a big departure from our latest rF2 content as that was at a good level, but it is all about bringing in little improvements bit by bit in every department and it will continue to evolve even after the game has come out and will make a big change.
Paulo: Although Le Mans Ultimate is based on the rFactor 2 engine – it is much more than that, it does feel like working on a clean sheet of paper as there is new tech involved and will be a big step up.
Mirza: We are doing things that haven’t been seen on other sims concerning cars. One thing is that we recognise these cars – none of them are painted as they are carbon fibre and Kevlar with wraps/livery on top. We are adding that weave under the paint so it has the same texture, look and feel. It will be the same in the interior. I tried a few cars on an early build of Bahrain recently and already when the cars are moving, the materials, the specular change and colour palate is completely new and doesn’t look like anything we have done before – it’s exciting to see it all come together.
Of course, it’s not just the Hypercars the team have been working on – there are LMP2 and GTE cars to bring to Le Mans Ultimate…
Laurent: The LMP2 Oreca is brand new and it has been heavily updated to match the exterior and interior of the car racing in 2023, Paulo made the exterior and I have enjoyed making the interior from scratch.
Mirza: The 911 is completely new as well and we wanted to bring that up to date, and the other GTE cars were at a good level already, but all need the work put into them to bring them up to the standards of all the other new cars. We want to put the same level in detail into the GTE cars as you will see with the Hypercars.
Paulo has made brake discs which will be on all cars, sharing the same texture and will look better than ever before. We want there to be a uniform presentation – the GTE cars might be leaving WEC next year, but we still want to set our standard high as all the cars will have the same texturing and optimisation – making them look better than ever before.
Do you have a favourite car in WEC or do you have a favourite car you have been working on? Do both of those worlds collide?
Paulo: The Ferrari 499P is my favourite and I asked if I could work on it as I like how it was developed and how it looked and its aerodynamic formation was designed. As we are a small team, we can choose between us to decide what we want to build which is quite nice. No matter the car, it is a joy work on all of them as they are all so very special and attractive in their own way.
Mirza: The Peugeot was really interesting; it looks very different to the other cars and was actually slightly different to make virtually. The Toyota is different all together again and it is interesting looking at the CAD and how the cars are all differently engineered.
The Cadillac is the best sounding, and I really like the look of the Vanwall.
Laurent: I was very happy to choose the Porsche as it has such a classic Le Mans looking shape, but yet futuristic. It was a very enjoyable car to make, and I am pleased with how it looks and the reception it got. There is a real love for cars in the team. Even if the car is deemed ugly – it is always interesting to build as it gives us different challenges.
And finally, what are you looking forward to showing publicly, what can players look forward to when they get their hands on the game?
Mirza: I hope the players will appreciate the level of detail and the effort that goes into making them as close to real life as possible. The new shaders, new wraps, dirt on the car and windows, and used look on the body panels inside and out. They are new cars but have wear marks and have a used feel. Even the tyres for example none of them are new. Even on the rack there are dirt marks, handprints, grime – small little details we wanted to transfer to the textures.
Laurent: The biggest complement from the public we can get, is that it looks and feels like driving the real thing – a way of getting people to experience these incredible cars.
Paulo: I believe this title will be a special one for the sim racing community. It’s an officially licenced game which many people will enjoy. There are new cars, new tracks and new features with a passionate and dedicated team behind it all bringing it all together. We are just as excited to play it, as I am sure the public are as well.
As we can see by the recently showcased Peugeot 9X8 the cars are what you guys want to see. We have many more to pull the covers off as we drive towards the release date. Of course, the place to be is in pole position. Sign-up to our newsletter at lemansultimate.com and be the first to know as well as our social media channels, searching for @LeMansUltimate