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Just after the sun's risen on the second day of a 24 hour race comes what's known as happy hour. It's when the track's at its best as some warmth returns to the tarmac after the chill of the night, and when lap times begin to tumble. It's when endurance racing presents its most picturesque side, the morning light capturing the bumps and bruises upon the cars that remain, a gentle mist rising from the trackside verges. For the drivers and teams, just having survived through the night of one of motorsport's greatest challenges is reason enough for good cheer.

Ever since I fell in love with the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I've always made a point of being around for happy hour. On the years I'm lucky enough to be trackside, I'll stroll from Maison Blanche to Tetre Rouge, enjoying the strange serenity of a world slowly waking to a race that hasn't stopped, pausing to get - depending how the night before went - a fresh coffee or one final branded beaker of flat beer. Watching at home, I set an alarm so I can sprint downstairs just before dawn, where my visiting dad will be sitting on the sofa wide awake having powered through the night.

This year, though, I found myself in my shed at sunrise, lowering myself into my primitive rig and strapping on a Rift headset as I prepared myself for a stint in my first ever iRacing team endurance event. They're sim racing's equivalent of an MMO raid, where small groups share cars in a race that goes once around the clock. My team - a gaggle of friends with a few iRacing veterans amongst us happy to show rookies like me the ropes - had made it to the morning, and my team boss, knowing how sentimental I can be about such things, gave me the privilege of taking the seat for happy hour.

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