As part of eRacing’s lead-up to the 2018 , we preview the unique key aspects of what is required from both team and drivers to ensure they first finish, before they can finish in the world’s toughest sports car race.”In PART 1 we look at driver preparation…

 

 

Fine details can sometimes be the difference not just between winning or losing at Le Mans, but even finishing a race or packing up well before the checkered flag has dropped. Pit-stop practice, driver changes and part replacement must be administered to metronomic precision.

 

While lateral thinking can sometimes save the day (more on this later), it’s important not to experiment too much on race day – whether the type of visor used on a helmet or the food consumed.

 

Being a big event, it’s also important to get enough sleep and maintain some semblance – if possible – of normality. Like the Indy 500 or Monaco GP, Le Mans generates more interest from the public than any other motor sport event and thus, there will be more fan and sponsor events than usual.  Emotions will be running on overdrive and as points out, switching off is something a driver needs to work at:

 

“It’s a difficult race to prepare for, as its 24-hours and you could be in the car at any point over that period”, says Tincknell.

 

“I try to get all the physical preparation done in the months leading up to Le Mans so I can have as relaxing a week as possible in the run up to the race. I get as much sleep as possible and make sure all my kit is prepared, not just race kit but things like making sure I have films to watch when I need to chill out”.

 

“It’s an intense week with all the media sessions, autograph sessions and drivers’ parade so it’s important to be able to switch off. It’s very easy to get caught up in the razzamatazz of the event, but then you wake up on race day and you’re already tired. That happened to me in 2014 so I learnt my lesson!”

 

“While most drivers and mechanics will have a particular dietary regimen already in place, the temptation to snack on something foreign or stay up to watch proceedings when not in the car should be resisted as much as possible. Pasta, grilled chicken and fruit such as berries and bananas are de rigor in long distance racing, but a curry is definitely a no go the night before a race!”

 

Hydration is probably the single most important aspect in preventing cramping whilst working in a confined space – for both the driver in the cockpit and the mechanics in an overloaded garage. It also improves concentration. If you drink only when thirsty, you’re probably already in trouble and this includes driving at low speeds.

 

 

Martin Brundle explained the unique demands running behind the safety car at night in his autobiography, Working the Wheel.

 

“Because of the length of the circuit at Le Mans, there is a Safety Car at each end. One picked us up and off we went at a crawl while the wreckage was cleared. And now you get cold. Very cold. Its three o’clock in the morning, you have been working hard and become sweaty.

All of a sudden you are doing a mere 60mph. The cockpit is peppered with vent, designed to keep the driver cool. Now they are directing chilly air, so much that you start shaking”.

 

t’s fair to say that endurance racing isn’t what it used to be. Today, a 6 hour, 12 hour and event 24 hour event is run flat-out, but even with more advanced componentry and lighter parts being endurance tested, drivers still need to be mindful not to stress components by running over kerbs aggressively and will often have to manage braking to maximise the efficiency of recovery systems.

 

In some ways it’s no different to sports car racing in the 1970’s. Ferrari driver Tim Schenken ran his first endurance race at the Bueno Aires 1000 alongside Ronnie Peterson in 1972. Neither of them had had endurance experience or even shared a car before outside of Formula One, but as Schenken found out, setting the car up was the key to synthesising their efforts:

 

“Setting the car up was interesting”, says Schencken.

 

“Ronnie  was a gifted driver who could drive the car in whatever state it was in whereas I was maybe more technical. Ronnie would do a good time in practice and if I got the car right I could go nearly as quick. When he got back in the car he could only do the same time”. 

 

“The problem for drivers like Ronnie was that he took it out on the car to get the lap time, which isn’t very easy on the car. In endurance racing back then, when you got the car set up right the car and the driver had an easier time.  You’re not burning up tyres or over driving to drive around problems. If you get the car right, the car and driver becomes one. It doesn’t happen very often”.

 

Outside of qualifying, endurance racing isn’t the environment to showcase how big your kahunas are with banzai overtaking moves or setting consecutive lap records. It’s a team game and everyone is expected to follow the same script. Anthony Davidson says a conversation with Toyota team-mate Sebastien Buemi part-way through the 2013 season laid the foundations for the duo’s successful assault on the World Endurance Championship in 2014

 

“The relationship between drivers is an important one in endurance racing, but when Seb first arrived on the scene in sports cars he didn’t know anything about it”says Davidson. “He was very rough around the edges and he approached it in the same way he did Formula One, which isn’t the right way, but it’s the only way that you know when you leave that world; he was there to beat me, I was there to beat him. I was the known quantity in sports cars, so he was out there to try and prove that he was better and faster, or whatever.

 

 

“But in the second year we recognised that it was never going to work, we had words and since then our relationship has been fantastic, to the point where we don’t really need to give any direction before we jump into the car. We sing from the same hymn sheet, we’re there as a unit now, rather than as individuals.  Although showing your speed is important, we know it’s not the be-all and end-all. We just accept each other’s talents and one day he’ll be faster and the next day I’ll be faster, and that’s just how it’s worked since mid-way through 2013.

 

Images: Adrenal Media