LNT – 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours - The Race
page will be updated during the 24 Hours, as often as we can manage
(as it turned out, we failed on that score - but the task has now
been completed - the further the Team LNT Esperante advanced through
this extraordinary race, the less anyone wanted to say about propsects
for a possibly outstanding finish!)
Up, Race Morning
"The driver parade yesterday was like being David Beckham for
the day," commented Richard Dean this morning, after the 09.00
- 09.45 warm up. "There were girls asking us to sign almost
any part of them, and others trying to rip your clothes off.
the only one of the three of us who went out this morning - and
I set a 4:13, which was pretty close to our qualifying time. We're
getting there. That was the first time I've been able to push without
thinking that I'm still learning the circuit.
had our set-backs since the test day weekend got going, and in qualifying,
we sustained some damage after a trip over the kerbs or the gravel.
This morning was proper set-up work for the race.
had a fairly late night last night, but we'll be OK for the race."
Making Motorsport History
Ferrari has tried and failed to break the domination of Porsche
in the hugely important GT2 class at the biggest race in the world,
the Le Mans 24 Hours. So too have TVR, Morgan, Spyker and Callaway
Panoz has tried too and they were trying again this
year with a factory backed car from Multimatic Motorsport and another
car entered by Team LNT from the United Kingdom of Great Britain
With more than 100,000 race fans along the pit straight,
more than double that number around the circuit, and TV viewers
that number into the hundreds of millions worldwide, the start of
the Le Mans 24 hours is an event on an epic scale.
The race itself is utterly unique – 50 of
the world’s very best sportscar racing teams are invited to
take part in a competition that is nothing short of a combination
of automotive chess and a trial of strength combined.
With bright sunshine leading up to the race start
at 5pm, that trial of strength became more difficult still, Richard
Dean taking the wheel of the #81 Team LNT Panoz Esperante GTLM as
the car took up its place at the traditional echelon formation dummy
grid, where the car was covered with the Union Jack, and the driver
squads were paraded in open topped Audi road cars in front of the
massed ranks of Europe’s enthusiastic race fans.
After the traditional playing of the national anthems
of all competing teams and drivers, and the equally traditional
good natured competition between the British and French spectators
over who can sing theirs the loudest, the grid clears and the cars
set off to form up the grid proper. Finally the whole field is led
by the safety car, timed to perfection for the lead car to cross
the start line as the Rolex clock above ticks onto the appointed
hour (this year an hour later to avoid a clash with TV coverage
of the World Cup).
Enough of the
formula though and onto the race.
great early progress. From ninth in class he was up to a strong
sixth place almost immediately. Part one of the plan was complete
- make a fast and safe start, stay out of trouble and take advantage
of the mistakes of others ahead. Here's Richard in the first half
hour, when the safety cars appeared after a huge crash for one of
the Aston Martins.
With the usually
bulletproof Porsche runners proving to be rather fragile this year,
further progress came reasonable easily.
Easily? Well that’s entirely the wrong word
when you are talking about a race where you not only have to battle
with a world class field in your own class but, in the case of the
GT2 class in particular, also have to deal with the huge closing
speeds of the Prototype classes and the big GT1 cars too.
that was the heat, and a faulty cool suit didn’t help. Cockpit
temperatures can go sky high, particularly with a front-engined
car, and the cooling air of nightfall is a huge relief.
first stint set the tone and he handed the car over to team owner
Lawrence Tomlinson in a superb fifth place in class. The boss then
continued the good work, the Panoz retaining its position through
to the late evening - the one disappointment being that the team
had hoped to draw some advantage over their rivals at their routine
pitstops by stretching their need for new Pirelli rubber over two
driver stints rather than one. With the rubber selected for the
race start, coupled with the prevailing track conditions, that had
proved impossible, but when the car was handed over to Tom Kimber-Smith,
the decision was taken to try a softer compound of tyre in the cooling
It was an immediate success: “The grip was
good throughout the stint and the team took a good look at the rubber
when I pitted,” said Tom later. “That’s very good
news and we’ll now start to double stint the tyres.”
Richard Dean then stayed aboard the #81 car for
almost three hours with the same Pirelli rubber bolted on. The tactic
during darkness was to double stint Dean and Kimber-Smith in turn
with Tomlinson rejoining the fray in the early morning.
“It’s a simple plan but it is working.
Just keep going round and round, stick to our own pace and let the
rest make their own mistakes,” said Richard Dean
That pace has
been around 4 minutes and 12 seconds and it was enough to see the
car up to fourth in class by Midnight, seven hours in and just 17
to go! Ahead were a trio of GT2 cars, q top class Porsche, a Dutch
Spyker from their factory backed team and the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari
that the LNT boys know so well from their regular races against
the very same car in the British GT Championship.
The first problem to strike the team came at about
01:15, Richard Dean having a lurid spin as the car came onto the
super fast Mulsanne Straight. Richard managed to keep the car away
from the barriers and came slowly back to the pits: suspected broken
rear suspension was quickly diagnosed as a broken rear track rod,
Alan Mugglestone deciding that since the car needed to be brought
into the garage for the part to be replaced, the team should also
make a change of front brake discs and pads which would soon be
required in any case. More good news out of bad was that the Team
LNT boys managed to fix the broken cool box system too, at the same
minutes lost, and a drop down to sixth in class but now with a re-fettled
car better prepared to fight its corner. Sixth soon became fifth
as Richard demoted the White Lightning Porsche and set off in pursuit
of the next target, the Japanese entered Taisan Advan Porsche.
The fast and
steady approach was to pay off once again as the Panoz was caught
and passed by Porsche factory driver Jorg Bergmeister only to repass
the quick German’s American-owned Porsche when Bergmeister
went off into the gravel 30 minutes later.
The team continued to cycle through double stints,
with Richard Dean’s effort being followed by a double stint
from Tom Kimber-Smith once again, before Richard Dean took over
to take the car through to dawn.
By 05:30 Dean was up onto the tail of the Japanese Porsche once
again and soon swept through to take fourth in class.
don’t give in easily and the Japanese car, with two highly
experienced Japanese GT racers on its driving squad, fought back
retaking the Panoz, so fifth place then?
Well no, the name of the game first and foremost
in 24 hour racing is – Finish The Race – and with a
stroke of cruel luck the second placed, Audi V8 powered, Spyker
dropped a valve, game over for that car.
Next to stumble were LNT’s arch rivals in
the British GT Championship, Scuderia Ecosse with their Ferrari
After a routine pitstop Tim Mullen toured around
and pitted again, having felt a worrying vibration from the rear
of the car: a component failure at top speed at Le Mans is not a
risk worth taking. What seemed like a minor problem went from bad
to worse when the offending rear wheel refused to budge. The efforts
to persuade it to finally do so involved fire extinguishers, hammers,
drills and a six foot scaffold pole. By the time the errant alloy
had been literally chipped off the hub the damage to the Ferrari’s
hopes of a challenge to win the class had been done. Team LNT was
through to third in class with six hours of the race still to run.
Finally, in a 90 minute period of high drama, the
Japanese Porsche hit gearbox trouble of the terminal variety, catapulting
the now extremely nervous Team LNT to second slot in GT2, just the
Seikel / Farnbacher Porsche ahead and a fabulous podium finish within
their grasp - but still with hours of running to survive.
Meanwhile the Panoz was running like a train, just
a faulty bonnet catch which needed the assistance of a large strip
of race tape to secure it: the pounding that hour after hour of
racing around this unique circuit had taken a small toll on the
Team LNT showed yet again that they have a firm
grasp of how the available advantages can be grasped by opting to
pit to change brake pads during an early morning safety car period
– another routine job attended to at a time when the impact
on track time could be kept to a bare minimum.
By now the body language in the Team LNT pit garage
was rather different than it had been at the start of the race.
Then it had been a case of bravado over the team’s prospects
of finishing this car crusher of a racing challenge. Now though
there was more than the sniff of a potential podium – any
mention of this prospect though was strictly forbidden in the team’s
garage. Racing people are a superstitious bunch!
Lawrence Tomlinson though was a very cool headed
customer as the morning drew to a close.
“We were hoping for a podium, we felt we had
a chance on reliability. We ran the same sort of tactic that we
did at Sebring. Find the right pace and stick to it.”
By the time
Richard Dean had finished a double stint at midday, handing the
#81 car to Lawrence Tomlinson, the nerves were jangling, any comment
offered seemed certain to damn the day’s efforts immediately.
The team sank within themselves, nobody even wanting to meet the
eyes of any outsiders offering best wishes. Torture through goodwill
– and still the car had to keep going round and round rather
“I really don’t want to say anything
at all!” said Richard Dean.
Inevitably every snippet of information was seized upon greedily
– was the Porsche ahead in gearbox trouble? Was that a slow
lap in traffic or was it the first pointer that a class win could
be a possibility, was there enough laps in hand to fend off the
now circulating Ferrari if there was a minor problem with the Panoz?
Then the impossible happened, the Porsche’s
rumoured gearbox problems didn’t manifest themselves but the
gearshift itself broke, initially stranding its young German driver
out at Mulsanne Corner, then finally struggling back to the pitlane
for a repair to be effected.
It was a brave effort and a heartbreaking happening
for the long time class leaders. Richard Dean, now back aboard the
Panoz had got the message and had pounded out the laps that had
separated the two. By the time the Porsche emerged after a frantic
repair job, Dean had dispensed with the six lap deficit and had
pulled out a three quarters of a lap gap. Next time around he pitted
the Esperante for fuel and emerged with almost two minutes still
in hand over the chasing 911, with just 26 minutes of the 24 Hours
left to run.
It was game over for the Porsche. There was no way
that a driver of Richard Dean’s experience was going to lose
out in that scenario and indeed, as the clock ticked ever closer
to 5pm and the pit crew and drivers were biting their nails to the
quick, Richard remained entirely calm and collected, staving off
any possible Porsche-shaped threat.
As the car came
around to start the final lap the team on the ‘prat-perch’
(‘Rocket Rodney Farrell, Alan Mugglestone and Lee Penn) were
still nervous but the rest of the backroom boys rushed over to the
pit wall, together with Dr Don Panoz and his son, President of Panoz
Automotive Danny Panoz, to cheer the #81 car home.
The unleashing of emotion as Richard took the chequered
flag was enormous, grown men with tears streaming down their faces.
This was a huge day for Team LNT, its drivers and the Panoz Esperante,
but this was also the biggest motorsport day in the lives of the
backroom boys, and in this sort of racing their contribution is
truly the clincher, a fact recognized by a VIP who arrived for the
end of the race.
Don Panoz: “This is the biggest win in our
company’s history and to do it on our tenth anniversary makes
this a very special day. The guys were spot on with the pit stops
and got around the inevitable minor problems that you always encounter
in a 24 hour race with real professionalism.”
Lawrence Tomlinson, finally now allowing himself
to believe the enormity of it all, was still coming up with the
soundbites: “We were third in Istanbul and second at Spa -
we just didn’t want to peak too soon!”
this was a hugely significant result. Porsche (and Ferrari, and
Spyker) were beaten fair and square by a small team from Yorkshire
in the only car ever to have beaten a Porsche in the GT2 class at
Le Mans – this was truly a piece of motorsport history.