Wallace Column – Le Mans & Road Atlanta
Andy’s last column seems like a long time ago now –
his drive in the Perspective Mosler at Daytona. We did have that
very amusing morning with Andy and James Weaver in April though,
to help while away the weeks from Sebring to Le Mans. Andy didn’t
have the most successful Sebring of all time, so how did he fare
at Le Mans, in the Racing for Holland Dome, and at Road Atlanta,
Round 2 of the ALMS (in the Dyson Racing MG-Lola)?
driven the Dome until we ran at the Test Day: the team presented
the project at Zandvoort, and we found the time to have a seat made.
But the great thing about the Dome on May 5 at Le Mans was how ‘at
home’ in it I felt straight away. It was a really nice car
I would have
appreciated a bit more power though! The 2003 rules have really
taken the ‘snap’ out of the engines, which lose out
particularly at the top end. The turbo engines still have their
low down torque – and from what I’ve seen of the 5 litre
Judd V10, it goes quite a long way to redressing the loss of power
at the top end: it’s got something like 30% more torque than
the 4 litre, although I believe there’s some installation
work to do if you want to replace the smaller engine with the larger
one. The Doran team ran it at Road Atlanta at the end of the month
(as they did last year), and it definitely leaves the corners quicker
than the 4 litre, thanks to the extra torque.
great thing about the standard 4 litre is that whenever I’ve
driven one, it’s never missed a beat, not once. It’s
been a great endurance engine for a couple of years now. But without
the torque to rely on, you do need the revs, so you have to get
the gearing just right. As a result of the Test Day, Jan made one
or two slight changes to the gearing for the race.
The engine characteristics
certainly give the rear tyres an easier time, and our plan was to
triple stint the Michelins.
to the Test Day, and a first lap of 3:45, with a puncture towards
the end of the lap too, showed what a really good 24 hour car we
had. The Dome works well over most of the lap. Of course as with
any car, there is always room for improvement, but the basic package
is excellent. Jan had two stabs at a “qualifying” lap
on May 5, but the red flag cost him the first one, then a driveshaft
went when he tried again.
John Bosch, showed what a switched on driver he is, and we were
sure that when he came back for the race, he’d be right on
the pace, which he was.
paddle shift system turned out to be just the thing to have, although
Racing for Holland did have to duct some more air to the control
valves after the Test Day: they were getting a bit hot. I saw the
gear cluster after the 24 Hours, and it was in amazing condition.
Apart from one or two small nicks on fourth gear, there wasn’t
a mark on the rest, which is staggering, for the end of a 24 hour
race. The gears looked as though they had only completed the morning
warm-up session! That system is absolutely the thing to have.
editorial digression here. Do you remember when Andy was explaining
the story behind the ’88 win at Le Mans? Jan Lammers was his
‘tutor’ then, and emphasised the importance of a steady
throttle through the Porsche Curves, not on and off, stressing the
drivetrain. So what did the telemetry tell us about Andy in the
Dome, through the Porsche Curves? He was on and off the throttle!
Had we caught him out?
No, that was
then, and this is now. The Jaguar was a very different car, with
the seven-litre V12 and all its torque. And the technology is much
better now, and we don’t have as much power. You have to be
on and off the throttle, to get through there as fast as possible.
couldn’t resist bringing that one up.
It’s really healthy for sportscar racing to see all the people
that gather for the “show” in the town centre. For the
teams and drivers it’s a bit of a struggle logistically, but
it’s the same for everyone, and signifies the start of the
whole Le Mans experience. Every year I’m amazed at how many
autographs I’m asked to sign. Some of the people I recognise
year after year. Some arrive with photos they have taken the previous
year, and others with photos from the previous 15 years! It’s
great to see so many people enjoying their sportscar racing. But
after all the autographs, administrative checking, suit & helmet
checking and marking, weighing, photos, interviews, team photo,
stage show then more autographs, I’m about ready to go and
find somewhere quiet to hide!
Back at the
garage it’s a good time to get to know the mechanics, get
your helmet ready with sponsor stickers and drinks tube, all the
little things done – and that carries over to Wednesday. The
time actually just disappears in a flash. I’d left nice and
early on Monday, for my usual trip via the Channel Tunnel, and then
a leisurely drive (read high-speed blast!) down through Rouen and
along the N138 to Le Mans. We were staying near La Fleche, in a
wonderful Chateau, which the Dutch translate as Castle.
was the drivers briefing, where the “white line” rule
was clarified. We were allowed to put two wheels over the kerbs
or lines but not to drive so far over as to pull gravel onto the
track. It all seemed perfectly sensible and fair to me. There were
still a lot of punctures though. Cars will always end up in the
gravel after a spin or an over-optimistic out-braking manoeuvre,
and then bring some back onto the track. Jan had a 200mph puncture
in the race, at Indianapolis of all places. The large gravel trap
there certainly did its job: I think Jan went in at just the right
angle, and missed the wall by a few feet. The Jim Matthews car missed
it by about six inches, which seems to prove that it’s in
just the right place.
to the race. So with the Michelins easily capable of doing triple
stints, that was the pattern that we stuck to for the drivers. There’s
no point losing time with driver changes when you’re not changing
tyres. Jan had his fun at the start, but then settled back to be
best of the non Audis and Bentleys, and we moved up a place when
the Audi UK car went out.
With the long
stints, you don’t get into the car as many times. You drive
for longer, but you also get more recovery time. The only real problems
I had over the course of a two and a half hour stint, was some head
buffeting and right foot ache. The airflow was pushing my helmet
back at high speeds, and it took quite a lot of effort to hold my
head up for that long. Also, as all upshifts are done with the throttle
wide open, you’re holding the pedal down for a large percentage
of the lap (and there’s a fairly strong closure spring on
the V10 Judd’s throttles). After a while you start swapping
to your left foot for temporary relief down the long straights!
This can get quite exciting as you approach the chicanes with your
indicate that Andy first drove the car at 18.24, vacating the seat
at 20.38, taking over again from 01.48 until 3.55, and then completing
his final triple with an 08.47 to 11.22 stint, which was immediately
after the Lammers puncture. That final triple was interrupted by
the Dome’s only problem in the race: it needed a replacement
battery at 10.28, costing 12 minutes – and losing them fifth
I pressed the
starter and it just wouldn’t fire. In that situation, you
can often wheel it into the garage, start the engine on a slave
battery, run it for long enough to give the battery a boost, and
then it may just start on its own on pit lane. But the engine was
running very hot by this stage of the race, and we couldn’t
run it for long enough before the water temperature went too high.
All this technology and we’d been let down by a basic battery
– but then Bentley had to change theirs twice. Unfortunately,
it’s not an easy job on our car. The team did a great job,
but we’d lost vital time.
We dropped back
to eighth, but with John following me, and then Jan running a triple
and a bit at the end, we kept the pressure on, which resulted in
that thrilling last hour. For the splash of fuel, we reckoned we
needed 15 seconds worth, but we wanted to cut that as fine as we
could – but definitely didn’t want to run out of fuel.
Ian Foley got it just right: we had five litres in the tank at the
end. We needed one more lap to wrestle fifth place back. Jan passed
Gounon on the last lap for sixth, and the Panoz was just a few more
seconds up ahead… All things considered though, this was an
excellent result for the Racing for Holland Team, against a very
high level of competition.
And so a week later, many of us at were at Road Atlanta. We tested
on the Tuesday, and were very happy with the balance and speed of
the little Dyson Racing Lolas. Qualifying was effectively cancelled
due to “inclement weather”.
Saturday morning session would count towards the grid together with
the scheduled qualifying session, which looked as though it would
remain wet throughout. This wasn’t good news for Chris Dyson
and myself, as we’d had a problem in the morning with the
#20, and hadn’t managed to set a representative lap time.
I went out on the damp track for an exploratory lap, and decided
I could probably squeeze a reasonable one out if I kept running
to the end. Both Audis went out and so did James Weaver in the other
Dyson entry. Every lap got quicker, with the chequered flag falling
before it had fully dried out. I ended up 3rd fastest, but with
the morning times added we would have to line up 5th. Good news
for James and Butch Leitzinger, though. Their earlier time put them
on Pole Position – great for the Dyson Racing Team.
In the morning
warm-up the car felt great, and I managed a 1m 14.0s lap just 0.1s
behind the quickest Audi. But from very early on in the race, I
developed a big understeer problem [the cause has since been identified
as a damaged front diffuser from a debris strike]. This made things
a bit tricky, and I found it a struggle to stay with Didier Theys
in the Dallara. I also had Olivier Beretta breathing down my neck
in the Panoz. He was a bit quicker down the straights, but my car
was a fraction quicker under braking and in 70% of the corners.
We had a great dice going. I was marginally quicker than him over
a single clear lap, but each time I got held up by traffic in a
corner and lost momentum, he was all over me like a rash. He blew
past me, and then I returned the favour a few laps later. This happened
several times back and forth in traffic. Late in my stint I passed
Olivier into turn one after he had been held up badly in the last
corner. At the top of the hill into turn two I came across a slow
car and went to pass him on the right. For whatever reason he also
went right, but then hit the brakes…….! Not very helpful.
I almost hit him square on, and Olivier re-passed me! Great race…
so far. Then the Panoz peeled off into pit lane to get fuel for
it’s thirsty V8. A few laps later I came in for fuel and tyres.
Chris took over
for the middle and last stints, and he did a very good job, he just
gets better all the time. But then we developed a misfire, and were
effectively out of the race. Butch and James did a great job in
the #16 until they hit starter problems late in the race, and in
terms of speed, we showed we can be really close to the Audis. We’ll
need to have everything just right to beat them though. Perhaps
Sears Point will be our best chance: that track should suit us more
than any other.
The close racing
in the ALMS is so much fun for us – and hopefully the spectators
too. The standard of driving overall is very high, and although
you’re bound to have near misses, on the whole we get through
without significant contact, which is to the credit of all of the
drivers. The top LMP, GTS and GT drivers are very good at getting
through the races without mishaps in the traffic.
So Sears Point
next, and we’ll see if our cars really do suit that track.
I want to go Audi hunting.