LE MANS DIARY: 7 MEMORIES
A few years ago I set the goal to become the youngest participant (Ricardo Rodriguez, 1959) at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That goal has been achieved now (see documentary video by race historian John Brooks), along with the youngest finisher (Gunnar Jeannette, 2000) ever. We didn’t get the youngest podium (Rodriguez, 1960); I hope to try again next year.
The goal has always been focused and finite. What I experienced this past week turned out to be so much more. When people talk about Le Mans being one of the greatest races in the world, I now know what they mean. Everything about it is bigger and better. Whether you’re a driver or fan, you must go at least once.
I’ll try not to spoil it too much for you, but to put it in perspective and to motivate you to make the trip, there were 263,000 fans at the race! That’s just the tip of iceberg. Here’s my list of most memorable moments in and out of the cockpit:
- Out of SpecIn the U.S., technical inspection is something of a non-event. The team rolls their entry over to the officials, it’s looked over and that’s it. At Le Mans, it is a choreographed spectacle in front of 15,000+ fans where the cars, teams and drivers move from tent to tent, on-stage for interviews and ultimately to the gallery for the iconic team photos.
- The Audi SmellsCongratulations to Audi for its 1-2 finish, which seemed against the odds after their crashes and some quicker times from Toyota and Porsche. In my book, Audi also wins the award for smelliest exhaust (and the quietest car). These are the sorts of things you notice when their spaceship whistles by you in the middle of long 150-minute triple stint.
- Party in the StreetsSome 50,000 fans packed the narrow old town streets and hung from balconies for the driver’s parade. It was madness! The good kind. My parents said they’d never seen me have so much fun. The teams toss all sorts of things to the fans; we were armed with sunglasses, candy and posters. Note to self: get a scooter next time to travel from the track to downtown; there’s no parking because so many people attend!
- Big MomentsCan you do Le Mans – eight hours of driving per driver – without some moments? I wonder. My first one came on my opening stint, an hour into the race. As you can see in the picture at the top of this page, the skies opened up tsunami style! Was it Ricardo Rodriguez shaking the heavens!? I was on slick tires eight miles away from a tire change. Talk about throwing water on the party!
About 6 hours later in the dark, I was passing a Ferrari through the second kink after Mulsanne corner. I guess he didn’t see the flashing lights, turned in on me and then I had wheels in the grass at 170mph… that got my attention!
- Media BlitzI’m glad I got some advice from motorsport media personality Chris Neville before Le Mans. It turns out that the record was a big deal! I had somewhere around 50 interviews during the week and stories appeared in USA Today, The Telegraph, L’Equipe, Huffington Post, Mobil 1 The Grid, AutoWeek, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and even in the Middle East!
- SunriseThey call it “happy hour” when about 13 hours into the race the sun rises on Sunday and the track gets fast. My second triple stint straddled dark and light. I got to watch the track colors and surface change every lap.
- The OutcomeWe finished 25th overall and 11th in the LMP2 class. We were among the 70% of cars that finished. We had been running 15th overall and ninth in class before a gearbox issue in hour 20 cost us 62 minutes. But the Greaves Motorsport crew worked like a MASH unit to get us going again. The boys were poetry in motion; I wish you could have seen it!
My racing barnstorm continues at Watkins Glen (July 28-29) and Mosport (Aug. 12-13) in the Cooper Tire Prototype Lites via IMSA, and then Red Bull Ring in Austria with Greaves in the European Le Mans Series a week later.
Before moving my mind there, I want to take a moment to thank all the people who helped me get to Le Mans this year. Not everyone believed that a 16-year-old racing at Le Mans was possible. But, but these people did from the word go:
Dyson Racing, Greaves Motorsport, Tim Mayer, the ACO and Vincent Beaumesnil, Olivier Quesnel from Oak Racing, my coach Gerardo Bonilla, my co-drivers Chris Dyson and Tom Kimber-Smith, Johnny O’Connell, Alan Rudolph, Performance Tech and Brent O’Neill, and my commercial partners The Amazing Flameless Candle, NameSilo, Wine Country Motorsports, OMP and 5G Creative.