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The 24 Heures du Mans
"The Greatest Sports Car Race in the World"
June 12-13, 1999
Pre-Qualifying May 1-2, 1999
Dave Davies Club Arnage
18th Overall, 7th in Class
The Top GT-2 Porsche in the Race
For the best coverage in print and the most up to date reports see www.sportscarworld.com
Race Day - June 12th
Weather is great and there is electricity in the air for the morning warm-up. We arrive at the track at 8AM, for a 4PM start. Warm-up is at 9:30. We have made a few changes in the car so warm-up is a welcome affair. Franz will check-out the changes and one or the other of us may drive. Neither of us really expects to, but there always is the possibility. Be ready...to wait. I don't drive. But we are all ready.
Festivities start around noon. Cars to the grid by 12:30. Drivers Parade from 1:30 to 2:30. All of the drivers are presented to the 10s of thousands of fans who are already in their seats. Cars are covered with the country flag of their entrant. In our case that means a German flag since that is where Franz now lives. The car has names and country flags of each of the drivers and there Franz Konrad's name appears with an Austrian Flag, Charles Slater and I, the other two drivers are both American. The first event is the skydive into the stadium area between the "Tribunes" (grandstands) on either side of the front straight. About 20 skydivers, each with a parachute that looks like the French Flag. All land in short order on the front straight. Then the parade. The last car on the grid goes first in the parade. There are 48 cars field. One Nissan is damaged and one Mercedes is also out. So the slowest GT-3 goes 1st, we go about 15th given our qualifying position of about 33d. We all climb up on the back of a convertible which has our car number and we are driven up and down the front straight, in front of 100,000 fans who chose to buy those seats. Most people are elsewhere out on the 8.3 mile circuit. As the team is introduced, the flag covering the car is taken off. Near the end, the national anthems of all of the entrants are played. It is busy and creates tingles on the skin. After the parade and introductions, the cars are permitted a reconnaissance lap where they can cruise the track at any speed to come back for line up on the grid. 30 minutes left to the start. At 3:45 the engines are started and the cars move slowly off the grid following the Corvette pace car (I wonder how much that cost General Motors?). The pace lap is timed so that the cars will arrive at the start line at exactly 4PM. At just before 4, the cars come into view in the Ford Chicane which leads onto the front straight. They are creeping. The pace car pulls off and the thunderous herd leaves for a 24 hour journey, 400 laps around the 8+ mile circuit with 5 sections where speeds exceed 200 MPH. Toyotas captured the front row and lead the first lap. It isn't too long until BMW takes over the lead for a race long struggle with Toyota.
The race. We were 3d fastest Porsche in GT-2 with a gaggle of Vipers and the two Larbre Porsches in front of us. Franz starts, I will be second and Charlie Slater third. Franz is quickly in front of the other Porsches, but we are no contest for the Vipers. The playing field is hardly level. We have 550 horsepower (which is very close to accurate) from 6 cylinders. The Vipers are officially listed as 700 HP (from a V-10), which is probably understated by 100, and by all indications, they brake as well and handle as well, even though they are heavier by a bit.
We are 7th in class at the first pit stop. And it stays that way through much of the race. The race had a number of bad crashes. Boutsen crashed the Toyota in turn 1, while someone was spilling oil over much of the rest of the track. It did get treacherous. Then, in the 5th hour, just as I was getting out of the car, one of the Mercedes had a tremendous crash. It got airborne going over a rise and when up in the air, did a series of three full back flips, got as high as 50 feet in the air and went over a guard rail (cleared it easily) and landed right side up in a grove of trees, 150 feet from the track! The driver was out of the car and walking around when the safety crew arrived although they later reported he had some minor injuries.
My impressions: I drove on the pace which we predicted. Generally about 4:15 per lap, slightly slower at night. Just after daylight on Sunday morning I drove a stint where I tried to turn the wick up a bit and during a long battle with a Viper that was one lap ahead of us, I turned in a string of 4:11s and 4:10s. Compared to Franz's best race lap of 4:08.6 I was very pleased with my times. I was finally getting comfortable and confident in the GT-2. Unfortunately that stint ended when a tire went flat and I went into a barrier in Tertre Rouge, doing some damage to the right side of the car. I was able to drive the car the 7 miles back to the pits, but is was long, slow and frustrating. 1 hour later, with a taped up body and some suspension pieces replaced, the car returned to the fray. From then on we ran without incident. Charlie had to be towed out of gravel traps a couple of times and I drove through a gravel pit once, but in general we did well and the car ran well. Our lap times were all consistent. Franz drove 4:10-4:12s, I drove 4:15s and Charlie was only very slightly slower. We all did well, and most importantly we finished. At the head of the Porsche GT-2s. Just as we hoped. With 8 Vipers in the field, we were lucky to be ahead of any of them. They now have the reliability (only one of the top seven Vipers didn't finish) necessary for a good long distance racer. If the rules don't change, I can't imagine why anyone would want to drive a GT-2 Porsche in the future.
4PM June 13th. The Race Ends.
Franz is in the car at the finish. And finish we do. 18th overall, top GT-2 Porsche and 7th in class. Quite respectable in our veiw. The crew is happy for all of the hard work, particularly after neither of our cars finished last year. Franz is happy, and so am I. We won't win LeMans and I have now had my fling with "The greatest sports car race in the world." Next trip back to Europe will be for a hiking trip. Now we turn our efforts to the balance of the SCCA Pro World Challenge season. Atlanta next on the list. Watch for that report.
June 12th - Saturday
Saturday Morning. Race day. Weather is great and looks good for the weekend. Yesterday was the parade of the Pilots. Take a look at Photo album 2. We look forward to today's race. The car seems good and all drivers sensible and competent enough to keep the car on the track. More later. Morning warm-up is over. I did not get into the car. We had some problems with the ignition and that got corrected. Hopefully. I guess that is what warm-ups are for. It is now 10:30 AM and festivities start about 12 leading up to a 4 pm start. 9 am central time. Try ESPN 2 for TV coverage of the start although I am not sure about the channel. Next report will probably be after the race.
June 10th - Thursday.
The mechanics are changing the engine in the car this morning. We will run our race motor in practice this evening to break it in. It will have slightly lower compression and about 20 horsepower less than the motor that we used yesterday. Probably will cost us a couple of seconds, no more. We start practice again this evening at 7pm. First session 7-9pm and the second session 10pm to midnight. It is not a big deal driving in the dark here, I was just about the same speed both day and night. Once you get used to the speed, it all is about the same...scarry either way.
Thursday night practice which started at 7pm during the daylight was much better. I am getting more comportable in the car and am 10 seconds quicker than yesterday. There is another 5 or 6 seconds in the car for me and we will get there after the first race session. We had the race motor in tonight and it is slightly less powerful. 560 horsepower. During my first session in the car there was a car parked on the shoulder on the Mulsanne straight with a yellow flag hanging out of the cockpit, and there was a crashed Mercedes on the side of the road between Mulsanne and Arnage. It is a little bit disquieting going around a bend at 200 MPH to see a crashed Mercedes on the side, but that's Le Mans. The session ends without incident at Midnight and I have gotten another 12 laps in. I am now quite comfortable in the dark. Tomorrow is a slow day, no track time just the driver's parade at 6PM. "The Parade of de Pilots". More on that later.
Qualifying ends with us the 3d fastest Porsche and 7th in GT-2 class. But, the race is about survival and spending a very small amount of time in the pits. If we do all of that we have a chance for a podium finish.
June 9th - Wednesday
A calm day in the paddock. Scrutineering took place yesterday in town. The crew had to load up the semi-trailer and haul the car into town. The scrutineering was in a parking lot in the center of town. 10,000 people showed up to see the cars go through a line, station by station, examining one thing or one group of things at each station. They actually had bleachers set up along the "course". And a tent for the car at each station. At the end of the line, the crew dons their uniforms, the drivers get their suits on and the team photo is taken. See Race Day 1 Photos for an example. Practice starts at 7pm tonight. Other than that, a very slow day; a good chance to take a lot of pictures and watch the video of the track as a type of practice. Over and over. Indelible in your mind. Close your eyes and drive. Can you do it with your eyes closed? If so, then you will be quick.
Practice ends at mid-night. We get delayed along the way when Eric
Vander Poole crashes a Nissan at Tetre Rouge. (Remember the section in
the movie Le Mans where there is the announcement over the loud speaker,
" There has been an accident at Tetre Rouge..."?). He apparently
is ok with some back problems, and the car is a write-off. We are the 2nd
quickest of the Porsche GT-2s, and 6th fast in GT2. 4 Vipers and
two Porsche in front of us. The car is strong and the track in good shape.
The weather is good, about 70 during the day and 55 at night.
Report May 2, 1999
Sunday Morning. After a forecast of rain earlier in the week, the weather is perfect. Sunny, clear and warm. The field is divided in two groups for prequalifying and it looks as if we are in the toughest one, although it does not appear the qualifying will be a problem. We have two factory vipers, 2 serious privateer Vipers, a Roock Porsche, the Friesinger Porsche and the Chereau Porsche in our group and only 7 cars will qualify. That means a car which could be a contender (any of the above) will miss the race.
Our session starts and will last for 6 hours. The trick is to save the car and to do a fast lap when the weather is just right. Too early and the track is cold and slow although the car will make more horsepower when it is cold. Go too late and the track is warmer, but horsepower will go down as the temperature goes up and the air becomes less dense. We will warm up the car and work on set up during the first few hours and then try for a fast lap about 11 AM I would guess.
Two factory Vipers are the quickest and we are 4th fast. But the track is dirty and we can still go quicker. Our top speed is 7 km faster than last year, 303km per hour. So we should be able to do a lap time close to 4 minutes by the time the session is over. The car is in the garage being checked out and it will be a while before we try again.
WE ARE IN THE FIELD. Qualifying is over and we are in the race. Our
4:04.8 was the quickest Porsche until the last five minutes of the session
when the Freisinger car had a lap which was .6 second faster (over an 8
mile track). The Vipers are much faster, 3:57 & 3:59 for
the factory entries. Two other Viper privateers, a Chamberlin car
and the Belmondo Viper, are also faster. A Toyota GT One was fastest overall,
by three seconds, and a surprise, the Panoz Spider (front engine) was second
fast overall. The favored Mercedes were down in the field. We had some
anxious moments when the scrutineers checked the turbo boost with a computer
and found that we were a bit over, apparently when I was driving the car.
So, my times were disallowed. No big deal since Franz was quickest anyway.
here for qualifying results. Another surprise was how fast the
GT-3 Porsches were. The fast one was only 9 seconds behind the best
GT-2 time. My friend Ray Lintott from Australia had some very tough
luck when they did not get their GT-3 Viper running until very late in
the session, only to have it quit out on the track on its first and only
lap. I hope Ray finds a ride in another car for the race. Well, all
in all, a successful weekend, now back to work.