As the racing world gears up for the biggest race on the motorsport calendar, Porsche’s 2015 WEC champion Brendon Hartley writes exclusively for Mobil 1 The Grid, as he sets his sights on a first ever victory at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Finally, we are back at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe!
Every year, it feels like the moment the Le Mans race comes to an end, we already start talking about and planning for the next.
People sometimes ask me how we prepare for doing an endurance race like Le Mans – The truth is that we never really start or stop preparing.
In many ways, I’ve spent my whole life preparing. And for the entire team, the work that goes into getting us here is endless. To give you an example, in just the last couple of months our Porsche Team has completed two sets of 30-hour endurance tests with the Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Arriving at the circuit for test day, it’s always surprising how many fans make the trip to Le Mans, just to get a glimpse of the 60-car strong field a couple weeks before the big race. It’s still two weeks to go but, already, you feel an atmosphere like no other.
I often talk about confidence in the car, but the truth is Le Mans is one of the hardest tracks to truly feel at one with. It takes a lot to have that feeling of true confidence; that trance-like flow you get when you are fully in the racing zone.
Because the track is so long (13.6 km) you don’t see each corner very often. Then, to compound that, the chances of hitting traffic are extremely high. On the test day, it felt like there were 100 cars on track.
I think there were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, there were a few extra cars for the test day. There are many new drivers learning the track, so we catch them more often. And, secondly, because our LMP1 cars are a bit slower on top speed due to our 8% reduction in fuel.
These lower top speeds mean we pass less cars on the straight lines, and therefore have more chance of catching the traffic under braking or mid corner.
It’s worth mentioning the lap times are pretty close to last year, which shows the steps in performance each team has made when you factor in the fuel. The traffic is obviously all part of endurance racing, but it can get a little frustrating when you desperately want to feel the car’s balance at full beans through the Porsche curves. During my full stint at the test, I never had it clear.
We had a full test plan, masterfully scheduled down to the second, which we completed. The test included different tyre compounds, fuel and boost strategies, aero loads and balance, ride heights etc. Plenty of data and squiggly lines for all the engineers to go through over the next week!
One journalist asked me when we were going to show our true hand and go 5 seconds quicker!
I laughed, because I do think one of the best things about our set of rules is that there is no need to ‘sandbag’ or hide performance. Each team has a certain amount of energy from fuel and electric power to use on every lap. If one manufacturer finds a more efficient or effective way to use it, it’s up to the competition to figure it out, not the rule makers.
With all LMP1 cars within a couple of seconds of each other on a 3 minute 20 lap, the rules are clearly working. And it’s clearly going to be a tough, close fight next weekend. I cannot wait!