Circuit tests driving skills and stamina
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Kiwi drivers aiming to add to our creditable record at Le Mans
Kiwi drivers Richie Stanaway and Mitch Evans seem the acts to beat in the legendary Le Mans 24-hour race this weekend, having won their classes at the six-hour warmup event at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, last month.
Neither has raced on the Circuit de la Sarthe in northern France, but came through their induction laps and testing without any dramas.
“I’m pretty happy with how it’s going at the moment,” said Evans. “The length of it [the track] is a bit odd as there’s a lot of straight, especially the second sector [Mulsanne Straight], which only has two chicanes in it. It’s all working out well though and I feel good for the race. Working with the Jota [team] has been really good so far.”
Stanaway (above) is also confident he and his Aston Martin team will have a successful weekend.
“It’s been all good so far and we’ll just have to see how we get on in the race. The history of the place is pretty cool and we just have to make sure the car is where we want it to be,” he said.
Four New Zealanders are competing — Earl Bamber is in the Porsche team, stepping up to the top division by driving a 919 Hybrid LMP1 with German F1 pilot Nico Hulkenberg and Brit Nick Tander. Evans will be in the Jota Sport LMP2 with Brits Oliver Turvey and Simon Dolan, and Richie Stanaway belts up in the Aston Martin LMGTE alongside Brazilian Fernando Rees and Brit Alex MacDowall.
Bamber had a short affair at Le Mans last year in a GT Cup car and was odds-on for a podium finish when he cut a tyre and had to pit, dropping him down the field.
“Driving the 919 in Le Mans for the first time at the pre-test was an amazing experience so I now can’t wait for race day,” he said.
“The first target for everyone is to finish this race and then we have to have enough pace to achieve a good result. It is going to be a cool week.”
Last year, Brendon Hartley (above) was the sole Kiwi representative, racing in a factory Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1. It was the German manufacturer’s first race in the top category in 16 years.
With just two and half hours to go, Hartley and team-mates Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard were leading. However, the car had to be retired.
“We were good here at our debut last year, but in the end were unlucky. With the 919 Hybrid’s evolution we have come back stronger, but at the same time the competition has become tougher,” Hartley said.
The New Zealand flag has flown at the world’s oldest and most prestigious endurance race once — in 1966, when Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren crossed the line ahead of another Kiwi, Denny Hulme, and his American team-mate Ken Miles. Both were driving the classic Ford GT40 MKII.