Hartley’s marvellous Le Mans odyssey
KIWI PORSCHE DRIVER BRENDON HARTLEY TAKES US STEP-BY-STEP THROUGH HIS SUCCESSFUL LE MANS RACE
What do you do the day before race?
The Friday is supposedly a day off but actually feels like the busiest for us drivers. We attended press conferences, visited the Porsche campsite for an autograph session for an hour, then a 90-minute meeting with the team about our big day ahead.
Finally the parade which is a huge event with thousands of people lining the streets of Le Mans. By Friday it is fair to say that we are sick of talking about our feelings and expectations for the race as we have done for the past months — we are as prepared as possible.
While we drivers are jumping from function to function, the mechanics are building completely new race cars (with parts we tested for a few kilometres the week before). Nothing is left to chance.
Friday night, what did you do? Did you sleep?
We got back from the drivers’ parade at around 8pm and the plan was to be in my motorhome asleep by 10. In practice it's not as easy, the parade is full on and it takes some time to wind down.
The two previous nights qualifying finished at midnight an we had meetings until around 1.30am, meaning the sleeping patterns throughout the week are all mixed up. Then finally you have the biggest race on earth in your mind. I slept well all week apart from Friday night.
What time do you get up?
It changed every day during the week but Saturday morning was a 7am alarm as I had a team briefing at 8am and then the final warm-up at 9am.
What sort of meals during the day?
I try to snack, I found it hard to stomach a full meal during the race. Nuts, fruits, cereal bars and small bowls of pasta mainly.
What happens when you get to the track?
I choose to sleep in a motorhome (at the circuit) as it can be time-consuming getting to the track in the morning. I like the feeling of sleeping at the circuit, it reminds me of the days when I travelled New Zealand in a house bus my father and uncle built with our race car or karts on the trailer behind.
We do the 8am team briefing in a small room connected to headsets and an intercom. There are more than 50 engineers that listen in and contribute to these well-structured meetings.
What are your pre-race feelings?
Excitement and also some nervousness. I do my best not to think of the scale of the programme, what it means to Porsche, and just focus on the job at hand inside the race car. Of course it’s almost impossible to take away all the nerves, but I find some nerves keep me focused.
What are your driving stints?
We need to be prepared in the garage and on standby at least one hour before our scheduled stint. Because there are maximum driving times, it is quite possible that if there is a puncture or other problems we may have no more than 30 seconds to have our helmet on and be outside ready to jump in the car.
What do you do between those stints?
It varies. Media comments, sometimes short guest appearances with team sponsors, refuel with food and drink, some time with the physio to work on tight muscles from the previous stint and finally some rest in our driver cabin if we want to.
I also spend a lot of time following the race with our performance engineer who has live telemetry data, on-board cameras from the three cars and timing.
I also use this time to study what is happening on track and discuss how I can do a better job on the next stint in the car.
It’s also quite possible the balance of the car has changed over the race or if the driver has made adjustments to settings we have at our fingertips like brake balance or traction control as they tend to evolve according to tyre life and track condition.
Do you sleep overnight at all?
My first two efforts at Le Mans I had no sleep, nor did I want any. I was so excited from the previous stint and so enthused to be glued to the timing and video screens.
Working now with a factory team and working with drivers like Timo who have completed more than 30 24-hour races, you see that they know the importance of rest and don’t feel the need to watch every single lap.
This year I made more of an effort to switch off and detach myself from the race even if it was just for 30 minutes at a time to close my eyes and rest. I think in total I would have slept for around 75 minutes over the 24 hours. It is not easy to wind down when you have so much adrenalin in your veins!
What is it like driving in the dark with slow cars around?
There is never a dull moment! I love driving the Porsche 919 in the night. Everything comes in and out of your vision so quickly from the headlights it feels like you’re going 1000km/h. Many of your references disappear and it feels like a completely different track.
After the race, what happens?
The podium celebrations are like no other. The sea of people under the podium waving flags, including many New Zealand ones, is an image I will never forget. Then a press conference and a few video interviews. Then there was the task of making the 100m journey to the Porsche garage which felt like it took 30 minutes with every spectator wanting a selfie with the trophy. Then handshakes and hugs with every team member.
A small party at the team hospitality tent with a very nice speech from Porsche board member Wolfgang Hatz. What was really nice was that members and drivers from both Toyota and Audi attended to congratulate the team. I didn’t stay for the whole night but you can be sure there were a couple of beers and glasses of champagne consumed. A day and night that everyone involved will never forget.