My Perfect Le Mans Week!

We’re all allowed to dream a bit aren’t we?  Or should that be visualisation…a positive psychological technique used by many athletes and sportsmen and women?  Here is Olly describing his ‘Perfect’ week at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  The driver from Yardley Hastings is chasing his fifth 24 Hour class win with Corvette, and will be driving the No.74 GTE-Pro entry with Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook.

First of all the journey down to Le Mans will be super smooth and trouble-free on Eurostar all the way to Lille from St Pancras, and then onto Le Mans.  I will be picked up by a member of the Corvette Racing team and we’ll go straight to the track and to our hospitality unit.  This is where all six of the drivers sleep for the week, and I’ll get the ‘best’ room.  It’s the largest, quietest and furthest away from the kitchen so there are no cooking or generator fumes wafting their way into the room.  All my gear will be there and ready, helmets, suits, gloves, fireproof underwear and so on.  It will be all sorted and I won’t have to worry about that again.  The bed will be nice and comfy too so I can get a decent night’s sleep on Sunday to get some in the ‘bank’ and start the week off properly.

It goes without saying, of course, that the weather will be nice all week – not too hot, just sunny, and definitely no rain!  On Monday, when we go through scrutineering, I might go for a run around the track in the morning maybe with Antonio or whoever else is around.  We’ll come back for a fantastic breakfast because the Belgian chef we have at Le Mans is brilliant; the food is spectacular.

The official team photo at Scrutineering in 2011

Everything will be ready at scrutineering in the centre of town and we’ll walk straight into the office, get weighed, issued with our driver wristbands, helmets and Hans devices all checked and so on, and Gary [Pratt] will have all the paperwork necessary.  There won’t be any short, sharp conversations in French between our French-speaking team member, Alex Roberge, and the officials as that stresses out Gary massively!!  The car gets through tech straight forwardly with no changes or niggles, and we go through for the big team photograph.  Hopefully our official Corvette photographer Richard Prince can’t make it to scrutineering and has sent someone else because then it’ll happen in about a third of the time!!!

We then get some time off to relax and bank some more sleep.  Tuesday is a relaxing day with just the drivers’ briefing and autograph session in the afternoon.  We’ll get seats by the exit of the briefing room so we can get out quickly from among the 165 drivers, and there’s no Emanuele Pirro-type-driver asking lots of questions which always leads to great excitement. There’s time to go and hang out with the guys – last chance in the week really.  Things start happening more on Wednesday with our pre-briefings and engineering meetings, and this year there is a test session which starts at 4:00pm, earlier than usual.   Finally we’ll be on track.

Meeting the fans at the Drivers' Parade

Friday’s about getting the car ready and prepped and I’ll be meeting up my family who’ll all have arrived the night before.  They’ll come and see the car and this year, for the first time ever, my mum is coming to Le Mans so we want the perfect scenario for her, don’t we.  She suffers from acute arthritis but is well enough this year to come along and we’ve got everything in place for her to get around as easily as possible.  Then there’s the drivers’ parade in the centre of town; the key thing here is to be the first or one of the first to go round and somehow we always manage to do that because it gets you through and out before it turns into too much of a bun fight.  It’s great spending time with the fans, signing autographs and you can really see the power of the public and what it’s all about; it’s a great party, positive atmosphere.  For the drivers though, the main thing is getting back to the track before it’s too late, and I’ll have a meal with Helen and the children and the rest of my family and then an early night.

Part of the pre-race build up is a staged traditional-style start

We have to wake up pretty early for warm up on Saturday, though not as early as the teams do, and that will, of course, all go well with everyone being able to get a feel of the track on race day.  The pre-race ceremonies and procedures which the ACO love to do seem to come around all too soon but that all adds to the atmosphere.  The race starts at 3pm on Saturday and every single stop is just fuel, tyres and driver…so smooth it’s boring.  You don’t want any hiccups or heart-stopping events, just all as dull and boring as possible, driving away from the competition and for everyone to just have nice, smooth stints.  We want to be able to do as many laps on a stint as our main rivals and the tyres to be able to double-stint our tyres all the time, fast in the night and through to the morning with a three-lap lead.  From then on you can just manage that and come through with no engine woes or gearbox issues and you end up winning comfortably.  For the last 40 minutes or so you can just cruise around and soak up the atmosphere, see the crowd gathering at the start-finish line and get the two team cars together to cross the line.  Ideally I will be able to drive the car across the line and get up to the podium and see my team mates, crew chief and engineer up there and that will cap the weekend off.  You sort of hope you’re not randomly drug-tested and have to spend however long it takes to give a sample – which if it’s hot and you’re a bit de-hydrated can take a while – but, if that’s the price you have to pay for winning the race, I’ll take it every time.

Dreaming of holding up 5 fingers for a 5th victory

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