Le Mans Practice

Enduro outing proved profitable for young Brit

Oliver Jarvis has never made a secret of the fact that he wants to race at Le Mans. When I met up with him last year at the Brands Hatch DTM race he was thrilled to be part of Audi’s motor sport programme, not only because of the competitive German touring car series, but also because it opened the door to sports prototypes and GTs. He was keen to get involved with every aspect of Audi’s racing world.

The 26-year-old was in Germany in May competing in the Nürburgring 24 Hours aboard a customer Audi R8 LMS, but little did he know that he’d actually be on the Le Mans grid as early as this year. It wasn’t until after that event that Jarvis was confirmed as team-mate to Christian Bakkerud and Christophe Bouchut in the Kolles customer Audi R10 TDI for Le Mans.

“I am fully focused on the DTM,” said Jarvis at the ’Ring, “but in the future the sports car category, and in particular Le Mans, is what I would like to be involved in, so this is a great opportunity and will be valuable experience.”

Indeed experience was part of what the Nürburgring race was all about, because of its length and the fact that traffic is such an issue – much like at Le Mans. “I’ll probably pass more cars here in one lap than I would in a whole year of DTM. I mean, it’s crazy out there,” said Jarvis after a practice session. “There are 200-plus cars out there and if you’re lucky you can overtake 20 or even 30 in one lap. Every corner you get to you’re looking ahead to see where the cars are, and where you can overtake them.

“Much like at Le Mans there’s a massive performance difference between the cars and drivers. If you’re approaching a guy at 250km/h (155mph) and he’s only doing 160km/h (100mph), that’s quite a closing speed. You’ve also got to remember that he’s already got enough going on without worrying about the car coming from behind.

“The other thing that’s interesting to experience is the atmosphere around the track; the smoke from the barbecues drifts across it and it’s like a mini fog. Then there are the people with some pretty serious cameras, and the flashes on them are really bright. It’s like being caught by a speed camera!”

Sadly, Olly’s Nürburgring 24 Hours experience ended soon after his team-mate Marco Werner took the wheel of the R8. The car was taken out by a backmarker and retired with rear hub damage and a broken driveshaft. Despite all this, the race in Germany was clearly very good practice for someone preparing to do Le Mans.

Audi has a good history of looking after its drivers, and it’s rare that once a driver becomes a part of the team they then move on. Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen – two names that any manufacturer would love to lure into its Le Mans squad – are both good examples as drivers who have been with Audi for a combined 20 years. Of course, it helps that Audi has had some extremely competitive Le Mans cars over the past decade…

Racing an old-spec Audi LMP1 car should be just the beginning for Jarvis at La Sarthe. The next step? Surely a place in the works team side by side with McNish and Kristensen beckons.