Darren Turner's Le Mans in pictures

Le Mans

By Darren Turner

We had high hopes for Le Mans this year. We knew from last year that we had a strong package and if it hadn’t been for a power steering issue then we could have finished on the top step of podium in 2014. With the way the technical package was then frozen for all the manufacturers, we knew we didn’t have to worry about our pace as we had already proved we were competitive at Le Mans.

The test day was tricky for everyone as the weather was so mixed, so we got on with what I call our ‘housework’ to prepare for race week: bedding in brakes, fuel run outs, the general running that has to be done but you don’t want to do later, when time is too valuable.

– 1 –

The first job during race week is always scrutineering in Le Mans town centre. I managed to get a sneaky first peek at our Tobias Rehberger art car before it was loaded onto the truck to go into town. Interestingly, when I was shown the artist’s impression on a laptop I really wasn’t sure, but as soon as I saw the car in all its glory I loved it!

– 2 –

Scutineering is great when it’s sunny and not so great if it rains. For many years I found the whole ‘going into town’ thing quite frustrating, as there is a lot of hanging around to do. I see it very differently now and enjoy having a good chat with everyone and chilling out in the sunshine.

– 3 –

On Tuesday we have our race week meeting – all 15 drivers, 15 engineers and management. We run through the strategy for the week, what our goal is, what each individual car will do during the night running on Wednesday and Thursday and we get a general pep talk from Wilks. David Wilcock is actually No.97’s race engineer, but he’s also in charge of group performance, making sure that all five cars are run to maximum potential.

– 4 –

We’re one of the few teams which doesn’t run its cars from the pitwall. Each car has a data station in the garage like this one where the race engineer, data engineer and engine engineer all work together from their own ‘mission control’. Some teams prefer to work from the pitwall and some prefer the garage – both methods have their pros and cons but it seems to work for us to do it this way.

– 5 –

The flying crazy Dane, Nicki Thiim, sat at the data station for the No.95 Aston Martin.  It was unfortunate for these guys that they had a small technical problem early on in the race as they certainly had the pace to win.

– 6 –

We saw a lot of these guys during the week at Le Mans. This is the camera used to shoot the Le Mans 3D movie and it was a big bit of kit for them to maneuver around a tight garage.

– 7 –

Wilks and me did a piece talking about the relationship between driver and race engineer, chatting about our plans for the upcoming race. It’s harder than you might imagine to do this as you have to be mindful not to break into racing language – the movie is for a mainstream audience – but then it’s quite hard to talk about racing without doing that, so you end up tripping over your words!

– 8 –

This is me in a rather nice DB9 doing some more filming for the 3D guys, getting GoPro’d up before heading out onto the track. This kept me busy for most of Tuesday afternoon and I actually ended up having to dash back for the autograph session – you can’t keep the fans waiting at Le Mans.

– 9 –

The autograph session lasts for an hour and a half at Le Mans. It makes sense that the longest race of the season has the longest autograph session. The race fans here are probably the most enthusiastic of all, with many of them coming prepared with their own photos for us to sign. I think we got through a fair few hundred signatures during that session.

– 10 –

On Wednesday we finally get to drive. After talking about it for a few days it’s time to get out on the circuit.

The first session is practice but that soon goes into the first night qualifying session. Everything is about race set-up and trying to find a race balance that’s quick but, more importantly, consistent to drive. With so many different types of tyres to use and track conditions changing throughout a 24-hour race you have to know what the best compromise is with set-up to get the best out of your car.

– 11 –

Wednesday and Thursday are long nights with the sessions running until midnight. By the time you’ve debriefed and unwound – you’re pretty wired after a night session – it’s normally a 2.00am finish.

– 12 –

Friday is a busy day for the team. This is when they rebuild the cars so everything is brand new for the 24-hour race – new gearbox, new engine, new uprights, new brakes, etc. For the drivers it’s all about the parade in town. We went by bus this year – which was great as I got to listen to the Senior TT race on the radio on the way – but usually we go on scooters and it rapidly degenerates into the first race of the Le Mans weekend!

We go around town on classic cars, throwing autograph cards and posters to fans, but Aston Martin Racing upped their game this year and gave us a cannon that fires T-shirts. Naturally we soon worked out how to disengage the safety limit and were firing them a good 100 metres. My apologies to anyone who got a T-shirt but didn’t see it coming!

– 13 –

This year I was proud to be asked to join some of the legends of the sport, including Jacky Ickx and Tom Kristensen, in a special presentation that the ACO had organised. I got to drive this beautiful DB3 from the Bugatti Circuit to the Ford Chicane before hopping out and heading to the Aston Martin hospitality area to say hello to all of our guests for the weekend.

Although it’s the ‘off’ day at Le Mans it’s one of the most tiring so it’s always good to get back to your camper to get a good night’s sleep before the big day.

– 14 –

This was my view during morning warm up on race day. As it’s a 45-minute session it doesn’t make sense to run all three drivers, so Stefan and Rob drove while the team could made final tweaks to the car.

– 15 –

This is the No.97 crew on the grid an hour before the race. We are so lucky to have these boys on the car. They worked their socks off this week and as ever we had cracking pitstops.

– 16 –

These are the boys from the No.98 Aston Martin. I see a couple of them are busy with Twitter! I was gutted for these guys as they were on for the GTE Am win.

– 17 –

The cars have to sit on the grid in the sunshine for over an hour before the race so we cover them in heat reflectors to try and keep cockpit temps low, otherwise it’s very uncomfortable for the starting driver.

– 18 –

Stefan had a good start, launching straight away into a good five-car battle. That first stint is great to watch on TV and it’s one of the best bits about Le Mans – that first couple of hours when the racing is so close. We all get out of sync later and you end up racing the clock rather than each other. It’s still flat-out, but you can’t always see the competition like you can at the start.

– 19 –

I really enjoyed my opening run, which was a triple stint. I had a good scrap with Tommy Milner in the Corvette that went on to win the race. At one point he went really deep into the first Mulsanne chicane so I saw my chance and went wide to get past but just lost the rear and had a spin which lost me around 10 seconds. It took me the rest of my stint to catch up again but we were back in with a chance.

Unfortunately it all ended just after nightfall when Rob [Bell] made a small mistake, clobbering the kerb at the second Mulsanne chicane, which unluckily damaged the oil feed to the engine. This caused the engine to fail later on in the lap and that was the end of our race. That’s how cruel and how tough Le Mans is. One tiny mistake and it’s all over.

Will I come back next year? You just try keeping me away!

 

You may also like