So often in endurance racing, especially in 24-hour races, we confront the adage that these races are not won by a certain car or team but instead are lost by others who stumble due to preparation gremlins, driver/crew error or just plain cruel racing luck.
In these cases, the goal is to minimize your team’s exposure to anything silly/stupid/dangerous and hope that luck goes your way and you are the last car standing who is worthy of the Win.
Such was the case with our MRS-GT Porsche at last weekend’s Creventic – International Endurance Series 24 Hour race at Paul Ricard.
The traditional summer heat in the southern France this time of year combined with a super-fast Formula 1 quality circuit and a deep field of nearly 60 cars gave our little team plenty of opportunity to focus on our plan of clean execution and minimizing our exposure to risk.
A trouble-free practice and qualifying for myself and co-drivers Charlie Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Xavier Maassen saw our No. 78 Porsche lead the 991 class away from the green flag in pole position and mixing it up with the back of the pack GT3-specification cars.
The race start was, I admit, a somber affair as the huge grid stood quietly for a minute of silence to honor the victims of the Nice terror attack which occurred a short drive away from the circuit and our team hotel.
The MRS-GT team as well as our driver group had focused diligently on pit stop and driver change practice and we repeatedly gained time on the field in the pits.
By the 4th hour we had over a lap on the field until that old adage came back to haunt us! A small hydraulic line failed on the gearbox and we had no choice but to spend about 30 minutes in the garage effecting repairs before rejoining the field near the back of the class.
With new “rules of engagement” regarding risks taken in traffic, the driver team spent the next 12 hours or so slashing and burning our way back towards the front; again with perfect pit stops and strategy we ended up back in the lead!
AND… then a hole in the left front radiator put us back in the garage for another 30 minutes. Cruel! New radiator in place, we headed back out to salvage whatever we could.
Meanwhile, our competition had, fortunately for us, also been bitten and at this point it was a battle between mechanics trying to keep battered cars on track and drivers taking big qualifying-style risks trying to make up laps.
Barely two hours from the finish Charles Espenlaub shoved us onto the lead lap in 2nd place and kept pushing towards the front.
AND… then a wheel nut failed, came apart and the right rear wheel departed the car. I mean; really? What could happen next?!
Quickly we got the car back to the pits, threw another wheel at it and I set off to see what could possibly happen next.
The last couple of hours of a 24-hour race tends to be an eerie sight with Road Warrior-style beat up cars limping around mixed in with crazy hard battles for position at the same time.
We scrambled back during that time and ended up barely making the podium in 3rd place.
It was a super effort from an incredibly hard-working MRS-GT crew to keep getting the soldier back in the fight as well as flawless execution from the drivers who raced absolutely flat out and didn’t put a foot wrong.
A hard-fought effort that proves you simply cannot stop pushing.
What a crazy race! Still, it was good points for Charles and Charlie and we are all looking forward to the next one on the F1 track in Barcelona.