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JONSSON: Le Mans Debrief

Krohn Racing’s Nic Jonsson files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is and always will be a race that every race car driver dreams of competing in.

This year was going to be an emotional roller coaster even before we got to Le Mans because we did not think we were going until just two weeks before the race.

My team owner, Tracy Krohn, received a phone call two weeks prior to the race letting him know that our entry had been accepted in a very late hour, which did not leave us much time to prepare.

But if you get the invitation to Le Mans, you do everything you can to make it happen.

The excitement of being invited to the race made everybody work extremely hard to get all the logistics and car prepared in a very short time span.

The car got shipped to the Michelotto factory in Italy to get all the latest upgrades, including the Le Mans kit with less drag and more downforce, for the very specific track configuration that Le Mans offers.

To be able to make it to Le Mans with our car fully-prepped, we had to miss the test day that is two weeks prior to the actual race weekend.

This put us a little bit behind the curve as far as setup goes, but with our very experienced and skilled crew, we focused on race set up and did not worry about flat out speed and qualifying.

Any 24-hour race is more about reliability and consistency than raw speed, and we know this by experience as Krohn Racing has finished on the podium on three occasions at Le Mans before, in 2007, 2009, and 2012.

Our goal for the first session on Wednesday was to get all three drivers to do a few laps each, but this turned out to be more difficult than we had counted on due to several big crashes and red flag periods.

Eventually, Tracy, Ben and I all got time in the car including the Thursday evening test session, where everyone is required to do a minimum of three timed laps to be qualified to enter in the race.

We used the qualifying/test session on Thursday as a set up and test session rather than qualifying, so we did not qualify very well, but felt that we had a well balanced and solid racecar.

Friday of race week is always another fantastic day, even if this doesn’t involve any driving. It’s the big driver parade in downtown Le Mans.

This is a very special feeling to be a part of and can’t be explained, it has to be experienced to understand the dynamic of hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets to cheer on and wish their favorite drivers good luck in the race.

Saturday morning started with a 45-minute warm up session, where most people go out to bed in an extra set of brakes and check things one last time.

I was selected to start our car this year and had decided to settle in and run a steady pace saving fuel and to make sure to take care of the car to last for 24 hours.

We were able to move up a few positions in the first hour and halfway through my second stint, then a huge rainstorm came through that made a few cars go off and hit the barriers.

These hits brought the safety car out for some time to get everything cleaned up. We decided to stay out on slick tires, which was a pretty brave decision, but I trusted my engineer’s gut feeling on the idea that the weather was going to blow over.

It was very difficult conditions, but I made sure to be conservative and to take care of the car and not take any risks. More people went off track and others decided to pit for rain tires, but about 30 minutes later, the rain stopped and the track started to dry up.

This put us in a good position and I was able to move up to second place before handing the car over Tracy, who was surprised by another rain storm that came in. He did a great job surviving this and kept a steady pace without making any mistakes.

Our strategy was clear and that was to run a steady, consistent pace throughout the night and see where we stood when the sun came up Sunday morning. We had moved up steadily through the night and found ourselves in fourth place at about 7:00 a.m.

We were trying to catch third place and a potential podium finish, and at the same time trying to stay ahead of the fifth place car makes for an interesting strategy and we had to figure out how to play our cards with the different drivers at our disposal.

I had just finished my third triple stint and was told to be back in the garage in four hours, which meant that I was most likely going back in the car for the last two hours to try to take it to the finish line. These are the moments a driver always dreams about!

Unfortunately, we lost some time with a gearshift problem that was difficult to diagnose. Because of this, we had dropped to seventh place and were no longer in contention for a podium finish.

With the very late acceptance of our entry and the fact that we were going to be a part of the biggest race in the world, we felt that just finishing the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a great accomplishment for everyone involved and everyone who had helped out to make this possible.

Of course, it’s still a disappointment to finish seventh when we were in contention for a podium finish just three hours from the end, but just finishing is a great accomplishment, especially with all the hard work that had to be done to even make it to the race this year with the circumstances we were faced.

I want to say a big thank you to Tracy Krohn and the whole crew who made this possible. Our car was very well prepared and the Krohn guys did a great job throughout the whole race with fast, good and safe pit stops.

We’re already looking forward to go back in 2015 with our goal to finish on the top spot of the podium.

Also, a big thank you to all the great fans that make this possible and for such a fantastic event.

Nic Jönsson is a former Swedish F3 and Group N Touring Car champion and current sports car star, with numerous international victories to his credit. He drives for Krohn Racing in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and European Le Mans Series.

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