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24H Le Mans

TAYLOR: Le Mans Debrief

Jordan Taylor files his Sportscar365 column after win at Le Mans…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

What a weekend. Growing up in a sports car family, there was always one race that was spoken about around the dinner table: Le Mans.

This was my fourth year going back to Le Mans, all with Corvette Racing. My first three years were in the 3 car, alongside Antonio and Jan.

This year would be my first time in the 4, with Olly and Tommy. Both cars are more than capable of winning races, but I was extra excited to drive with these guys because I actually fit in the car! With Jan and Antonio, we had to cut out foam on the roll bar above my head so I’d fit in the car!

We arrived for race week on Sunday to start all of the traditional race week duties, scrutineering, driver’s meeting, PR meetings, team photoshoots, autograph session, and more. It’s a busy week, so by the time practice comes around, your brain is already pretty tired.

Le Mans has a unique schedule. We practice from 4-8 p.m. on Wednesday and then 10 p.m.-12 a.m.. The night session and two sessions on Thursday are both practice and qualifying. You’re only getting to bed at 2am on Wednesday and Thursday, but at least you can sleep in a little.

During the Thursday afternoon session, Jan was going through the Porsche Curves (the fastest section on the track, probably around 125-130 mph), when a piece of debris fell into the pedal box and held the throttle wide open.

There is only about four or five feet of run off leading to a guardrail. With no time to do anything, he hit the outside wall and bounced across the track into a concrete wall on the other side.

First thoughts for everyone on the team were if Jan was ok. He was responding on the radio and back in the garage as his usual self about 30 minutes later. As soon as the car got back everyone knew right away that the car wouldn’t be able to race with all the damage. It was a huge blow to the team.

Now we were heading into the biggest sports car event in the world with just one bullet in the gun. All the eyes were going to be on the 64.

Friday is usually a fun day going to the parade. This year’s was especially cool, as the “Nerdmans” fan group was there in full force. Last year they had a big Mullet sign.

This year, they had a Fonzie (my dog) doll! As soon as I saw them, I lit up inside with excitement, and jumped out of our car while it was still moving. It was honestly an amazing moment, to see people around the world supporting you.

Saturday came around in a hurry. This was it, the day we’ve all been working for. We knew it was going to be a tough race. The GTE-Pro class is one of the toughest classes in sports car racing worldwide. Every car in our class could win the race.

I was only in the car third, so I had the first few hours off to watch on TV. Olly and Tommy had solid opening stints, battling in the top three.

We knew where our advantages and disadvantages were pretty quickly. We had trimmed out a little more than most of the other cars. We were struggling a little bit in the first and third sections of the tracks which were technical, but were strong in the middle sector with our straight line speed advantage.

My first triple stint was pretty uneventful. I had a small battle with the 97 Aston Martin and then with the 99. It was the sunset stint heading into the night, which is always cool at Le Mans. The race was tight all through the night. Every manufacturer had a car in the fight.

By the time morning came, I was back in for the sunrise stint. It was actually a beautiful sunrise, with pink clouds heading from Mulsanne to Indianapolis. It’s always weird getting back to the pits to see what’s happened while you’ve been away. You just hope that you’re still in it.

We were in a battle with the 51 Ferrari and the Porsche wasn’t far back. At this point in the race, with six hours to go, it was flat out. Everyone was pushing, and all cars were going faster than their qualifying times. My final double stint seemed like a two hour qualifying session.

Olly got in for the final stint of the race. I was in the back of the garage when one of the guys ran by saying we were going by the 51, and when I put on a radio, all I heard was Olly saying, “YEAH BABY!”

That gave me two feelings. One was excitement that we were leading, the other was fear. When you see someone have a problem, it reminds you that it can happen to anyone at any point. Racing can be cruel.

It was a stressful final 1 hour and 50 minutes. I tried to keep my mind off of it by doing pretty much anything. Packing, going to the bathroom, talking to random people…

With 20 minutes to go, we all sat in the garage together, as a team. We watched the clock count down, minute by minute, second by second.

When Olly went by for the checkered flag, we all ran to the pit wall, with our American flags waving. We did it… Corvette Racing’s eighth victory at Le Mans in sixteen attempts.

As we were all congratulating each other, crew members, engineers, management, friends, family, it hit me, we just won Le Mans.

I started to do an interview with a TV crew and the tears started coming. It was like Niagara Falls and I couldn’t stop it. I had to turn my back on them and walk into the garage. I found a quiet spot to sit down and just be by myself.

Everything was going through my mind at a million miles per hour.

I want to thank Corvette Racing, GM, and Pratt & Miller for believing in me over the past five years. I’ve made lifetime memories with you guys, and I look forward to making more with you in the future.

A huge shoutout and thank you goes out to the whole 63 team and drivers, for sticking around and supporting the 64. It really shows that Corvette Racing is one team, with one goal, winning. Thank You.

Jordan Taylor (@jordan10taylor) is the 2013 Rolex Sports Car Series DP champion, driving for Wayne Taylor Racing in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Corvette Racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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