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24H Le Mans

VAN DER ZANDE: The Honor of Driving at Le Mans

Photo: MPS Agency

Last weekend, I made my debut at the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving for DragonSpeed with my teammates Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman, it was a great experience to be part of this race.

I’m very proud to add Le Mans to the list of legendary endurance races I’ve participated in, a list that also includes the 24 hours of Spa, Nurburgring, Daytona, Sebring and Petit Le Mans.

The race didn’t bring us the result we were after but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great week!

Photo: MPS Agency

The week leading up to Le Mans is something every racing driver should experience. It’s the greatest endurance race on the calendar and that’s something you feel in everything.

From the moment you arrive in Le Mans, you’re part of something special. Everything is building up to the main course on Saturday and Sunday.

On the grid, you can feel the vibe, it’s a vibe that at that moment everyone wants to be part of it.

I’ve received so many messages from Holland, around the world, wishing me luck and enjoying the experience with me.

Photo: MPS Agency

The LMP1s are still a special breed. From the very beginning, it was obvious that the Toyotas were a cut above the rest and there was no way we could match their speed. They were several seconds a lap quicker than anything else and drove a faultless race to finally win their first Le Mans.

After all the bad luck that has haunted them throughout the years, it’s good to see them finally lift the trophy. And to see a legend like Fernando Alonso win the race on his debut, makes it a good story.

The man is one heck of a racing driver and I’d like to extend many congratulations to Toyota, to Alonso and his teammates Kazuki Nakajima and Sebastien Buemi.

Photo: MPS Agency

A real eye-opener for me though, was the relatively small difference in speed between LMP1 and LMP2.

If you strap a Cadillac DPi engine to an LMP2 chassis, maybe some wider tires, maybe lose a little bit of weight… It might give those LMP1s a run for their money!

That was nice to see, but looking at the new regulations that will be coming in 2020, this will not be happening!

Image: ACO

Our race didn’t go as planned. In practice and qualifying, we were doing pretty well but in the race, for some reason, the speed was gone. We were a couple of seconds a lap slower than we were in practice and we’ll have to find out why.

Also, the start didn’t help. In the first corner we were knocked in a spin by the nose of the Rebellion driven by Andre Lotterer. (Yes, not his car, his nose!) Not a good start.

Later on, we lost a part of the floor, which resulted in a lack of downforce at the rear.

Once this issue was resolved – and after we’d fitted a new alternator to the car – the race went pretty smoothly. We were running in 5th until the early hours of Sunday morning until the car was in the wall and our race was over.

It’s a shame the race had to end like this but I’m happy with the Le Mans experience. We can very unprepared to the track, we learned a lot.

And the good thing? 2019 Le Mans is part of this championship so we will come back for it with much more information and experience.

So for now, it’s some family time for me before I head out back to the States for the Six Hours of the Glen and Mosport, where I’ll be back behind the wheel of the No. 10 WTR Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R at two other historic and challenging tracks. Can’t wait!

Renger van der Zande (@Rengervdz) is a Dutch sports car racing star, driving for Wayne Taylor Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and DragonSpeed in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

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