Richard Westbrook believes this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will come down to a race of reliability in the Hypercar class, with both Toyota and Glickenhaus having shown teething issues in the opening rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship season.
The Englishman, who heads into his first Le Mans in the top class, told Sportscar365 that he feels confident in the pace of the Glickenhaus 007, which he will share with former Ford Chip Ganassi Racing co-driver Ryan Briscoe and two-time Le Mans winner Romain Dumas.
While making gains between the opening round of the season at Portimao and last month’s 6 Hours of Monza, Westbrook admitted an unscheduled brake change in the fourth hour of the race was a “bit head-scratching.”
“The problems we encountered at Portimao, we knew we would get to the bottom of for Monza,” Westbrook explained.
“We really did struggle on the tire in Portimao but we learned so much there and it was so good to do Portimao even though it was quite early in the program, to just get us on that learning curve, which you don’t get when you’re testing on your own.
“Going into Monza it was a lot more encouraging. At one point we were looking like we were going to be fighting for the win but unfortunately we had to do an unscheduled brake change.
“It was a bit head-scratching because we didn’t have any problems with the brakes in testing, in terms of excessive wear.
“The guys have had three weeks to get to the bottom of that and make sure we don’t have that problem in Le Mans. Because obviously if you’re changing brakes every 4-5 hours in Le Mans, you may as well not even go there.
“We’ve all seen how the team has reacted to issues like in Portimao, so I’m not too concerned about that.”
Westbrook said he’s been impressed with the American-flagged operation in its ability to “react so quickly” to issues from its pre-season testing program and through Portimao and Monza, when it debuted its second LMH entry.
“That’s what the team has been really impressive at doing, in reacting to what we need,” he said. “We’ve just got better and better and better. I think everyone saw that in Monza compared to Portimao. Now we’ve got to make that same step for Le Mans.
“I do think Le Mans will suit us even more than Monza. It’s very difficult to predict but I think we’re going to be there.
“Reliability is going to be a huge factor because it’s the first year of a new class. I think everyone’s going to be a bit nervous about their own reliability.
“It would be nice to put [Toyota] under pressure because when you’re put under pressure, mistakes can happen.
“We want to take the fight to them on pace. We were very close to doing that in Monza so we just need that tiny bit more, that last couple of tenths, and I think we’ll be in that position.
“Then yes, it’s going to be down to reliability.
“The reliability on our side has been really good in testing. We were able to complete the 30-hour test at Aragon with just a couple of little electrical glitches in the last few hours.
“We’ve had little things cost us in our preparations at Portimao and Monza. Little things that have unraveled into bigger things, not so much on our car, but the 708, which had a spark plug issue and then caused something with the gearbox and they ended up parking the car.
“Reliability is going to be key to this race.”
Westbrook: Glickenhaus “Feels Like a Factory Team”
The ex-Porsche, GM and Ford factory driver said he feels the privateer team has performing at a high level from the get-go, which gives him confidence heading into the 24-hour.
“The level is really high,” Westbrook said. “I know what the Podium [Engineering] guys are like because I worked with them at the Nürburgring 24. They’re very, very clever engineers and have some good, young people there. They’re very forward-thinking.
“Obviously they do lack a bit of experience with something like the WEC and that’s where Joest has come in and really helped us on that front. They’ve given the program a big, big lift.
“With Podium and Joest, the level feels really high.
“But with Jim [Glickenhaus], it does like you’re in a family team as well. Professionalism-wise, it’s right up there any factory team. We’ve got so many people involved, with Pipo Moteurs and support from Michelin.
“It feels like a full-factory effort and it has to be. They’re not doing Hypercar because they just want to say they’re doing it.
“They want to go out and do something special. The only way you’re going to do that is if you throw everything at it. They’re definitely doing that, I can tell you.
“They’re not leaving any stone unturned. They’re really working flat-out.
“We are so up against it. The car was only built in February. In December last year it was still a drawing on a napkin. We’ve come a long way.”