Motorsport: Le Mans wins with Kiwis

By Eric Thompson

Brendon Hartley's favourite time during the 24 hour Le Mans race is at night "when you have to drive more on feel" and there's a real feel of being alone in the car.Drivers reflect on their love for world's oldest endurance race.
Brendon Hartley's favourite time during the 24 hour Le Mans race is at night "when you have to drive more on feel" and there's a real feel of being alone in the car.
Brendon Hartley's favourite time during the 24 hour Le Mans race is at night "when you have to drive more on feel" and there's a real feel of being alone in the car.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans may be part of the nine-round World Endurance Championship, but this race is a celebration and the one everybody wants to compete in, let alone win.

Nothing else in long distance racing compares to the theatre, drama, pageantry and sheer magnificence of this one event.

Any driver worth his salt will talk about the history, the track, the passion and the atmosphere of racing at the oldest sports endurance race in the world.

Possibly without doubt, every driver at some time has said there's something magical about Le Mans and what a special place it is to race at.

So, on that note the Herald asked three of the four New Zealanders (Richie Stanaway was unavailable for comment) about to do battle twice around the clock what their thoughts are.

Earl Bamber (Frederic Makowiecki and Jorg Bergmeister), Porsche 911RSR - 2016 Le Mans winner "It's good to be back at the track. Being in a GT car this time is quite interesting [outright winner 2015 with Nico Hulkenberg and Nick Tandy].

"So in a funny sort of way I'm a rookie as the cars are so different [LMP1 vs GT]. If I approach the race like a rookie I'll learn a lot more and take more in. That's the best approach. Strategy and amount of time we do in the car is quite different. One good thing is you can see a lot out of the GT car. They're good fun to race [GT] as they slide around much more, which I enjoy.

"This year the speed difference is not much [GT 300km/h, LMP1 320km/h] but the LMP1 car get there a lot quicker. We get there at the end of the Mulsanne; they're there about a quarter of the way.

"The best time for me is as dawn approaches. As the sun comes up and you're still driving, it means you're still in the race."

Brendon Hartley (Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard) Porsche 919 Hybrid - reigning World Endurance Championship champion

"The pace this year is going to be very fast and it'll be really tough and fierce at the front. No one is going to have the luxury of being able to be conservative and bringing it home. The race is going to be exciting.

"It'll be hard that's for sure. My favourite time during the race is at night. That's when you get a bit of quiet time - that's not to say you can relax - it's a time when there's not much chatter from the team. You lose a lot of visual queues and you have drive more on feel, which I really love.

"There's a real feeling of being alone in the car and the whole new sensation of not being able to see much and driving by feel makes things almost surreal.

"It's the only time at Le Mans you get to be alone and you get to do what you've always wanted to do.

"It's a unique feeling to be in the racing zone with no distractions, and it's like our 'quiet' time."

Scott Dixon (Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe) Ford GT - Le Mans rookie but is a two-time Daytona 24 Hour winner

"I've tried for years and years to get to this race. I've always wanted to do it and become part of its history. It hasn't been possible until this year because there's always been a clash of dates [IndyCar].

"The best thing this year though, is that I get to race in a Ford GT on the 50th anniversary of Ford winning with Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren. It's pretty cool man.

"I'm really excited about racing at Le Mans and the first time I'll see the track is for practice.

"It should be a lot of fun and a nice situation racing with a lot of people I work with, which makes the transition much easier. I've known my teammates for a while now and have driven with them before.

"The one thing with this race is that you know where you stand (performance) against other manufacturers who could be sand bagging.

"It should be enjoyable, but we're there for one thing and that's to win."

In early practice Hartley and co were second fastest in LMP1 and Dixon and co were also second fastest in LM GT Pro.

The race starts at 1am tomorrow NZ time.

Pitstop

Darwin arrivals

After a four-week break, V8 Supercars have arrived at Hidden Valley, Darwin this weekend for round five of the series. There have been nine winners from the previous 11 races so far. Defending champion Mark Winterbottom sits on top of the points table with a 27-point lead over New Zealander Scott McLaughlin. The rest of the Kiwis are fifth (Shane McLaughlin), 14th (Fabian Coulthard), 24rd (Chris Pither) and 25th (Andre Heimgartner).

Hulme memorial run

Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the late Denny Hulme's world F1 championship. He still remains the only Kiwi to win the title, and in January 2017 a field of Formula One cars from the 1960s and 70s will descend on Taupo as part of the F5000 Tasman Cup Revival series. It also doubles as homage to the Race of Champions run in the same era.

Pikes Peak invitation

Tony Quinn, owner of Highlands Park and Hampton Downs, is one of only 100 drivers invited to compete in the 100th anniversary of the running of Pikes Peak, June 26.

The race is the second oldest motor sport event in the US behind the Indy 500. Kiwi Rod Millen had great success winning the unlimited class five times.

Queensland Rally

Kiwi rally driver Michael Young (co-driver Malcolm Read) are in action at this weekend's International Rally of Queensland; round two of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship. The 23-year-old lies third overall (first Production and Junior Cups) after the opening round at Rally Whangarei.

Evans in Azerbaijan

After two rounds of the GP2 championship, Kiwi Mitch Evans has a chance this weekend at Baku, Azerbaijan to build on the 18 points he picked up at Monaco. Evans lies 10th on the points table after he and the team struggled at the opening round in Spain. It'll be a level playing field for all the teams as it's GP2's first visit to the event.

UNDER THE HOOD

Alcohol appears to be the new cigarette sponsor for Formula One. In F1's heyday when it was watched live by millions, smoke sponsorship was all the rage. Now it's the time of the drinks manufacturers. With Heineken's announcement of a multi-million dollar deal to become a global sponsor, it joins Martini (Williams), Chandon and Johnnie Walker (McLaren) and Smirnoff and Kingfisher (Force India). While Heineken isn't sponsoring a team, it will want access to the garage.

- NZ Herald

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