24h Le Mans
24 Hours of Le Mans - Advice for rookies
Each year, new drivers (known as rookies), make their Le Mans début. For most, competing in the world-famous endurance race is a dream come true, yet it is also one of the greatest challenges any racing driver can face.
This year, the line-up includes 44 rookies, almost a quarter of the drivers. Some are experienced in other disciplines such as Formula One or IndyCar and should have little trouble adapting to the demands of endurance racing. Among them, Tony Kanaan (winner of the Indianapolis 500 last year), Yuji Kunimoto (2016 Super Formula champion) and Rubens Barrichello who has raced a record 323 Grand Prix. “I don’t really know what to expect,” says the Brazillian jovially. “But I’ve raced at Monaco, Monza and Indianapolis. As long as I’m learning I feel young.”Jean-Eric Vergne, who has 58 Formula One races under his belt, is just as relaxed: “I clocked 3.32 on my first lap on Test Day. I felt comfortable straightaway. I love the circuit.”
Other rookies have less experience to draw on. “Youth isn’t a problem”, says Romain Dumas, two-time winner of the race. “In 2001, I was part of a new generation of drivers who didn’t come to endurance for want of a ‘better’ option, but because we really believed in the discipline. These days there are lots of young professionals who could teach us a thing or two - guys like Alexander Lynn, Matthieu Vaxivière and Thomas Laurent. To win Le Mans, you have to drive fast. I prefer to share a car with a fast, young beginner than with an older slower driver.”
Newbies are quick to learn, provided you give them the right instructions. “Pace yourself. That’s the only advice I can give”, says Olivier Beretta, who has driven the 24 Hours of Le Mans 20 times. "It’s a long week and it’s very draining, especially when it’s hot like this. You need to look after yourself, whether you’re out with friends or doing the parade on Friday. Sleep, eat, drink - that’s my secret.” Others give more precise instructions. “I ask my teammates not to overtake on the corners between Mulsanne and Indianapolis", says Emmanuel Collard (22 participations). "The GT drivers sometimes don’t see us coming through and swerve into our path. That happened to Mike Rockenfeller a few years ago. It’s better to lose a couple of seconds than lose the race.” Wise words from a Le Mans veteran. “I ask drivers to stop on the inside of the circuit if they break down”, says Jan Lammers, who has also raced the 24 Hours 22 times. "A mechanic can get to the scene easily by scooter on the inside, but it can take over an hour to reach an incident via the outside of the track. That can make all the difference!”*
On Wednesday evening, the Corvette art car hit the wall in the karting section in the first few minutes of free practice. Christian Philippon was caught out by the off camber on the tricky curve. Le Mans can be cruel with rookies.
*Mechanics are not authorised to actually touch a car outside the pits. Only the driver is allowed to make repairs.
Photo: The 44 cars on the 24 Hours of Le Mans grid this year. Among them, experienced drivers Rubens Barrichello (1st row, 5th from left), Tony Kanaan (1st row, 8th from left), Yuji Kunimoto (1st row, 10th from left) and Jean-Eric Vergne (top left).