24 Hours of Le Mans: Racing in the rain - tricky business for drivers!

24 Hours of Le Mans: Racing in the rain - tricky business for drivers!

Rain is not always easy to forecast but is often a crucial factor in any race, and free practice and qualifying for the 87th 24 Hours of Le Mans could well turn out to be wet! Loïc Duval (TDS Racing), who has competed at the French endurance classic eight times, tells us how the rain affects the car’s set-up and the driver’s approach.

At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the cars’ settings are adjusted in line with the drivers’ impressions but also depend on the weather conditions affecting the track. When it rains, the teams are thus forced to tweak their settings. “As a rule, we use greater aerodynamic load to give us more grip and to get the tyres warmed up and operational. Often, we adjust the car to make it more malleable, so it follows the track closely and reacts less abruptly to changes in grip,” Loïc Duval explains.

"We look through the side window to try and see where we are on the track!"
Loïc Duval, TDS Racing

The drivers also need to adapt their driving style, especially since the rain doesn’t stop them from attacking the circuit at high speed. “At Le Mans, you need to be extremely alert because the tiniest error can cost you so much. It’s more stressful in the rain because you have to be even more vigilant. Your visibility is seriously diminished. You no longer have the same reference points, so it’s more tiring than ever,”  Duval, who won the race in an Audi R18 e-tron for Audi Sport Team Joest in 2013, tells us.
With 62 cars on the track and the the prototypes and the GTEs competing at very different speeds, traffic management becomes extremely complicated when it starts to rain. The water spray projected by the slower cars creates an additional difficult for the fastest. “You don’t always realise when you’re watching on your TV screen, but when there are three cars one behind the other, you’re visibility is down to about 30 metres. In that case, you end up looking out your side window to try and work out where you are on the track!” With eight Le Mans 24 Hours starts to his name, Duval has already experienced those kind of conditions. “We also know that the weather changes very quickly here. So there’s no point starting to stress about it or you would never cope!” he says.

Another thing is that the weather can be vary enormously between free practice and qualifying, and the race itself. So what settings do the teams opt for? Pierre Ragues, driver of the #30 Oreca 07-Gibson for Duqueine Engineering (eleven 24 Hours of Le Mans starts) explains his strategy for 2019: “We’ll probably start the race with dry-track settings, the ones we used at the end of Test Day. Then, during refuelling, we’ll be able to make some quick adjustments, such as adding a bit of downforce. However, we won’t be able to alter the ride height or suspension settings. That’s just how it is in endurance racing.” 

And just to make things that little bit more complicated... on the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit, it can be fine on one side but raining on the other!


PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES DU MANS, WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2019, FREE PRACTICE. The Duqueine Engineering #30 Oreca 07-Gibson driven by NicolasJamin, Pierre Ragues and Romain Dumas will start the race at 15:00 on Saturday with its dry-track settings. 

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