Krohn Racing Anticipates Biggest Race of the Year: The 24 Hours of Le Mans
The 2013 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a special, historic race marking the eighth decade of the legendary event. Krohn Racing is eager to add their names to the history books with a class victory in the 80th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race, June 16-17.
The driving trio of team/owner/driver Tracy W. Krohn, Houston, Texas, Nic Jönsson of Sweden and currently living in Atlanta, Georgia and Italian Michele Rugolo hope to take their No. 57 Krohn Racing Ferrari F458 to the GTE-Am class victory. The popular green-and blue liveried car is one of the 2013 full season competitors in the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Krohn Team is no stranger to Le Mans, having stood on the podium in 2007 in second place and 2009 in third. Last year they were leading in class when an engine failure sidelined them at the halfway mark.
In 2011, Krohn Racing had podium finishes in three of seven Intercontinental Le Mans Cup Series races, including victories at Sebring and Petit Le Mans, and a third-place finish at the 6 Hours of Zhuhai, China. This season the Krohn Team is currently third in the FIA/WEC Team Championship in GTE-Am but has yet to place a podium finish in the new FIA World Endurance Championship in two of eight rounds.
This year will mark the Krohn Team’s first attempt at the Circuit de at La Sarthe enduro in the Ferrari F458.
TRACY W. KROHN, Krohn Racing Team Owner/Driver, No. 57 Krohn Racing Ferrari FF458 GTE-Am: The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been called the ultimate test of man and machine. Talk about the ways the race tests both man and machine. “Le Mans is a race like no other. Although there are other 24-hour races, and they are all challenging, Le Mans has its’ own special challenges. For example, a single lap is over eight miles long. If something goes wrong out there, and you can’t nurse the car back to the pits, that’s it. You’re stuck! Although it is a very short night in the dark in France in June, weather conditions are unpredictable and when you combine that with the very dark conditions, as most of the track is unlit, it definitely tests you. The most difficult part as a driver is the lack of sleep. Although you have time to rest during stints, I would never call it real sleep.”
2012 will be your seventh time competing at Le Mans. Does it get any easier over time? “Le Mans is always a difficult and very special track. I would never call it easy. That will just get you in trouble. I would venture to say that becoming more familiar with the circuit definitely helps. Every lap you take at Le Mans is different so the more experience you have on the track the better it is for you as a driver.”
The GTE-Am class this year has 13 cars entered including five Ferraris. Talk about the formidable competition in your class. “I say it every year, but it’s true, the competition gets more difficult. The GTE-Am class has grown since last year in ILMC and they are all first-rate competitors. It makes the racing fun but demanding.”
What do you feel are the strengths of your driving team trio at Krohn Racing? “Nic, Michele and I like a similar set-up and that has worked well. Nic and I have been co-drivers for a long time so we have an excellent rhythm between us. Although Michele just started driving with us last year, he fell right into place with Nic and I and we’ve been very happy with him as a co-driver.”
NIC JONSSON, No. 57 Krohn Racing Ferrari 430 GTE-Am: The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been called the ultimate test of man and machine. Talk about the ways the race tests both man and machine. “I think the fact you racing for 24 hours makes it a real test both mentally and physically for the driver, even if you don’t drive for more than 3 hours at the time. The fact you don’t get to sleep makes it very difficult and tiring that opens the possibility for people making mistakes easier. It's also a real reliability test for the equipment. Today’s machines are very electronically and hydraulically advanced, with very fine-tuned parts and equipment that can’t be out of tune at all before the car will act up and dysfunction. I believe the actual mechanical parts and equipment on the cars are very solid and well proven, but the rest really is sensitive and fragile and has to be taken care of very gently and in a very specific way in all sorts of weather conditions and everything else.”
What is your favorite part of the circuit? And what is the most challenging part? “I like the more technical portions of the track such the Porsche Curves and Dunlop Corners. The most challenging is to judge the closing speed of the LMP 1 cars, especially at dark with their glaring lights. This makes it very hard to judge the distance and how fast they are closing on you. This is something you really need to pay close attention.”
The GTE-Am class this year has 13 cars entered including five Ferraris. Talk about the formidable competition in your class. “The competition gets tougher for every year at Le Mans. I believe this new GTE-Am class really has started to come on strong with many very capable, good teams and driver combinations. After looking at the entry list, I will say there are at least seven to eight cars that can win this race along with us. I think it's great that so many teams have entered the class. This makes for great, hard competition and racing. The interesting thing is that we are one of very few GT teams running on Dunlop tires and I hope this will be a trump card for us.”
At Le Mans you have the challenge of night driving but also you often face driving in the rain. How do you keep focused and mentally alert at all times? “The night driving is very much like driving in the rain. You need to give yourself a little more margin and stay very alert of flag signals since you can’t see much else! If you add the rain it makes it very interesting and difficult. I think the most important thing is to not try to become a hero and give yourself plenty of margins, along with being smart and let the prototype cars by at places where both of you has as clear a sight as possible. The mental part is very important and you just need to tell yourself that the most important factor is to stay out on track and out of trouble so you don’t need to make any unscheduled pit stops. The best preparation for this is to know the track and all its places where it may puddle up, etc. So, like everything else you do, PREPARATION is the key to success.”
MICHELE RUGOLO, No. 57 Krohn Racing Ferrari F458 GTE-Am: The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been called the ultimate test of man and machine. Talk about the ways the race tests both man and machine. “It’s a 24 hour race so it is difficult. We are three drivers and each of us can drive a maximum of three hours so it means that you don't have much time to sleep. You also have to be in the circuit much earlier in the morning on race day and it is difficult because you should continue for 24 hours almost full throttle.”
You and Tracy drove at the Le Mans test last week and had a few challenges. How do you turn that learning experience into valuable knowledge as you go into this year’s race? “The car should be fast. We know the problem and we can fix them with the help of Dunlop guys and some new tire compounds.”
What is your favorite part of the circuit? And what is the most challenging part? “The circuit is nice for the entire lap and it is difficult for the entire length because of the high speed.”
The GTE-Am class this year has 13 cars entered including five Ferraris. Talk about the formidable competition in your class. “We have a great competition in the Am class but I know our line-up is good. We just need to keep our speed without taking care too much on the performance of the other cars.”
At Le Mans you have the challenge of night driving but also you often face driving in the rain. How do you keep focused and mentally alert at all times? “This, for sure, is the most difficult part. The problem is that you need focus but also the faster cars have to keep the concentration but this does not always happen. This is exactly the main point to take the car if you want to finish the race.”
JEFF HAZELL, Krohn Racing Motorsports Manager: Ferrari F458 this year and faces a formidable field. How does the engineer and crew prepare with a new car when there was only brief time at the Le Mans Test learn the car’s nuances? “We have the benefit of the knowledge from Michelotto, as there were several Ferrari F458’s that competed at Le Mans in 2011. Also we know the circuit well and, of course, raced the Ferrari F430 here too.
“Our test day last week was useful. We did have some issues and rain that reduced our on track time but our set up is not too far off. We need to trim some more straight line speed into the car and get the tires to optimum temperatures.”
Patience is so critical at a 24-hour race. How do the Krohn Racing drivers measure their patience throughout all the challenges at a race like this? “Drivers vary in character. Our drivers range from naturally patient to fairly impatient with one who can be either! So the Team has to provide a calm atmosphere, use meetings, briefings and pit to car radio to carefully maintain a cool approach when circumstances around us or the driver, set traps to annoy and temp impatient decisions or reactions.”
There is a lot of coordination that goes into this event. How do you stay on top of all the facets involved? “Although we are a small team we have staff with plenty of relevant experience. Being a small group allows a structure permitting easy communication, with each person aware of the others tasks and able to assist and ensure nothing gets overlooked. We have well proven procedures to adhere to and the majority of the team members have worked with each other for many years which definitely helps!”
DAVID BROWN, Krohn Racing Team Manager/Race Engineer: The 24 Hours of Le Mans has been called the ultimate test of man and machine. Talk about the ways the race tests both man and machine. “Running a racing car for 24 hours with pit stops every hour accumulates a lot of mileage on the car and gives all the car systems a thorough beating from prolonged high stress and wear and tear. Similarly for the crew! The weather could, and normally does, do just about everything, from hot sun to heavy rain. The drivers have to cope with pouring rain at night, and the odd lights of dusk and dawn, as well as the daylight running. The drivers go for rest periods but we wake them up to drive and expect them to be fully on their game when they get in the car, and deliver it unscathed several hours later when the next driver gets in. The crew has to perform flawlessly throughout, resting in between pit stops but coping with both routine servicing at pit stops and the unexpected, for which we try to plan.”
Michele and Tracy drove at the Le Mans test last week and had a few challenges. How do you turn that learning experience into valuable knowledge as you go into this year’s race? “Every lap at Le Mans yields valuable knowledge to help us in the race. We know we have to have a reliable car, zero errors from the crew and zero errors from the drivers. But even then you can be a victim of another’s error, which will require quick thinking and sound judgment and skills, not only in the car but in the pits too. The ultimate pace of the car is seldom the factor which determines the winner. It’s the ability to lap, hour after hour, consistently in diverse conditions with a car which is easy and predictable to drive that determines the winner.”
You stay up for the 24 hours of the race, plus the before and after. How do you stay alert and focused to make the race calls? How do you keep the team motivated and at their best for each pit stop? “I rely on all natural products, like caffeine and good snacks, and the knowledge that I cannot let the team down by not being on top of everything for the whole race. I take the time to go for a walk around the garage and the pit wall when I can and keep warm at night. I give the guys warning prior to the pit stops over the crew radio, but otherwise in the middle of the night I let them rest without unnecessary interruption.”