THE OLDSMOBILE UPDATE
"AMERICA'S TEAM" IN LE MANS: THE BID FOR RACING'S TRIPLE CROWN
Saturday, June 15, 1996; 11:00 a.m. after warm-up
LE MANS PRE-RACE NOTES 'N' QUOTES
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA. After months of anticipation, weeks of hard work, and days of high anxiety, Oldsmobile's Aurora V8 is about to make its competition debut in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Wayne Taylor, lead driver for the Doyle Racing Oldsmobile Riley & Scott team, completed the final warm-up this morning at 10:30 a.m. The Riley & Scott crew installed a fresh 4.0-liter Motorsport Aurora V8 yesterday, bolted on a new set of Pirelli tires, and made final chassis adjustments in preparation for the 3:00 p.m. start.
While Taylor is competing at Le Mans for the eighth time in his career, his co-drivers Jim Pace and Scott Sharp are rookies at the 24-hour classic. The following are their comments as they prepared for a long day and night of driving at the Sarthe circuit.
JIM PACE, 35, of Jacksonville, Fla., was an integral part of the victorious Riley & Scott team at the Daytona 24-hour and Sebring 12-hour races.
When you began your racing career, did you every imagine that you would be racing at Le Mans?
It was beyond a dream. When a racer thinks about what he would like to accomplish in his career, Le Mans is such an ambitious goal that it doesn't even make the list -- it's like wanting to go to the moon. It's something I've always known about, but it seemed like the opportunity was unattainable.
To be here now, with a team like Riley & Scott, with the support of Oldsmobile and Pirelli, and with teammates like Wayne and Scott is difficult to describe.
What are your impressions of Le Mans?
This is the biggest race in my career. Today is my first time at the 24-hour as either a spectator or participant. The grandeur of the event is incredible; yesterday at the drivers parade, there were thousands of people lining the streets. The people of Le Mans are so enthusiastic about the race, you share their excitement.
A lot of people are cheering for us as the American team. To see Oldsmobile here for the first time, and to be a part of a team that has a legitimate shot at the first American win since 1969 and the first sweep of the Triple Crown is so big.
How do you deal with the distractions that accompany such a big event?
Once I get to the race track, I mentally switch gears and focus on driving the car. When I'm racing, Le Mans is just another track. The first few laps I drove in pre-qualifying, I found myself saying, 'Wow! This is Le Mans!' But after a few times around, I began to concentrate on the corners, the braking points, and the gear changes. When I'm in the car, I feel very calm."
How will you spend the 24 hours?
I usually don't sleep during an endurance race. I've done several 24-hour races before, from showroom stock to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. When I'm out of the car, I'm so keyed up that it's difficult to sleep. I'll try to rest between stints. If things are going well, the enthusiasm keeps you going; if things turn sour, you feel so bad that you don't want to sleep either.
What is your approach to the race?
Now that we've gotten into an endurance mode, caution is the game plan. I don't think we're going to lead this race early. The assets of this team are pit work and consistency. That has made this team successful in the past, and it will be the key to whatever success we have at Le Mans. The only lap we need to lead is the last lap.
SCOTT SHARP, 28, of San Ramon, Calif., is also making his first start at Le Mans. Sharp is a two-time Trans-Am champion, and co-champion of the Indy Racing League.
What does it mean to you to race at Le Mans?
As I was growing up, I always heard about Le Mans as a race where the greatest drivers in the world competed. As I was coming up through the ranks, I had great respect for any driver who had raced at Le Mans. To finally get to participate, and to be a part of such a quality effort with Riley & Scott and Oldsmobile is very exciting.
Is this a special year for Scott Sharp after winning the Daytona 24-hour, driving for A.J. Foyt in the Indy 500, and now racing in Le Mans?
The drama and the emotion you feel at Indy and Le Mans are very similar. The start of the race, the crowd, the energy you feel are overwhelming. Le Mans is Europe's Indy 500, and to be able to race in both events has made this a special season.
How will you spend the time when you aren't driving?
I didn't sleep at Daytona for 38 hours, and I doubt that I'll be able to sleep tonight. Generally I'm better driving than I am sitting around, so I hope that I have plenty of time in the car. As long as I can hear the cars on the track, I can never relax enough to sleep.
Do you enjoy driving at night?
I *love* driving at night. It's always been something I've liked since I started racing showroom stock cars in a 24-hour race at Mosport. Driving at night is a challenge. Some teams and drivers tend to slow down in darkness, but I don't expect that we will. The night is when we can gain ground on the competition.
Is there a part of the track you especially enjoy?
I really like the first section of the track. The first four turns are high-speed twisties where you tap the brakes, turn, and stand on the throttle. Going into the chicanes, our car goes in *deep*; I think we can outbrake anybody. The Porsche Curves are very daunting -- you carry so much speed, you're flat out in fourth gear, and they're blind. With only 20 laps on the course, I'm still not entirely comfortable with that part of the course. I figure by the end of the race, I should be comfortable everywhere!
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