A lap of Le Mans with Andy Wallace The 24 hours of Le Mans is one of the most famous and challenging motor races in the world. For a sports car driver it is the single most important and prestigious event on the racing calendar. One of Dyson...
A lap of Le Mans with Andy Wallace
The 24 hours of Le Mans is one of the most famous and challenging motor races in the world. For a sports car driver it is the single most important and prestigious event on the racing calendar.
One of Dyson Racing's super-experienced sportscar drivers, and arguably one of the most successful in terms of his race-winning achievements, is Andy Wallace. The ALMS and Grand-Am regular, who won Le Mans in a TWR Jaguar in 1988, is approaching his 16th event at the La Sarthe track - more than any other Briton on the grid.
His view on what it takes to succeed in the biggest motorsport test of man and machine is based on many years of hard-earned experience, and he has already been able to bring that experience to bear in a very positive way with the Creation Autosportif team with whom he is contesting the 73rd running of Le Mans. The relatively new team is making its debut this year, and Wallace, together with Creation's regular drivers Nicolas Minassian and Jamie Campbell-Walter, is anxious to fulfil the promise shown to date by the electric blue DBA-Judd.
Below is Andy Wallace's lap of Le Mans:
"The circuit itself is very fast, with long straights and quick corners, and demands much from both man and machine. It features high top speeds and areas of heavy braking. Successful cars need to have speed, durability and extreme aerodynamic efficiency.
"Oh, and by the way, for a driver this is one of the most exhilarating circuits in use today, and certainly one of my favourites.
"From the start/finish line there is a short straight heading towards the Dunlop Chicane. You just reach 6th gear and about 260kmh as the road bends gently right. With the road still turning you have to brake and go down into 2nd gear, taking care not to let the rear of the car get away from you.
"Dunlop is a tight left followed by a slightly faster right. I use 2nd for the left which helps keep the car tight in to the apex, into 3rd before the right. Then gently feed on as much power as possible through the corner, up to 4th for the blast downhill to the Esses. Before you get there you have to negotiate a flat out left/right which leads you into the Esses. It's easy flat, but causes a few problems if you catch slower traffic at this point.
"The Esses are a quick left then right, taken in 3rd or 4th gear. You arrive in 4th or 5th, go down one gear, and then keep as much momentum as possible. You can go quicker than you first think. It's bumpy and the road drops away towards the exit, so you need to stay tight to the right-hand apex before the short sprint to Tertre Rouge".
"Tertre Rouge is a short 3rd or 4th gear right-hand corner. It's important to get a clean exit, as it leads onto one of the fastest straights. No real problems here, except for a dip in the road just after the apex, which can unsettle the rear.
"The straight down to the first chicane gives the driver a brief "rest" before heavy braking for the right-left-right chicane. The quickest cars are travelling at over 310kmh here. It's hard to pick out just where the corner is, especially at night. From as early as possible in the week you need to pick out the distance markers in order to get your bearings. You can brake incredibly late if the car has enough downforce, and then pull the car into the first apex with the brake still on, and down to 3rd gear. There is always some understeer through the left part, then you can go full throttle moments later and onto the next straight leading down to the second chicane.
"The second chicane is basically the same as the first, but in reverse. The same applies here; except that the arrival speed is about 5kmh less, meaning you can brake a few metres later. The exit is bumpy, but there is no problem using full throttle. This leads you onto the straight towards Mulsanne corner.
"Mulsanne corner is a slow 1st or 2nd gear right-hander. You arrive at about 290kmh, and can brake quite deep. It's bumpy and easy to overshoot the corner here though, so you need to ensure you drag enough speed off before turning-in. Traction is difficult, so you must feed the power on gently before the blast down to Indianapolis.
"You approach Indianapolis at around 310kmh. This is one of my favourite corners. The road is quite narrow, but you can carry massive speed through the right-hander in 5th or 6th gear then must immediately jump on the brakes to lose enough speed to make the 3rd gear left-hander. This part is banked around the apex, but level on the exit, so it's easy to suddenly use up more road than you thought on the exit.
"Next comes Arnage, a slow 1st gear right-hander. It is difficult to stop for this one, and therefore easy to overshoot. The exit is slippery and uneven, so wheel spin is a problem. This leads to the twisty but flat-out run to the Porsche curves.
"The Porsche curves are a flowing combination of fast sweepers. You arrive in 6th gear at about 280kmh, go down to 4th under braking, and then keep as much throttle and momentum on as possible through the right-left-left-right-left. These are quick corners and are important for a good lap time. If the car is working well here you can win time. The last part is an off camber left. It's easy to slide off the edge of the road on the exit, and you need to lose speed in a hurry if you feel yourself running out of road. Just after the exit there is a flat-out right-left taken in 5th gear on the way to the Ford chicane.
"The Ford chicane is really two left-right chicanes back to back. I use 3rd gear in the first one before downshifting to 2nd for the final corner. This leads back onto the pit straight, and into another lap of this amazing circuit.
"It takes quite a number of laps around Le Mans to feel comfortable with the circuit and the high speeds. With each lap you complete, you "nibble" at the lap time, braking deeper and deeper into the chicanes as you get acclimatised, and carry more and more speed through the quicker corners. As you get close to the limit, the feeling is very satisfying.
"By the end of the 24-hour race (if all goes well!), you will have completed well over a hundred laps (per driver), and feel as though you could drive around the place blindfolded.
A year later, and you find yourself going through the learning curve all over again, in a new car. I wouldn't miss it for the world!"
Creation will be next seen on the Le Mans track when practice/qualifying starts at 7pm (local time) on Wednesday 15th June. Four hours of track time are available on both Wednesday and Thursday. The race itself begins at 4pm (local) on Saturday, 18th June and finishes at 4pm on Sunday.