Gleason, Fairbanks and Huertgen Are Still Running Near Halfway Mark at Le Mans; Trio Is Using Race to Raise Funds for The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation LE MANS, France, June 16, 8:30 p.m. Central Time Ã¢â‚¬â€ As the 24 Hours of Le Mans ...
Gleason, Fairbanks and Huertgen Are Still Running Near Halfway Mark at Le Mans; Trio Is Using Race to Raise Funds for The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation
LE MANS, France, June 16, 8:30 p.m. Central Time â€” As the 24 Hours of Le Mans approached its eleventh hour Saturday night, Chris Gleason of Johnstown, Pa., was taking over the wheel from the other American on the Roock-Knight Hawk Racing Lola Nissan #32 team, Rick Fairbanks of Greenville, S.C., to begin his third stint.
The third driver on the team and one of only three women competing in the worldâ€™s greatest endurance sports car race, Claudia Huertgen of Aachen, Germany, was trying to get some sleep so sheâ€™ll be fresh for her next period behind the wheel of the car, which is carrying the colors of Gleason Financial, National Paintball Supply and the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation.
The race will conclude on Fatherâ€™s Day, but itâ€™s Mother Nature who has been making her presence known this year. The race has been plagued by rain off and on all day, including some torrential downpours. The weather forecast is for only light rain the rest of the night (itâ€™s about 2 a.m. there now), with showers Sunday morning.
The event is being broadcast live on Speedvision.
Gleason called the states shortly before he buckled into the car around the eleventh-hour mark, and reported that the rain has made conditions â€œvery difficultâ€ and â€œa bit unnerving,â€ but the team is still running and trying to get Father Time on their side.
At the eleventh-hour mark the car was fifth in the LMP 675 class despite the track conditions and a little off-track excursion.
â€œI spun out on the Mulsanne Hairpin and damaged some of the suspension and the wing,â€ Gleason reported. â€œIt took about an hour and a half to fix it; the Roock-Knight Hawk Racing crew is doing a fantastic job.
â€œThe conditions are just terrible,â€ he added. â€œThe car just steps out on you, and at 160 mph or so itâ€™s unnerving a bit. Weâ€™re not even to the halfway point but weâ€™re just trying to keep doing laps and let the race come to us, which it is already doing to a certain extent.
â€œThe front end just washes out even with rain tires on, and the brakes are a difficult situation too,â€ he continued. â€œCarbon-fiber brakes require a lot of heat to work well and you need to get heat in the tires too, and itâ€™s rainy and cold so you just have to do your best to be very, very careful.â€
Huertgen qualified the car 30th overall out of 48 cars and sixth in the LMP 675 class, and she drove the first stint. Gleason drove next and then Fairbanks did his first stint, and the rotations continued. At the halfway point it should have been Huertgenâ€™s turn again, but team manager Fabian Roock asked Gleason to do another stint this time so Huertgen could get some more rest.
The team was fourth in class by the two-hour mark, when parts of the course were dry and sunny and parts were wet and cloudy, but the rain has made everything harder than anyone expected.
Gleason says the event is spectacular through and through.
â€œThe crowds are incredible,â€ he said. â€œGM and Audi built multi-story buildings for hospitality just for this race. They have air-conditioning and everything, but as soon as the race is over theyâ€™ll be dismantled and wonâ€™t be rebuilt until itâ€™s time for the race to be run next year.â€
Gleason, who is a devoted supporter of causes to aid the disabled and the disadvantaged, is conducting a fund-raiser for The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation as part of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Fans and companies were asked to donate $100 an hour in U.S. funds, with a minimum of $600, for every hour the car is still running in the 24-hour enduro.
Fans and companies can participate in that program even after the event by simply making their checks out to The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation and mailing them to: 411 Dorman St., Indianapolis, Ind. 46202-3647. For more information call 317-236-9999 or 317-201-0729, or see the Internet Web site at www.samschmidt.org. The foundation helps individuals overcome spinal cord injuries and other debilitating illnesses by facilitating scientific research, medical treatment, rehabilitation and technology advances.
The foundation was organized last year by Indy Racing team owner Sam Schmidt, who was a popular Indy car driver until he was involved in an Indy car crash during a practice session on Jan. 6, 2000 and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. This weekend Schmidt is cheering Gleasonâ€™s Le Mans effort on from pitside at the Indy Racing Northern Light Series race at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Colorado, where Richie Hearn is substituting for Schmidtâ€™s regular driver, Davey Hamilton. The latter was injured in a crash last Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway and is being treated at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.