JRM Racing continues its preparations for its debut Le Mans 24 Hours campaign this weekend as it completes its first laps of the legendary La Sarthe track at the pre-race test day on Sunday 3 June.
This year the reigning FIA GT1 world champions have made the step up to the highest category of sportscar racing, LMP1, competing against works teams including Audi and Toyota in Le Mans. The team, owned by James Rumsey and managed by F1 veteran Nigel Stepney, will field a petrol-engined Honda Performance Development ARX-03a driven by 2009 Le Mans winner David Brabham, sportscar legend Peter Dumbreck and F1 driver Karun Chandhok.
The team is also competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship and has recently contested the 12 hours of Sebring, during which it came close to a podium finish, and the 6 Hours of Spa.
In advance of the team’s arrival into Le Mans, we caught up with team principal James Rumsey and the three drivers on their expectations for the coming week.
Q&A with team principal, James Rumsey
Challenges drive people to overcome adversity, which sorts out the men from the boys.
This will be your first Le Mans as a team and you’ve already gone straight into LMP1. How much of a challenge is that?
It certainly is a challenge as a team and a company, but we enjoy challenging ourselves in everything we do. With GT1 in 2010, we set up the team from scratch in eight weeks and won the second race we competed in. In 2011, we set up a second team in six weeks and won the GT World Championship. In 2012, we built the prototype car in 10 days and very nearly came second in our first-ever race at Sebring. This shows the depth of strength we have in our team, the motivation, but also how seriously we take our racing. Challenges drive people to overcome adversity, which sorts out the men from the boys.
Your driver line-up is strong and you have one of the most experienced drivers at Le Mans in David Brabham; how is the team coming together?
We worked with David in GT1 last year and we are delighted to continue this association into 2012. He is a consummate professional and his vast experience at Le Mans and in racing sportscars is a big help. He knows the car very well from his time in ALMS, which helps the engineers to get the set up right quickly. In addition to his obvious racing talent and experience, his knowledge of the small things surrounding Le Mans make a big difference to the team. We also know Peter very well and his experience in racing is second to none. He competed with us in the GT1 championship in 2010 and 2011 and knows the team well; having that consistency will be of tremendous benefit as our learning curve is already very steep. Karun completes the driver line-up – he’s young, hungry and ambitious to get going at Le Mans. I think that our drivers are the strongest line up outside of Audi, which I hope will be the extra factor in winning the WEC privateers’ class this year.
What have the key development points been this year in making the transition from GT1 to LMP1?
It has been a steep learning curve for everyone. There are many new systems and regulations that we have had to learn very quickly to be competitive. For instance, in GT1 we would work solely on driver feedback as there was no telemetry allowed, whereas in LMP1 we are very reliant on the telemetry systems to provide information on the running of the car. It’s the biggest challenge we’ve had so far in our racing career, but from what we have done before and the success we have achieved, we are very confident in our own abilities.
What are the realistic hopes for Le Mans?
Everyone enters wanting to win and anything can happen in 24 hours of racing, but let’s not set our expectations too high. We’ll be pleased to finish and happy to be the first non-works team. But we’ll take the race as it comes and just aim to do the best job we possibly can.
What are the aims for the test day this weekend?
We need to achieve a baseline set up with the car for the race, work on the strategy, get the drivers familiar with the car and the circuit, and generally get set up and prepared for the big event. We are treating it as a shakedown for the big day in all areas, but hoping to get some real work done – Nigel’s a hard taskmaster!
Q&A with David Brabham
As well as Formula 1, David’s experience includes seasons in Japanese GTC, ALMS and the European Le Mans Series, plus outright victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2009. Having driven for JRM Racing’s sister team Sumo Power GT last year, the UK-based Australian’s association with JRM Racing continues for a second season.
You have competed in Le Mans almost every year since 1992 – what keeps drawing you back? What is it about Le Mans that you love?
Le Mans is extremely special to me. Even as a kid I loved the idea of Le Mans and used to read all the magazines and watch the Derek Bells and Jacky Ickx’s of the world going round the track. When it came to doing my first race, all the way back in 1992, just going there and feeling the experience of the place was mind blowing. In a sense that feeling hasn’t changed, even though this will be my 18th time at Le Mans this year! I still get the same chill going through my body when I arrive at the track as it’s such a historical event. The track itself is amazing and the prestige in winning the event is something else for a driver.
How have you brought that experience to JRM Racing?
They are drawing on my experience all the time, and I am very happy to be able to guide them. We are learning all the time, in races, on the simulator and getting every single factor up to speed. I’ve been able to contribute a fair amount but this year is a learning curve and we are all very much aware of this. Everyone knows the task ahead and I will try and help everyone as much as possible but equally everyone has to find their own footing.
How is the atmosphere in the team?
Whenever you get a new group of people together it takes time to gel as a group but I would say that after Spa I felt that the team and the team-mates were all communicating really well – we had a great understanding and know what we need to do to take us all to the next level. It’s getting better step-by-step and the potential that the team has is great.
How has the team progressed since the first race in Sebring? When we arrived in Sebring it was such a mad rush, but we got through it and we ran competitively. After that we regrouped, went to Spa and although we didn’t get the best out of the package we learnt so much from that race and are validating everything in the sim. I am much more confident now going to Le Mans than I was going into Spa.
Your testing programme is slightly unusual – can you explain…
It’s certainly a bit different! I’m racing in two championships this year. JRM and the WEC is my priority but I am also racing in the Blancpain GT3 series with United Autosport. Unfortunately there is a clash of dates around the Le Mans test day and I’ll be at Silverstone on Saturday so flying down on Saturday night, signing on Sunday morning for the test, testing for an hour or so and then back in the plane and back to Silverstone. It’s not ideal but at the same time it allows me to see if the team is going in the right direction and for Peter and Karun to get more time in the car and out on track.
Q&A with Karun Chandhok
Following his F1 appearances with Team Lotus in 2011, Madras-born Karun has firmly established himself as a world-class competitor. His results make him India’s most successful racing driver and consequently he possesses a CV that records race-winning seasons in British Formula 3, A1GP and GP2.
What are thoughts going into the final build up for the race?
We are three drivers, the races are obviously a lot longer – equal to 18 Grands Prix! – so it’s a totally different challenge.
The race has a huge history and is one of the big three races in the world, along with the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. It is one of those things you have to do in your career so I am very excited. It is a very different concept for me as a racer coming from single seaters; we are three drivers, the races are obviously a lot longer – equal to 18 Grands Prix! – so it’s a totally different challenge. There is a lot of emphasis on reliability and consistency and making sure you stay out of trouble as much as possible.
What have you found to be the main differences between F1 and Le Mans cars?
The cars in the WEC are completely different to F1 – they are a lot wider due to the regulations. Theoretically you are meant to have space for a second seat (even if it’s full of electronic boxes!) and the cars produce a lot more downforce as the square area of the car is so big. There is however less power than F1 and the cars are 400 kg heavier. The weight has actually been one of the biggest things to get used to – I’ve never driven a car this heavy before, but because they are heavy they have a lot of grip in the corners. The biggest change on track though is the racing. In F1 you would pass three to four cars in an entire race if you were lucky, but here you pass five or six in one lap! That’s where the pleasure comes from; the wheel to wheel racing.
How much have you learnt after two races with JRM Racing?
It's been a challenge to get used to the radically different mentality of endurance racing compared to F1. David and Peter have been there and done that, and being a bit older they don’t have the insecurity you see in F1, which I think in all honesty I still have. I’m getting better at it, but it’s really nice having team-mates that are a good bit more relaxed than I’m used to. I still need to understand the mentality that in this discipline of racing, the more you help your team-mate, the better it is for everyone. In F1, you always push to be the fastest in the team and hold a little back of info from your team-mate, because you want to beat them.
Following Spa you stayed on for testing, how did that go?
We had a very good test at Spa, which we needed because the race weekend was a bit of a disaster. We spent a lot of time choosing the right tyres we may need for Le Mans and trying a few things which we couldn't do. It was great for the engineers because it was their first day of testing with the car this year and it allowed us all to experiment a bit.
Q&A with Peter Dumbreck
Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, Peter possesses an illustrious history of sportscar and endurance racing. Having been a former works driver at top level, he famously contested the Le Mans 24-hours in 1999 with Mercedes. He then went on to compete in the FIA GT Championship, DTM, Japanese Super GT and the Le Mans Series. He joins JRM’s WEC team after a two-year spell with the JR Motorsports Group, having driven one of its GT1 cars in 2010 and 2011.
This is your first time back in prototype racing in over 12 years – how does that feel?
It’s good to be back in the prototypes, it feels like my career has gone full circle! I drove a prototype for Mercedes in 1999 and here I am going back to Le Mans pretty much 13 years later. In that time I’ve done so much other racing and gained so much experience – I’ve done GT racing, touring cars, single seaters, so it’s good to be back in a high downforce car with an open top, taking a lot of g's through the corner. The last time I was in prototypes obviously I had a fairly spectacular accident but it’s not something I think of now. I’ve been back to the circuit three times in a GT car since I had the accident in 1999 and it’s not really something that’s on my mind. I remember the first time I went back in 2006 I gave it a brief thought, but for me it’s very black and white: I need to drive as well and as fast as I can and whatever happens on track, happens.
You’ve been with JRM Racing since 2010. Has that familiarity helped in the challenge this year?
I’ve been with JRM since 2010 and was the first driver they ever signed, which was quite an honour. It’s very different now as everyone has taken on a new challenge: the team is learning, the drivers are learning, we are all gradually adapting. It’s a new experience every race and we are all gelling and coming together excellently. We have already overcome a few little issues and we are all moving forward. I think we’ve got a bright future together.
You recently competed in the Nurburgring 24 Hours. How does it feel to do two endurance races so close together?
It certainly gets your head into the way of thinking! When you are doing 24 hours of racing you need to keep focused, concentrated on the task in hand and motivate the team around you to do the best job possible. It’s great preparation for the Le Mans 24 Hours, which is one of the biggest races in the world. You want to approach it in the best way and not make any mistakes. I can put my mind fully into Le Mans and use the Nurburgring experience as a warm up.
What are your aims for Le Mans?
There are two ways of thinking about it: you can say we will go out absolutely flat out and if everything works we could come out with the podium. Or you could look at it the other way and say let’s not risk reliability and aim for a finish in our first year. Generally speaking from a racing drivers’ point of view you go for the first option and push 100% and see what happens! We will find somewhere half way and see where we are and be sure that the car will make it to the end. There are some good positions up for grabs, maybe the highest petrol car, let’s see.