GRITTY DRIVE REWARDS LIZ HALLIDAY AND INTERSPORT RACING AT LE MANS Europe-based American racing driver and equestrian Liz Halliday today realised one of her life's ambitions by completing the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world's greatest...
GRITTY DRIVE REWARDS LIZ HALLIDAY AND INTERSPORT RACING AT LE MANS
Europe-based American racing driver and equestrian Liz Halliday today realised one of her life's ambitions by completing the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world's greatest motor race. Liz was the only woman competing in the event this year and was also privileged to take the start of the event for the Intersport team.
The 2006 edition of the race began with two qualifying sessions held in torrential rain on Wednesday afternoon and evening and two more, in the dry, on Thursday. Intersport qualified second in the LMP2 category and Halliday approached the start in an optimistic mood, soaking up the incredible atmosphere. Race day dawned clear and warm and an estimated 230,000 fans packed in to the famous circuit to watch the start of the race. However, 2006 would prove to be a year of intense competition and incredibly high attrition as the race unfolded over the 24 hours.
Halliday and her American team-mates, Clint Field and Duncan Dayton, suffered technical difficulties from the off, with an engine misfire which took several laps to resolve, demoting them to 49th within the first half hour. However, they mounted a monumental fight-back, which began with Halliday pushing hard from the off. "I was in the car for about two hours at the beginning. It took a couple of laps to get my rhythm back after we sorted the problem but then it started to go well."
She and her team-mates began by driving double stints each and by her second session, Halliday was clearly settling into the car and the conditions. "The car felt much better in the second stint," she explained. "My lap times were improving all the time, although the traffic seemed quite bad at times, so it was important to try to be safe, as well as fast." By the time Liz handed the car over to Dayton, the Intersport Lola was occupying 20th overall and third in LMP2.
But then, at half race distance, the car suffered a gearbox problem. The rules stipulate that teams can rebuild gearboxes but not change the outer casing, so the Intersport technicians did just that, taking only 40 minutes to replace the gearbox internals. But the time loss undid much of their incredible climb up the leader-board and they had to mount a charge again, in the full darkness of the French countryside. Halliday again took over and by the end of her next stint, had moved up from 33rd to 28th overall.
"That was a really good stint," said Liz. "But I still had to be careful. There was so much debris and gravel on the track that it was easy to pick up a puncture." Indeed, she was
one of many drivers suffering from deflated tyres but this simply served to spur her on even harder. "We were on another fight-back at that point but we were already at half race distance, which was further than I've got last year, so that gave me a boost."
Several smaller glitches were dispensed with on the run through dusk and as the sun came up, the Le Mans heat returned, with a vengeance. However, a combination of determination and focus looked like rewarding Liz with her first Le Mans finish, a prospect she was looking forward to.
"I have to say, I've never done that many total hours in a car before -- I am exhausted. The physical exertion and the heat made it very hard work. I've done 24 hour races before but with four drivers to a team, where we did single stints. This weekend, I did three doubles and a triple and I know I've been working hard. Having said that, watching from the garage as Clint drove the final stint to the finish, I would happily have got back in and driven all the way to the end!"
The 2006 event would have one last sting in its tail for the team, however, as Field suffered a puncture at the end of the Mulsanne straight and the tyre debris wrapped itself around the car's bodywork, preventing it from driving. The team held its breath as they watched on the live TV screens while Field wrestled with the tyre and bodywork until finally, he was able to continue and cross the finish line, recording the team's finish.
Speaking after congratulating both team-mates, Liz said; "I'm so happy we finished this year. In fact, it means a lot more after that finish! Of course, we would have loved to have been on the podium, as that was my original goal. But with all the issues we had, to finish fourth is still pretty good for the whole team and I'm very proud of that. I think the important thing is that we showed we had the pace, comparable with some of our competitors who did make the podium and I think the car still has the pace to be able to achieve that.
"We did the Sebring 12 Hours earlier this year with the Lola but that was a completely different event. Le Mans is obviously a lot longer and the nature of the circuit is very different. At Sebring, you don't have the chance to rest for a minute whereas here, with the long straights, I was even having to talk to myself at times to stay focussed.
"I feel I've learned a huge amount this year. We've already had some good results in the ALMS but this is Le Mans -- it's the ultimate endurance race. And we finished."
Team Manager Brian Alder was also happy with the team's performance over the week. "What an unbelievable way to finish! This is the first 24 hour race I have finished and I'm very pleased about that. It justifies all the effort and hard work that everyone has put in over the last few weeks. We've had a great season so far; four races and four great results. We now need to maintain that momentum in the ALMS."