The 2008 Le Mans 24-Hours race is still underway on an overcast French morning - the Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 is lapping consistently after gearbox problems that struck the car shortly before five o'clock this morning. The long delay blunted...
The 2008 Le Mans 24-Hours race is still underway on an overcast French morning - the Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 is lapping consistently after gearbox problems that struck the car shortly before five o'clock this morning. The long delay blunted what was a strong mid-race charge for the car, Terry Borcheller, Christian Fittipaldi and Jos Menten all lapping quickly in the cool dry conditions in the night to bring the car up to 22nd overall and sixth in the LM GT1 class before problems struck.
Christian had started the race, the 55-car field streaming across the line at 3pm local time on Saturday afternoon. After an 11-lap stint Terry took over the car and put in some quick and rapid lap times, on lap17 passing two class rivals in one lap. Terry pitted on lap 23 but stayed in the car to become the first driver to do a double stint.
"It was a good double stint for me," said Terry after getting out the car. "I was able to manage the tyres the way I wanted to and I am glad I was able to do that from the beginning and get some laps in. I did some homework last night and within the first lap I felt like I was on the track and the car was a joy to drive. There were several yellow flags, a lot of incidents going so I had to slow down a couple of times, but they were two good stints and I am very happy to start the race that way."
Race organisers gave an official crowd figure of in excess of 270,000 spectators in the circuit at the race start, with conservative estimates suggesting around 80,000 of them having travelled form the UK.
Puncture for Jos
The first drama on what was some strong early running came on lap 50, when Jos suffered a rear puncture and had to bring the car slowly and carefully back to the pits. Once back in the pits the team made a driver change and Christian climbed in for his second race stint, the car once more lapping quickly on a warm and sunny French evening. After four hours of the race the official classification had the number 59 Team Modena Aston Martin 32nd overall and seventh in the LM GT1 class, having completed 58 laps at that point.
As night fell the drivers continued running quickly and reliably, after eight hours the car was lapping quickly and with almost eight hours of the race gone was 27th overall and sixth in the LM GT1 class. Having completed 112 laps, the car was closing on the fifth placed LM GT1 car.
"I think it is fair to say we had some bad luck in the first three hours or so," said Sporting Director Rik Bryan at the time, "with a puncture etc. We were having to work to find the right tyre pressures for the cars as it is a lot warmer than it was in qualifying or on the test day, but I think all the LM GT1 runners were the same. Now we seem to have settled down to a good rhythm that we can hold through the night."
12 Hours Gone - 12 Hours to Go
At the half way point of the race the Team Modena Aston Martin DBR9 had completed 173 laps of the famous French circuit - over 1,460 miles of racing. In 23rd place overall, the car was slowly closing on the fifth placed LM GT1 car, and was three laps clear of the next car in the competitive class.
The promised rain arrived just after four in the morning at Le Mans, and shortly after the hopes of the team were also dampened when Christian Fittipaldi brought the car into the pits with a gearbox problem after 196-racing laps. The problem was severe enough for the crew to have to strip the gearbox down, once more displaying in the night the professionalism in the pits that won the team the major award for technical work on the car in 2007.
"We lost all the dog rings in the gearbox," said Team Principal Graham Schultz, "so the downshifts were getting tougher and tougher, then the upshift started to go the same way, which could have meant we ended up with no gearbox. It was a hard decision but we had to come in."
Under the rules of the classic 24-Hour race you cannot replace major components such as the gearbox, but you can work on them - so the Aston Martin DBR9 was pulled back in the garage and the rear of the drive-train dissembled. Any repair at Le Mans is a compromise between getting the car out on the track as soon as possible, and in Team Modena's case the realisation that any repair has to last for another eight hours of lapping at speed, and the car finally returned to the track at just after 7am local time.
The Fight Back Continues
Despite their best efforts, the car was in the pit garage long enough to lose almost 30-laps to the LM GT1 rival it had been closing on, dropping the DBR9 to 35th overall and eighth in class. Christian did the first run in the car once repairs had been completed, Jos Menten taking over on a routine stop shortly after 08.00am for a double stint. The persistent light rain had made the track very greasy, but once more the car was lapping at the pace of the class front runners.
"The car is now good, the gearbox lost us a lot of time," said Jos. "It will be nice to come over the finish line but there will be no glory for us. Conditions are very tough, it is unbelievable how slippery it is, not good. I have to say thank you to the team for fixing the car and getting us back out there."