Just what does it take to compete in an uninterrupted 24-hour race in one of the most competitive classes on the grid with two cars? To show us, 24H SERIES stalwart Porsche Lorient Racing opened its garage doors to us in Barcelona.
In part one, the team hits double trouble as the 911 suffers sensor/clutch problems and the 912 is involved in an accident.
Saturday, 31st August – 1pm (1 hour in)
- 911 – 44th overall, 5th in-class
- 912 – 15th overall, 4th in-class
Porsche Lorient Racing’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA is off to a bad start. Having qualified 2nd in the ‘991’ class, Mathieu Pontais is met only with a shrill monotone as he tries to select first gear on the starting grid. As the green flags fly for the formation lap, the #911 Porsche begrudgingly rolls forward a few feet before grinding to a halt again, the mechanical whir now coupled with furious high revs as Mathieu desperately tries to get his lifeless charge going. Through the windscreen, a flurry of GT4 BMWs swiftly followed by a Porsche Cayenne safety car and the entire TCE field cruise past with almost derisive ease.
Attempts to ‘reboot’ the 911 via numerous switches on the dashboard fail. The Porsche isn’t going anywhere.
That was over an hour ago, and while the 911 is now finally on-track and up-to-speed, it’s already 27 laps down on the class leader.
If communications director Aude-Marie Milton is frustrated though – and who could blame her? – she’s doing an excellent job of hiding it. Ever the pro, she’s busy coordinating with her team via a headset-mounted microphone as CREVENTIC walks into pit box 27. We’re greeted with a cheery smile and a tentatively raised index finger, indicating she’ll be with us in a few seconds.
Though neither Cup car is in-sight, there’s still a mighty amount of activity in the Porsche Lorient Racing garage. To our right, four packing crates fashion a makeshift half-wall, on top of which sits a spare front bumper and splitter. In front of us, black polo-shirted crew cluster around a bank of TV monitors, two of which show an uninterrupted on-board live stream for each car while another shows the timing screen. We can’t hear their conversation over the engine noise thundering down the pit-straight, but some furious typing on a laptop keyboard suggests this is a chat we shouldn’t interrupt.
"Through the windscreen, the entire TCE field cruise past with almost derisive ease."
When Aude-Marie joins us a few moments later, we’re met with another smile and a nod towards several mechanics scanning a triple-disc racing clutch on a wooden bench for further signs of failure. Things haven’t gone well so far.
“The 912 had a good start and was ‘P3’ after one-hour. But the 911 had an electronic problem with the… capteur [sensor], which damaged the clutch. So we had no choice but to change it.” Her left hand turns the volume down on her radio set as we talk, while the other moves the right side of the headset away from her ear. “Obviously that’s a problem we’d prefer not to have at all, especially before the race had even started!”
There’s 23 hours of the Hankook 24H BARCELONA left to go. Fortunately the 912 seems to be staying out of trouble, and Lionel Amrouche has already settled into his rhythm after a good start from 4th. It’s going to be a long race for the 911 though – THE Standings leader coming into the event – in a category regarded for its close competition.
“It’s hard, because we still have 23 hours of the race to go, and we’ve already lost 2nd place. Trouble that early can be very hard for the crew, so we always have to stay positive and keep team morale up,” explains Aude-Marie, who’s not only in charge of the drivers this weekend but also team logistics, all communication across social media, and speaking directly with race control. “It’s really important to stay calm. We have a championship to consider, so the important thing for us is to finish the race and look after our drivers. That’s the most important thing.
“We say to all of our drivers, keep safe and stay focused, because you never know what could happen. This is the first time we’ve had this problem with the capteur! Everything was fine, and then…was it the heat? We don’t know. Now we just have to make sure we have a clean race, stay out of trouble and no mistakes.”
Saturday, 31st August – 10pm (10 hours in)
- 911 – 35th overall, 5th in-class
- 912 – 17th overall, 4th in-class
Darkness has fallen at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and the mercury is dropping, but there’s still a lot of activity in the Porsche Lorient Racing pitbox. Albeit of a different sort. Mechanics are now wheeling blanketed Hankook-clad wheels tyres from the back of the garage while others start stretching. A pit stop is imminent. There’s still a group huddled around the laptop screens and the TV monitors, but foldaway chairs have now been set up for the mechanics to use during their oh-so-limited downtime.
Past them on the pit perch, sitting arms folded, is team manager Jérémy Mazurais, alongside Jean-François Piget and Patrice Le Plomb, engineers for the 912 and 911 respectively. Behind us in a ‘Lorient et Brest’ pop-up gazebo, the enticing smell of pasta and roast chicken slowly wafting its way into the pit box.
The frustration is back, but again, Aude-Marie refuses to show many signs of it (what would that do for morale, after all?). The 911 has been running smoothly and is now up to 24th overall after ‘starting’ 47th. The 912 though, which had worked its way into the class lead, has been punted off-track by an overly ambitious move from Car Collection Motorsport into turn 13, and Antoine Ettienne is beached in the gravel trap.
When the Porsche does manage to get back to the pits, the damage, amazingly, is not too severe, the now dented passenger door having taken the brunt of the impact. Still, it’s time the team could not afford to lose to the now leading MRS GT-Racing, and the crew has to start the hard work all over again.
“We saw immediately what happened,” explains a now bespectacled Aude-Marie. “Basically, [Car Collection Motorsport] took all the room, and it’s not the first time we’ve been hit by an A6 car. It also took a while to call Code 60, so we lost four laps.
“This is hard. This is really hard. It’s hard for the crew, because they’ve done really well, and it’s hard for the drivers, because three of them” – Antoine Ettienne, Ludovic Loeul and Hervé Tremblaye – “are in a Porsche for a 24-hour race for the first time. They were fighting all the way – 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd – and they get to the front only to get hit…”
It’s that time of the evening when Aude’s crew’ has to start getting what shuteye it can. Both cars will need brake changes at some point of course, and the differing driver rotations mean pit stops will be more frequent. Still, keeping the fatigue at bay is a serious consideration.
"The 912, which had worked its way into the class lead, has been punted off-track by an overly ambitious move from Car Collection Motorsport."
Aude-Marie? She may grab an hour at sun-up if she’s lucky – “It’s the adrenaline. I can’t do any more than that” – during which team manager Jérémy takes over the headset. As for the crew…
“The mechanics, if they start to sleep, we let them sleep, and we’ll only wake them if there’s a problem or there’s a pit stop. The others drivers can rest, but we always make sure we have a driver in the box, in case something happens.” Aude pauses as a message comes through the headset. Mechanics, complete with Hi-Vis vests, start moving into the pit box. With them is a suited-and-booted Jean-François Demorge. As if the message has reminded her, Aude-Marie explains the pit stop procedure.
“When [Frédéric] gets out of the car, the first thing he’ll do is come to the engineer and give feedback on his stint: ‘is the car okay’, ‘is the strategy working’, etc. Always immediately after, because [Jean-Francois] will be on his outlaps and the stint is fresh in Frédéric’s mind.”
Soon after, a siren alerts everyone to a car moving down pit road. Aude-Marie, an apologetic hand raised, dashes to the front of the garage. The blue lights of the 911 rather than the green of the 912 appear stage left, the mechanics diving in to change the tyres as jacks raise the front and rear of the car simultaneously. Our pit perch trio turn in unison to watch.
A mechanic in a green vest gets Frédéric’s belts off and hoists him out of the seat, Jean-Francois going in the opposite direction. The door is slammed shut as a mechanic wipes down the windscreen, Frédéric pulling off his gloves as he walks back into the garage for his “immediate” debrief. In front of him are a few hours of sleep, a bite to eat, and possibly a chat with radiolemans.com’s Shea Adam. I also can’t help but notice the bevvy of ‘24H SERIES’ scrutineer stickers plastered across his helmet. The enthusiasm of the team manager-cum-driver is almost palpable.
We leave the Lanester brigade in peace to get on with their work, but do stop at the ‘Lorient et Brest’ tent for a peruse of the menu. Ooh, chicken and pesto for the drivers tonight!