Mowlem's musings

Autosport.com's sportscar columnist Johnny Mowlem had an enjoyable, if ultimately frustrating, Le Mans 24 Hours

Mowlem's musings

The 24 hours of Le Mans is without doubt one of the most famous races in the world; attracting manufacturers and top privateer teams alike, so I always feel privileged to be a part of it. This year in particular was doubly special, as not only was I driving for the Risi/Acemco team, rejoining many of the guys with whom I'd finished second overall in the Rolex Daytona 24 this year, but I was back in a Ferrari 360. I've driven at Le Mans before in a Porsche and for Saleen, but there is something about the name Ferrari that grabs people's attention.

The week prior to the race always seems to go on forever. When we finally did get out on track on Wednesday night, things initially weren't great, as we struggled to find a set-up that was going to be driveable for 24 hours. Personally, things got a bit worse at the end as well, because I had one of my crash helmets stolen from the back of the pit garage. All that tight security controlling the garages obviously didn't work, as I can't believe anyone with a legitimate pass to be there would bother stealing a crash helmet, let alone the sweaty balaclava on top of it!

Thursday night qualifying went better...eventually! We lost a lot of time with some pretty major issues, but the team worked fantastically hard to get me out for the last 30 minutes of the night session. Yokohama didn't bring any qualifiers as such, but they gave me a set of night tyres and the car balance was pretty good, allowing us to get amongst the front running GT cars. Qualifying at Le Mans is not actually that important in terms of the race result, but it is always nice for the team (and the driver!) if you can get yourself a decent starting position.

On race morning, it chucked it down with rain, but fortunately the weather soon cleared, and it had done nothing to dampen the spirits of the large British crowd. As ever they were incredibly loud and enthusiastic, and it was great to see my own personal support club in the main grandstand, banners and all. Thanks guys!

Shane Lewis started the race and did a great job in hot conditions to keep us in touch. We all started off by doing double driving stints, but we didn't initially double stint the tyres until my second stint, which meant that I ended up doing a triple, which in a GT car equates to around three and a half hours driving! It didn't seem that long, because I'd got into a good groove on the track and the car and tyres were holding up well, so it certainly didn't feel I'd driven well over a normal ALMS or FIA GT race distance.

The Ferrari was running like clockwork, the only real close shave I had was when the slower Racing for Holland Dome decided to stick me into the pitlane as we approached the first of the Ford chicanes. I then had two choices; either drive down the whole pitlane at 60kph, and lose around 20 or 30 seconds, or turn sharp left out of the pitlane and over the gravel, and hopefully only lose a couple of seconds. I went for the latter, and fortunately made it through the gravel trap, otherwise I'd have looked a bit silly...

When I handed over to Butch Leitzinger we were in third place in GT, and both he and Shane did great double stints to keep us right up there. In fact, just before I got in again at around 1am, the Alex Job/Petersen Porsche pitted to change a radiator, putting Shane up to second, and then just as I left pitlane the Taisan Porsche had a lengthy pit stop as well. This meant that the second time I went past the pits, I had P1 on my board, which was rather nice.

Unfortunately it was all too short lived. About four laps later, with nearly a lap lead, I suddenly felt a big vibration exiting Tertre Rouge, followed by a large bang. We're still not exactly sure what let go, but it was obviously a terminal engine failure.

The French marshals were all great, offering me cheese and bread and wine - all of which they'd obviously consumed themselves in copious amounts! That still didn't ease that horrible sinking feeling of what might have been. I know we couldn't have kept the AJR/Petersen car behind us for another 13 hours, and I was genuinely pleased for Mike, Dale, Alex and the guys that they won, but I wish we could have made them work a bit harder to retake the lead.

Everyone at the Risi/Acemco team deserved better, and it was unfortunate that both cars had problems, although the team did a sterling job to get the #94 Calpont Ferrari to the finish after losing the best part of four hours in the pits early on. I know how hard it is to stay motivated when that kind of thing happens, but Ralf, Anthony and Terry and the whole team kept at it to make the finish which is an achievement in itself. Everyone from Guiseppe Risi and Jeff Giangrande down should be proud, they qualified first and second Ferrari, led GT with one car, and made the finish with the other.

OK, it could have been a double podium, but then that's Le Mans!

shares
comments
Patrick to race Prodrive Ferrari
Previous article

Patrick to race Prodrive Ferrari

Next article

Herbert and Lehto form 'stellar' combo

Herbert and Lehto form 'stellar' combo
How to get the best out of amateur racers Plus

How to get the best out of amateur racers

Pro-Am GT racing is booming. But how should drivers approach working with an amateur? Autosport sought out a panel of experts to explain the pitfalls amateur drivers should avoid and how professionals can help them to achieve their goals

GT
Apr 3, 2022
The remarkable career of a 'classy' champion who rejected politics Plus

The remarkable career of a 'classy' champion who rejected politics

Over two decades as a factory driver with Audi and BMW, Martin Tomczyk earned the respect of team-mates and rivals as a hard but fair racer. After calling time on his racing career, the 2011 DTM champion sat down with Autosport to look back

GT
Mar 5, 2022
The ex-IndyCar racer in "uncharted territory" of British GT team ownership Plus

The ex-IndyCar racer in "uncharted territory" of British GT team ownership

This weekend’s British GT finale will be a tense title showdown for some but, for those not in the championship fight, it’s a chance to end a challenging year on a high. In the latter camp is Paddock Motorsport's team owner Martin Plowman, whose 2021 season has been a rollercoaster ride of non-stop learning

National
Oct 15, 2021
The unpopular BMW stalwart built for the big occasion Plus

The unpopular BMW stalwart built for the big occasion

It has won most of the big prizes in endurance racing across its six years in service, but the BMW M6 GT3's key weaknesses meant only a devoted few teams persisted with running it. As it prepares to bow out at season's end, the teams and drivers involved in its story share the secrets of an unpopular winner

GT
Oct 7, 2021
The unwanted GT car that changed sportscar racing forever Plus

The unwanted GT car that changed sportscar racing forever

Had FIA GT boss Stephane Ratel had his way, the Maserati MC12 would never have been allowed to set foot in his series. It duly proved the class of the field that most had expected, but the Balance of Performance that its superiority spawned would keep GT1 battles tight and bring long-term benefits that sportscar racing enjoys today

GT
Sep 21, 2021
Why Britain's greatest sportscar was eclipsed on the world stage Plus

Why Britain's greatest sportscar was eclipsed on the world stage

The E-Type may be the most famous of all road-going Jaguars, but that didn't always translate into success on the track. After winning on its competition debut in 1961, motorsport success seemed an inevitability, but things didn’t turn out to be quite that straightforward

GT
Aug 6, 2021
Why the Jaguar E-type remains special at 60 Plus

Why the Jaguar E-type remains special at 60

It’s 60 years since the Jaguar E-type arrived and caused a sensation. As our resident racer Ben Anderson discovered when he got behind the wheel of two special racing versions at Brands Hatch, the thrill of driving them hasn't diminished over time

GT
Jul 31, 2021
The rise of a GT squad responsible for a unique 24-hour racing feat Plus

The rise of a GT squad responsible for a unique 24-hour racing feat

It's a significant achievement to win one 24-hour race in a year, let alone two, and with different manufacturers, but that's exactly what ROWE Racing did in 2020 at the Nurburgring and Spa. This weekend's German classic offers the DTM newcomer a chance of another unique double to add to its growing collection of accolades

GT
Jun 3, 2021