24-hour car race is a simple thing

05.08.2014

The most important race of the year brought big disappointment for Kevin and his team-mates from McLaren #99. At least there is no doubt in their speed.


Gary Lineker once famously said: „Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.“

That pin-sharp observation springs into mind when looking at the results from this year’s big 24 hour races in Europe, be it Nürburgring, Le Mans or Spa: „24-hour car race is a simple thing. 50+ cars are howling around for a day and a night and at the end, Audi always wins.“

At Spa, though, it was not so simple. Kevin and his team-mates were a few of many who tried to stop the all-mighty Audi steamroller. Kevin K, Kévin E and Andy S in McLaren #99 were among the fastest cars for the whole weekend but speed didn’t turn into result this time. Kevin explains how it panned out.

What actually happened at Spa? Why did you retire?

First we had a problem with a turbo boost sensor, it simply broke down. Actually, before the race we had a kind of service lesson, just for the case if something breaks down. There were 3-4 things to learn, and this sensor was one of them. We got to know how to change it because if something happens on the track we have to do it on our own. It was the last thing we looked at before the start and then – after 20 minutes of racing it really broke down!

If it happens, you will get a message "MAP FAILURE" on the dashboard and car simply stops. Kévin E was towed to the pit-lane entry because the car stopped quite close to the pits and he started to change the sensor on his own. Our mechanics also rushed there from the team box because outside help is allowed at the pit-lane, but Kévin E had already managed to disassemble the thing and change the sensor. When mechanics arrived, Kévin E got back to the car and buckled up while mechanics completed the job. We lost over six minutes or almost three, OK, two and a half laps due to this defect.

It meant our chances to score some decent points at the six-hour mark flew out of the window as well.

And on the ninth hour we retired terminally. Something happened to the transmission but even engineers didn't know exactly, it was kind of complicated. Car was left out on the track so engineers had no access to it. Kévin E was on the radio with engineers for an hour and they tried every possible thing to fire the car up but didn't succeed. What happened was that Kévin E drove over the kerb, then he heard a loud crack, steering became heavy and engine just stopped. It was something mechanical definitely, this time electrics and electronics were all right and no error messages were displayed.

Spa was a disaster for all McLarens – six cars at the start, five retired and the remaining sole one was classified as the last.

Several cars were involved in crashes but definitely there are things to improve.

Anyway, speed was certainly there as Kévin E was P9 when he was forced to stop.

Yes, we did rather well. I was very lucky with safety cars. As the track is long at Spa, they had two safety cars and twice I got half a lap back behind the SC, so summing it up I took one lost lap back. The gap to the leaders was 6:40 when we had the sensor issue and it had gone down to 4:40 when we retired which means a bit less than two laps.

Disappointment was huge, perhaps there is even no need to ask it.

To finish the race we would have needed a lots of luck and everything but at least we could have had decent positions at 6 and 12 hours to score some points. Previous round we retired as well because of engine failure. Basically we are out of contention now. I even don't know exactly what is our position in the standings but if you have DNFed in two races out of four... Taking into account double points were awarded at Spa, we have effectively three DNFs from five races – you can't be high in the standings this way.

You were P1 in pre-qualification but only P8 in the SuperPole.

BoP was extremely poor for us this time, our performance have been reduced after every round. Audi had three ultra-strong line-ups and they got a second per lap for Spa on BoP. It was totally unrealistic, they were basically as quick as us on the straights but pulled away under the acceleration. Plus Audi has the best aero of all the cars which meant we had no even the slightest chance. OK, we got a little bit of performance back for the race itself but still they were so much stronger. It looked like in Le Mans at one moment – Audis 1-2-3 with cars #1, #2 and #3.

Have you been at 24 hour race before, be it as a driver or a spectator?

Actually not. Neither had I done it myself before.

What do think about the life at track-side? Was the atmosphere a little different compared to single-seater events?

Let’s say it was. There were several arenas with bands playing live and when I left the track at about 3 AM the party was in full swing and people were dancing. Many people were living in tents, that was also unusual. Last year they said there was a full house at Spa but I didn’t get the impression it was the case this time. Yes, there was lots of spectators, maybe 30,000, but I guess it was not 100,000. On the other hand it is a long track and maybe they were hidden in the forests, it’s difficult to say.

Many big crashes happened during the race. Did you see them from close quarters?

It was a strange. I only managed to do one double stint – first stint I did zero fast laps and second one I did some seven fast laps. It was all about crashes and safety cars. I went out, did a quarter of lap – SC! Next time – two turns and SC! Next time – two turns and SC! Next time – two turns and SC! The last one stayed out for about 40 minutes because they repaired the crash barrier or something. Wrecked cars were already taken away but we still followed the SC for a long time.

OK, that was Spa. But week before you had an ELMS race in Austria, at Red Bull Ring.

In the end of the day it was frustrating again, things like spins and punctures tend to happen all the time even if we have a good speed. But the race itself was exciting because we couldn’t push. We use Michelin tires in ELMS and they simply didn’t wore out at Red Bull Ring. Basically you could be at 100% for the complete stint and can push but we had brake problems. Another thing was that we couldn’t use top (sixth) gear at all. You have half-long straight and a U-turn, then another half-long straight and another U-turn and brakes didn’t cool down sufficiently. We had to use coasting, lift the accelerator 50 meters before the braking point and just let the car roll. Then the initial speed for braking was some 8 kph lower and we could push the brakes not so heavily. Other than that the car was rather good and speed-wise we were closer to Ferraris than usually. I was P2 in qualifying and did the fastest lap as well.

BoP was changed into your favor eventually?

There was lot of talk about how we got better BoP but actually there was no changes for us. Simply Ferraris were restricted by a little bit, but car-wise it was OK. Another thing is about drivers – some Ferrari drivers who are listed as „silver“ are actually „gold“, and some listed „bronzes“ are actually „silvers“. I don’t know how they have managed to get such ratings but if some line-up is effectively silver-gold-gold, then it is difficult to compete with them having a real gold-silver-bronze line-up like ours.

But even so, based on speed we could have taken third without our own dramas.

So there is a chance for proper racing for final rounds.

Yeah, even podium would be great.

Now you will have a long summer break.

Yes, next six weeks there will be no races.

What will you do during that time?

I have some young drivers to coach, they will have four races in those weeks, so it will be quite busy. It is like my own racing season – basically every week you are at home for three days and at the track for four days.

Final Blancpain round will be held at Nürburgring, does it mean you are going to race in the Green Hell – Nordschleife?

Race will be held on the normal track, I mean Grand Prix course.

It seems needless to ask but anyway: victory is perhaps the sole aim there?

Absolutely. At least usual points are multiplied by 1.5 for the 1000 km race so maybe we can compensate something if we have some luck. It also depends on what performance Audis will have because at Spa they were dominating by a too large margin.

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