Arrived Paris 8 AM Monday after an 8 hour flight still “pumped” after the Victory at “The Glen.” Drove down to Le Mans with my dad in time for lunch in Le Mans. Farnbacher Team Manager Peter Goebel then met us for Administrative Check In with the French ACO officials. This was a stressful event last year but everything went smooth this time. Check In is held in the Le Mans “town center” and there are THOUSANDS of hungry fans there all wanting autographs and photos! This also caught us by surprise last year but we were ready for them this time. Early dinner and early to bed.
Tuesday was relaxed with only the Drivers Meeting in the morning and the Autograph Session at 5 PM. Mostly locals and early arrival “die-hards” for that event – but a pretty good crowd. Wednesday starts with a 2 PM Team Meeting. We have a Free Practice Session today from 4 until 8. You would think with a four hour session that there would be plenty of seat time for all – but for some reason, none of us really get that many laps. Then the first qualifying from 10 PM till Midnight. Your fastest lap during that two hour session is your qualifier! Then back to the hotel.
First of all – for those of you who don’t know, I thought I would tell you more about who I drive for and how I got here. The team is Farnbacher Racing and they are based in Lichtenau, Germany in Northern Bavaria. It’s about an 8 hour drive for the crew over to Le Mans. There are a total of 15 including the three drivers. The team is owned by Horst Farnbacher and he is often referred to by SPEED TV broadcasters Lee Diffy and Calvin Fish as “being one of the sharpest engineers in the paddock.” That my be somewhat of an understatement. As I write this, I’m watching Horst rebuild the Ferrari 456 gearbox. I suspect he could have easily been a surgeon if he had chosen that path. Needless to say, Horst has had a huge impact on my career. He has been a mentor since 2007 and I owe much of my success to his guidance. The race team website is http://www.farnbacher-racing.com.
Our team is sponsored and funded by Hankook Performance Tire. Hankook is a Korean company with sales is 185 countries and 14,000 employees world wide. I was first invited to drive for Farnbacher/Hankook last year for two races at the Nurburgring including the 24 Hour race. We had success there and it led to the Le Mans 24 invitation where we again finished second. Success breeds opportunities – so I’m back again this year! Hankook makes very good tires.
More on the team and my co-drivers tomorrow. The Wednesday afternoon open practice went very well and I was able to get about an hours and 15 minutes of “seat time.” Last year we drove the Ferrari 430 and I had the Nurburgring races to learn the car. This year I only had 9 laps in the new Ferrari 458 before yesterday. I am considered a Porsche driver and 90% of my career has been behind the wheel of the Porsche. This car is very different from what I usually drive and different from last year’s car. I was able to get comfortable in the car by the end of the session and now feel that I am ready for the race. In the 10 PM – Midnight session I did 5 laps but not at full speed. All drivers are required to complete 3 “night laps: before the race. Today, there is no “official” activity until 7 PM – a two hour practice. Then another qualifying session from 10 PM – Midnight. We may skip that last session to “save the car.” So far – All is Well. More tomorrow…
Yesterday went well. Dominik ended up getting some really quick laps during the first session and we moved up to 5th in qualifying. He did a great job and someone said we actually ran the exact same time as the Corvette in 4th. I’m not sure about how that could happen – but I suppose it could. I went out in the 10 PM – Midnight session just after one of the BMWs crashed. Someone had put down oil around the entire track so it took awhile to get up to full speed. I was pleased with my session. We had a team meeting afterwards and returned to the hotel around 1:30 AM. Slept in this morning and arrived at the track around noon. Allan is Danish so we’re heading over to the Dane camping area to mix with the crowd. I did this last year too – there are only about 100,000 of them and it’s is “wild” over there!” It’s very competitive between the different European countries and they take GREAT pride in having the craziest party!
Later today is the drivers “parade” in the town center. There will be 150,000 people there. It’s crazy too. But not as crazy as the Danish camp! I plan to enjoy the parade this year – it can be overwhelming the first time.
Some of you may not know who Dominik and Allan are. They are my co-drivers. In a 24 Hour race you need more than one driver. In the USA we can have as many as 5 drivers in a 24 Hour race. At Watkins Glen last weekend, many of the teams had 3 drivers for the Six Hours. Brumos Porsche was the only team that finished in the top 5 that did not have an extra driver. Just Andrew Davis and myself. It worked out well! Because of the regulations, we can only have 3 drivers at Le Mans. As noted above, Allen was born in Odense, Denmark. He won the Australian GT Championship in 2007. Allen is very fast and is the senior member of the driver team at 31 years old. Dominik Farnbacher and I first drove together in 2007. He was born in Ansbach, Germany. Dominik won the Asian Lemans GT Series Championship in 2009. The same year I was the Grand-Am Rolex GT Series Champion. He has natural speed as a driver and is the youngest of the group at 26.
Dom’s (as we call him) father is Horst – the team owner and engineer. Tonight we need a good meal and good rest. Tomorrow we will arrive at the track mid morning for the 3 PM start. There will be 300,000 fans here tomorrow when we arrive. I feel that we have a GREAT team with GREAT co-drivers. We are looking forward to success!
It’s just about 4 PM so we are about an hour into the race now. This report might be brief because there is a lot going on here in the garage. The parade was GREAT as usual with the highlight being when Patrick Dempsey recognized me from his seat on the Review Stand and made a big deal about it. So that in turn made me pretty famous with the crowd nearby! Patrick is here to help Mazda celebrate their one and only victory at Le Mans some 20 years ago. Then the three of us and Dom’s girlfriend, Lauren, had a nice dinner at a place I knew about. It was after 11 before we returned to the room at the hotel. So much for sleeping in on Saturday morning – there was a warm up for the cars at 9 AM and Horst wanted Dom and myself there.
For those who don’t know, the cars are basically completely rebuilt from the ground up after practice and before the actual race. The warm up on race morning gives us a chance to make sure everything is as it should be. We actually used to time to test some changes we had made but decided to go back to our original setup. The pre-race activities started around noon and the cars have to be on the pre grid by 1:30 for the 3 PM start. In the old days the drivers would run from the opposite side of the track, jump in the cars and take off. That is the reason the ignition switch on a Porsche is on the left side. They stopped doing that many years ago because it was dangerous because the drivers would not take time to buckle their safety belts – to gain an advantage. In recent years, they simulate the run across during the pre race festivities. I was selected to do that for our team along with 50+ other drivers. I suppose it is something I will remember and appreciate more in my later years!
Dom’s took the green flag and will do a single stint, Allan next with a double so we can see if the tires will last for two sessions and then I’ll go in around 5 o’clock. The car can run about an hour on fuel. Once we rotate thru, we will all double stint for the balance of the race. So my next time in should be around 10 PM for two hours. Last year, I was in the car when the sun came up. It was a very special moment I will never forget. Hopefully tomorrow about this time, we will have something to celebrate about!
The majority of our races are 2 hours and 45 minutes – but we have some races of 2 hours, last weekend’s 6, 10 hours, 12 hours and this weekend’s 24 hours. I “manage” the weekends based on the length of time the race will run and the amount of time I will be in the “seat.” We have a team physician on board at Brumos Racing, John Gleddie. He is affectionately known as “Doc.” He has taught me a lot about managing the race. Rest and diet are important before, during and after a race weekend. For diet, I tend to survive on pasta with no sauce, grilled chicken, bananas and peanut butter before and during a long race. Fluids are most important and I hydrate constantly. In addition to water, I currently use a product called Endura by Metagenics. It is an energy and re hydration formula that replenishes electrolytes and minerals over the duration of my two hour stint in the car. It has a nice lemon lime flavor but you drink a lot of this stuff over the months of the race season and it’s easy to get tired of a flavor, so we do change products from time to time. If you see me at the racetrack, I probable have a water bottle in my hand. While I’m actually in the car – I prefer to have mostly cold water in a special water bottle – which one of the crew guys puts in the car during a pitstop as I’m strapped in. This weekend, we have a physical therapist on staff and I am taking full advantage of him before and during the race. In a 24 hour race, there is always a debrief when I get out of the car and then I take a hot shower and relax until it’s “my turn” again. We have a shower in the 18 wheeler.
Now for the race wrap-up. Dominik started the race – did a single stint and then Allan went in. Allan was suppose to double stint. A double was described earlier. He drives for two fuel loads and the car will run about 1 hour on a full tank of fuel (1 fuel load). It takes longer on a pit stop if we change tires. So we try to run the tires for 2 hours to save time. During Allan’s second hour in the car, he did not feel comfortable with the tires on the car and he came back into the pits after about 20 minutes. That’s when I got in for my first stint. The race started at 3 PM I think it was about 5:30 PM when I got in. I did a single stint and it was pretty uneventful. Then Dom went back in for a double. Soon into his second hour, he had the left rear tire explode at high speed on the Mulsanne straight. He was able to limp back to the pits but the remains of the tire did considerable damage to the fender well and underbody of the car. It took 55 minutes in the garage to repair this damage. Allan went back out and experienced a leaking radiator near the end of his stint. We also had a caution period that lasted well over two hours while he was in the car.
So it was probably 2 AM when I got back in again. With nothing to loose at this point, I turned my fastest lap ever at Le Mans – in the 4 minute 2 second range. I was pleased with these times in race trim and on race tires and in the dark. After my session, Dom went back in and soon thereafter, the high temp light came on. The engine was overheating the decision was made to retire the car.
I headed back to the hotel with the crew around 5 AM for some sleep – got up around noon, had lunch and then took off for Paris with my dad and Team Manager Peter Goebel in the BMW X1 rental. We’re here at the hotel in Paris now and just as soon as I’m done writing this, we’re going up to the Club Level Lounge to watch the F1 race from Montreal and knock down some beers. Last year we celebrated in Paris on Sunday night – this year, not so much.
It was a huge disappointment and especially painful after we had so much success last year with the second place podium here at Le Mans. I won’t be able to do Nurburgring this year with the team because that weekend conflicts with my Grand Am contract. It’s been a tough weekend but I can’t complain too much. I’m driving a Porsche with Brumos in Grand Am, a Porsche in ALMS with Alex Job and a Ferrari 458 with Farnbacher in Europe. Life Is Good!