Well, I am back at the Le Mans circuit, one year after winning the first 24 hour race with a Mazda RX-7. http://www.gtplanet.net/forum/showthread.php?t=126911 This time, there are no chicanes, and the field is a lot stronger. I have decided to go with a BMW McLaren F1 GTR Race Car. I am from New Zealand, so obviously I have strong links with McLaren. Rules: 1. Must use each set of tyres (R1s, R2s, R3s) for at least 50 laps of the race; 2. Cutting the chicane in the pits and getting a time gain will result in a stop-go penalty at the start-finish line;3. Rejoining the track unsafely and hitting another car will result in a 10-second stop-go penalty at the start-finish line. The Grid: 200 A-Spec Points Nissan R89C Race Car 968 hp, 900kg Minolta Toyota 88C-V Race Car 965hp, 850kg Sauber Mercedes C9 Race Car 987bh, 893kg Nissan R92CP Race Car 1001hp, 900kg Mazda 787B Race Car 843hp, 830kg BMW McLaren F1 GTR Race Car 759hp, 1000kg (50kg ballast), oil change Hour 1, Thursday, July 21, 2011, 18 laps completed Race start: 4:07pm Japan time. Start on R1 tyres. I decide very quickly that I should take it easy on the super-hard tyres. I get up to 380km/h in the Mazda's slipstream and pass him just before the end of the Mulsane. But I brake too late on cold tyres and I just get it stopped on the edge of the road. The Mazda repasses me and I end the opening lap 6.8s down on the leading Minolta having posted a 3:29.7. My second lap is a 3:23.1 but the Minolta is now 9 seconds ahead and I am still in 6th. A 3:18 follows on lap 3, and the Nissan R92 assumes the race lead 10 seconds up the road. By lap 5, the field has split into two distinct groups: the R92, Minolta and Sauber, followed by the Mazda and the R89. I can just see the Mazda and R89 up ahead but I spin coming out of the final Porsche Curve and I am now more than 20 seconds down on the leaders. The gap grows to 30 seconds before the 3 leaders and the R89 pit at the end of lap 8. I follow them in but I hit the inside wall after coming into the lane too hot. I switch to R2 tyres in an effort to close the gap, or at least stabilise it. My best lap on R1s was a 3:16.412. The Sauber now leads narrowly from the R92, with the Minolta dropping back slightly. The Mazda is now in a clear 4th after going one lap further than the rest of us in his opening stint. Despite a spin at Indianapolis on my out-lap I am closing in on the R89 and I duly pass him at the beginning of lap 11. I pass the 787B down the Mulsane on lap 13 and it is my best lap so far: 3:12.256, about 2 seconds faster than the leading Sauber. We all pit again on lap 16, except for the 787B. I am delighted that my R2s lasted the distance, since it means that I can keep the same pit-stop strategy as the leaders whilst lapping as fast as them. The hour ends the Mazda pitting from the lead and I am back in 4th, 27s down on the Sauber. The R92 and Minolta are an estimated 7s and 14s back respectively. Hour 2, Thursday, July 21, 2011, 36 laps completed I spend the first part of the second hour gradually closing the gap to the Minolta. I gain about half a second a lap on him until he is just in sight as we enter the pits. The Sauber this time keeps the lead after his stop, 30s up the road from me. I stick to the R2s for the time being. On lap 26 I pass the Minolta on the Mulsane. He comes back at me on the run down to Indianapolis and on the straight heading towards the Porsche Curves, but I hold my ground and I am shot of him by the start/finish line. However, I have consecutive spins at Indianapolis and this allows him through again. We spend the next few laps battling for position but we are now almost 45 seconds behind the Sauber. I change to R3s when we pit nose-to-tail on lap 32. The R3s work and I pass the Minolta, hopefully for good this time, on the Mulsane on our outlaps. I pull away and gain time on the two cars in front of me. However, I have a huge lose entering the Porsche curves at the end of hour, and all that time gained is lost. I am back to 39s behind the Sauber. Hour 3, Saturday, July 23, 2011, 54 laps completed I push my R3 tyres to the limit and find out the hard way that they can only do 6 laps. On my 7th lap, I have two major spins and I have to limp to the pits. This drops me back to 4th and puts me 54s behind the Sauber after the round of pitstops. This becomes a 1:03s deficit when I spin at Indianapolis after the car got understable behind the Minolta. Such is my speed though, that I pass the Minolta at the end of the next lap to resume my 3rd position. Thereafter, I pit every 6 laps to the Sauber's 8. Eventually, he will have one pitstop less than me but in the meantime, I am spending less time in the pits due to not filling up with fuel as much; and I drive very fast and consistently, getting the gap down to 29s before pitting. I also move up into 2nd place for the first time in the race when I pass the R92 at the end of lap 49 after giving him a bit of a rub through the Porsche Curves. At the end of the hour I am 57s down on the Sauber, having done one extra stop. Hour 4, Saturday, July 23, 2011, 72 laps completed I close the gap down to 12s before pitting one lap after the Sauber on lap 57. I keep my second place, resuming just over 5s in front of the R92 and 37s down on the Sauber, who has now done one less pitstop. Meanwhile, the Sauber laps the R89 for the first time. I narrow the gap down to 28s before pitting on lap 63. The Sauber pits a lap later and resumes only 19s up the road. It is 16s by the end of the lap. The next lap my fastest of the race so far: a 3:11.707, which cuts a massive 8s out of the Sauber's lead. By the end of the next lap, the Sauber's lead is 5s and I can see him on the Mulsane straight. He is in my sights. I then break into the 3:10s (3:10.860) and the gap is 1.6s at the beginning of my in-lap. I desparately want to pass him on the track and the crowd is cheering me on. I get in his slipstream on the Mulsane and reach 385km/h as I pull out to pass him. The car gets very twitchy and I almost lose control but I hang on and I am into the lead of the Le Mans 24 hour!!! The Sauber comes back at me and I let him through at the end of the Mulsane. I don't want to spoil all my good work by spinning. I pit at the end of the lap and promptly have a small spin just before the Mulsane, my first mistake in over an hour. Which means that when the Sauber emerges from the pits I just beat him into the first chicane and by the time we get to the Mulsane I have a clear lead. Here ends an action-packed hour! Hour 5, Saturday, July 23, 2011, 90 laps completed I open up a 13s lead before pitting for R2s on lap 75. The R3s have done their job. I thought that making extra pitstops would have disadvantaged me, but it has proven to be not the case. I will now try to fulfill my quota of laps for R2 tyres and I also want to have a bit of a battle with the Sauber. I settle down into the 3:15-3:16 laptime range, and thus I resume my lead when the Sauber pits on lap 80. The race becomes a holding pattern: each time one of us pits, we hand the lead over the other. I have a spin at Indianapolis at the end of the hour, which means that my lead is now 16s, which is basically what it was at the start of the hour. Hour 6, Sunday, July 24, 2011, 108 laps completed On lap 99, I change to R1 tyres. I have only done 8 laps on them so far, and I want complete the minimum requirement of 50 laps on them in case things get close in the final hours. However, I cannot do better than a 3:18, so I decide to ditch them after 8 laps. They will have to wait. I resume on R2 tyres, now alone in 2nd position. Standings after 6 hours: Sauber Mercedes C9 Race Car 108 laps completed, 13 stops BMW McLaren F1 GTR Race Car +57s, 15 stops Nissan R92CP Race Car +1:30s Minolta Toyota 88C-V Race Car +2:40s Mazda 787B Race Car +2:45s Nissan R89C Race Car +2 laps Hour 7, Tuesday, July 26, 2011, 126 laps completed I close up to within 14s of the lead after the Sauber pits. I notice that he has two cars ahead of him on the road so I want to take advantage if he gets held up. I pit for R3 tyres at the end of lap 115. I have thus fulfilled my quota for the R2 tyres. Ironically, the cars in front of the Sauber pit and it is I who have to deal with lapping them. This leads to a major incident on lap 120. The 787B has just pitted and the R89 passes him. I also pass him at the final chicane. But I have trouble lapping the R89 and have to wait until the Mulsane to pull up alongside him. However, the BMW gets loose in the unstable air and I lose control and hit the inside wall before rebouding to the outside wall and coming to a stop. I had only moved a couple of inches before the 787B hits me at about 350km/h, which spins me again, and also sees him glancing the wall. We both recover, but I have lose 10s to the Sauber. Meanwhile, the Stewards deemed it to be a "racing incident" and I do not receive a penalty. I pit at the end of the hour and when I emerge I am 59s behind the Sauber. So, all-in-all, an average hour. Hopefully, things improve. Hour 8, Wednesday, July 27, 2011, 144 laps completed The first 20 minutes are good. I close up to within 7s of the Sauber (who is about to lap the Minolta), but my in-lap is disasterous. First, I go into the sand at the Dunlop bridge, which costs me about 4 seconds. Then, I have a massive lose at Indianapolis. I must have spun around at least 5 times before coming to a rest in the sandtrap. I pull into the pits thoroughly annoyed with myself. The car has gradually become more nervous to drive as the hours have ticked by. I hope that it doesn't become undriveable like the Toyota 7 did last year. I have another lose at Indianapolis on lap 134 but nonetheless I close up to within 3s of the Sauber before pitting for yet more R3s. The Minolta is still grimly hanging on to the lead lap and may even be holding the Sauber up a bit. He is finally lapped a couple of tours later. The hour ends with both the Sauber and I pitting on lap 144. I put on R2 tyres this time. As I exit the pits 31s behind, the 787B just gets in front of me to unlap himself. I get in his slipstream on the Mulsane but once again I lose control of the car and spin around twice before resuming. Sigh. Hour 9, Sunday, July 31, 2011, 161 laps completed The Sauber extends his lead to 46s before we both pit on lap 152. I switch back to R3s. I get the gap down to under 30s but a spin at Indianapolis drops me back again. The car is very unstable on R3 tyres in a straight line. I sometimes have to lift off the accelerator in order to keep it steady. I gain ground on the Minolta but I have trouble lapping him. He even gives me a bump on the run down to Indianapolis, which sends me onto the grass at 300km/h!! On the next lap, I am behind him but the car gets very unstable and I spin once again at Indianapolis. My rear tyres are now shot and I waste even more time spinning coming out of the Porsche curves. On R3s again, I spin just after the Dunlop bridge and again coming into the Porsche Curves. All of a sudden the R92 goes past me and I am back down into 3rd. An utter disaster! To compound things, the car gets loose behind the R92 and spins at Indianapolis again. All of this leaves me almost 2 minutes down on the Sauber, which becomes 1:17s after his pitstop. A horrible hour and the BMW-McLaren crew must be wondering if it is worth continuing with this increasingly unstable car. Hour 10, Sunday, July 31, 2011, 179 laps completed The first half of this hour is again disastrous for me. I stay with the R3s but I have fallen into a battle for 2nd with the R92 and every time I get near him the car gets very unstable and I also spin a couple of times, notably when together with the 787B and the R92 on the Mulsane. All these spins mean that I can only complete 5 laps per stint. I finally get some fresh air towards the end of the hour and I put in some consistent fast laps, which includes taking it slightly easier through Indianapolis. One of these laps is only 0.5s slower than my fastest, which proves that if I keep my head together, I can still lap quickly. But will the unstableness of the BMW-McLaren finally be the undoing of my challenge? The hour ends and I am 1:50s behind the Sauber. Hour 11, Sunday, July 31, 2011, 197 laps completed After a few more spins and almost losing control in a straight-line down the Mulsane, I decide that the car is no longer driveable on R3 tyres. I pit on 184 to change to R2s. I am now in serious danger of being lapped and the R92 is already 30s down the road in 2nd. As I start my 186th lap, I am 2:53s from the lead. The change to R2 tyres does not help. The car is still very unstable, but a couple of laps later I found a solution to the unstableness on the run down to Indianapolis: if I keep the car in 5th gear as I crest the small right-hand kink, then the car is a lot more stable. It may lose me a few tenths, but at least I won't spin around as much. I spend the rest of the hour knowing that one more mistake will see me lapped. I am now 3:06s behind the Sauber. Hour 12, Sunday, July 31, 2011 A huge lose on Mulsane after the car suddenly turned right into the wall puts me a lap down. Soon afterwards, I pull into the pits, and sadly, into the garage. I wanted to continue but the car was just becoming undriveable. My Le Mans challenge is over for the time being.