17 July 2013
The Plowey Perspective – Winning at Le Mans, Pt.2
British racer Martin Plowman looks back at the Le Mans 24 Hours and a successful winning debut at the wheel of the OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan
In the second part of a two-part feature, British racer Martin Plowman looks back at his winning debut in the Le Mans 24 Hours...
As race day dawned for my first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans, I had one or two things on my mind. It's a race I've dreamed of competing in – and winning – since I was racing karts. I knew I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders.
After the disappointment of qualifying ninth in class, everyone on the #35 OAK Racing team knew we had a mountain to climb. We had barely shown half of what we could do and my teammates, Bertrand Baguette, Ricardo Gonzalez and I were determined we would make amends over the next 24 hours.
The key for us was to stick to our plan and strategy and not to make knee-jerk reactions. We just let the race and the weather play out, stuck to our own pace and it proved the right thing to do. There were a few pivotal points that really helped to cement the class win. One was during my last stint, the penultimate of the race, approaching the crucial three hours to go mark. I was running on intermediate tyres on a drying track and I had to make the call to change to slicks or stick with the intermediates.
Changing to slicks would have meant stopping earlier and an extra minute in the pits. The Dunlop intermediates hold together really well and lose performance evenly, rather than disintegrate, and you can go on for a long time, although there is a lot of risk involved. I was confident in the Morgan-Nissan and knew I could make the tyres work over those 10 laps, so I stayed out. It was the right call, I was able to keep within a second or so of the guys on slicks and we gained 30-40 seconds by not pitting.
The weather and safety car periods, totalling over 5.5 hours, were naturally a major factor for everyone, but they hurt us just as much as they helped us. I hit one of the lengthy yellows barely a lap into my triple night stint and it was really hard to keep my concentration. You have to stay focused; it's so easy to make a stupid mistake just cruising around in second gear on cold tyres.
One thing that hadn't occurred to me before I took my night stint was how cold it was going to be. Driving an open cockpit car, going 200mph with the air temperature barely 50 degrees and the wind chill factor, it felt like it was sub zero and I was shivering while driving flat-out. But I had to block that out and focus on keeping it clean.
That was the biggest thing for us, to make no mistakes. Bertrand, Ricardo and I all delivered faultless stints and the team delivered the perfect strategy and pitstops. There were a few other cars posting some flying laps and it would have been easy to react, but we were in a position where we didn't need to take risks or push the car. Our job was just to stay on our pace and rhythm. We took an advantage early on and decided to stay true to that pace, be consistent and smart through the traffic.
I think we made some brave decisions. We didn't overreact to the weather, we took balanced risks with our tyre strategy and ultimately as a team we didn't make a single mistake. And that was the key – to stay out of the penalty box; stay out of the pits; believe in yourself, your team and the strategy; and just keep running the laps down.
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