James Winslow might have finally achieved a long-held dream of competing at Le Mans this season, but will have to wait another twelve months to get another chance of success at the 24 Hour classic.
History will show that the #41 Greaves Motorsport LMP2 entry failed to finish after one of Winslow's team-mates was caught up in the chaos wrought by a heavy downpour early in the race. The inevitable retirement, however, only came after the British driver had set some of the fastest lap times on track, moving up the order past a string of F1 stars and 24 Hours veterans.
“Since my father first took me to Le Mans as an eleven-year old, my dream had always been to race there in a prototype and win,” Winslow recalled, “This year, I got to realise that dream - and it was clear to me pretty early on that we had the ability to do just that.”
Ask any Le Mans veteran and they will tell you that the journey to success is often paved with despair, but Winslow typically took it all in his stride as he looked back on what had been a whirlwind visit to the French countryside.
“The car was ballistic…,” he noted, “The team had done such a good job of repairing it [after a difficult couple of days of practice and qualifying, which included a broken gearbox and a huge crash for Winslow's team-mate] and making improvements since qualifying that I could put it just about anywhere I wanted it.
“I made a good start and got past two cars on the first lap despite a few spots of rain on the Mulsanne Straight. Our car wasn't the quickest in a straight line because of an electrical issue, and it was running a little more downforce, so I knew I had to use that downforce in the slippery conditions on cold tyres and I managed to do that.
“At that stage I was either the fastest or the second fastest LMP2 car on track so, given we were at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, I was pretty happy with that. I did a double stint which moved us into the top half dozen in LMP2 before handing over to Michael [Munemann].
“Unfortunately, he had a very challenging stint with rain falling quite heavily after my stop. Half the track was wet, half the track was dry. He started with wets and coped fairly well with the first big downpour, but the team brought him in as the track started to dry and sent him out on slicks just as the heavens opened again.
“He aquaplaned as he came across an LMP1 car, which had spun, and another LMP2, and he had nowhere to go. He couldn't slow down and hit those cars and the barrier, which unfortunately damaged the chassis and the carbon tub. As the ACO wouldn't allow us to repair it, unfortunately that was the race over for us.”
Clearly disappointed, Winslow took the frustration in his stride whilst around him the team were clearly gutted, the Englishman circulating amongst the crew to thank each of them for their meteoric efforts across the weekend, in the process consoling both Alessandro Latif and Munemann, who was clearly devastated by the team's early exit.
“That's motor racing, you have to take those challenges as they come,” Winslow concluded, “If things were different, we'd be celebrating, but there are so many elements to reaching success at an event like this. The important thing is that we were competitive and were well placed to challenge for the win. I'm happy with my performance, I was comfortably quickest in the car in every session, even against my Audi-supported team-mate [Latif], but now the focus is on 2015 and putting together a race winning package!”
Winslow remains committed to winning the Australian GT Championship with Dean Koutsoumidis, a strong supporter of the Briton over recent years, but leaves no doubt where his sights are set next season.
“I can see the elements that are required for success [at Le Mans], and how we could achieve that goal,” he said, “Greaves were very happy with how I ran, and it didn't hurt to be the fastest of the two team cars during my stint in the race. It also didn't hurt to pass the team that beat me to the Asian Le Mans Series title on track too - not once, but three times… Fortunately, some of those teams have seen how quick I was here at Le Mans, so the discussions that were harder to unlock earlier in the year ahead of the event, have been much easier to have since this week started.
“My focus is now 100 per cent on achieving success at Le Mans in 2015. All I have to do is piece together how best to achieve that and how best to be race fit for next year by doing as many miles in a prototype as I can in the lead up to next June.
“It's no easy mountain to climb, but now I'm here, I'm in no hurry to leave, and I think it's only a matter of time before that champagne is mine!”