Last weekend British motor racing fans were treated to the sights and sounds of Le Mans, as the LMES came to Britain.

Apart from the dedicated fans who make the trip to France every year, the meeting will have been the first chance many fans will have had to see the Le Mans car racing in the flesh. decided that, with the series racing on its doorstep, this was the ideal chance to find out more about the championship and, with a bit of help from Rick Pearson of Tracsport, we provide the Idiots Guide to the LMES.
Rick, what's the LMES all about?

Rick Pearson:
Basically they've relaunched the classic 1000km races, Monza, Nurburgring, Silverstone and Spa, that were so famous in the 1970's, and they've used that to create a championship that is effectively a qualifying series for next seasons Le Mans race. If we finish in the top three in the championship, we get automatic qualification. If we manage to finish the races and look good while we do it then maybe we can persuade the organisers that we're worthy of an entry to La Sarthe next year.
So realistically, all the teams and cars that fans see here today are the ones they would see if they went to the famous race.

Rick Pearson:
Exactly, it's exactly the same cars. You've got the Goh Audi that won the race this year, plus the works Audis from Veloqx, which are superb pieces of machinery, dicing it out against the three Zytek cars which look pretty good here around Silverstone. That's the LMP1 category for top level prototypes.

We have a little bit less power, we're a second division car but there's ten of us out there, pretty much ten in each category to be honest. Fundamentally they are exactly the same cars which the cars will see at Le Mans next year.
Looking at the cars, you have the LMP1s, the LMP2s like Tracsport and then the GT cars. What's the main difference between them?

Rick Pearson:
Well between LMP1 and LMP2 the difference is weight and power. They weight a bit more than us, we're about 720 kilos, they are about 900. We have about 450 to 520 brake horsepower, depending on what spec engines you are running and how much reliability you expect from them, the big boys probably have 700bhp plus. They are pulling probably 185 to 190mph down the end of the Hangar Straight while we are only getting to about 160mph, but that's still pretty quick.
And the GT cars. How much different are they to, for example, the Porsche 911 that we'd see driving along the road?

Rick Pearson:
Well there are two categories in the GT class. You have the GT category itself, which is the lowest of the four categories and they have to take a reasonable amount off the road car. The shell, the suspension location, and the basic engine have to be carried across.

But then you have the category above that, the GTS cars, that run a very similar pace to us where I think, realistically, the Ferrari's take the rear light cluster and the badge off the front and that's about the only thing! They are effectively silhouette versions of the road car.
Looking at the shape of the racing weekend, how does it go for a team?

Rick Pearson:
For us, the boys will start setting up early on Thursday morning. The car will have been prepared over the previous few weeks, so they'll be polishing it up and getting the garage organised. We arrive late on Thursday for signing on, and we had a nice hour and a quarter shakedown session for this meeting. Then Friday you're into qualifying. We had one practice session and two qualifying sessions, fortunately all dry after the Nurburgring when conditions were very mixed. This weekend at Silverstone we race into the dusk so the race start is 2pm. We have a shakedown in the morning, just a final systems check to shake any cobwebs out of the driver who is starting the car and then we just sit tight and wait for that fantastic rolling start.
At the moment, the British GT cars are out on the track doing their qualifying runs. They do two qualifying sessions, one for each race they do, and the driver who will start the race has to do the qualifying for that race. Is there a rule like that in the LMES? Does the driver who is starting the race have to do the qualifying?

Rick Pearson:
No, we all have to do three laps to make sure we've all qualified, but basically we can then nominate any driver to start the race as long as we do so within 30 minutes of the end of the second qualifying session. The fastest boy usually gets in the car first, for us there is virtually nothing between us on pace so we'll put the guy whose least likely to get into trouble on the early laps.
So you say each driver has to qualify. What would happen if two of the drivers qualified and then the third driver hit problems and wasn't able to set a time?

Rick Pearson:
He wouldn't be able to run unless we could get a dispensation.
So you could run with just the two drivers but not the third?

Rick Pearson:
Yes, you could but you wouldn't want to really. It's a bit tiring to be doing it round here with just the two of you. The Audis will run two drivers, but they are superfit, ex Formula One drivers, so they can manage that sort of thing. We wouldn't have any problems running two drivers, but obviously it would be disappointing.

Fundamentally if you could prove that the driver had achieved a reasonable time in the practice sessions that you've already had then normally you can get a dispensation from the stewards to get the guy in if its just a technical problem that's stopped him going quickly enough. It's more a thing just to stop people rocking up who really can't drive for toffee.
Then heading into the race, obviously it's a six hour long event, how long do you expect to drive? Do you each do two hours or is it split more unevenly?

Rick Pearson:
Each driver gets in it until he runs out of fuel, so if I use my fuel up too soon then I get out earlier than I would do otherwise, but we reckon the car will run about an hour, an hour and a quarter round here and it takes longer to fuel than it does to change drivers so we can have a fairly leisurely driver change while the mechanics are fuelling the car, we're allowed to do that at the same time.

Its not like F1, they can't change the tyres at the same time so if you need a tyre change you do that after you have fuelled. We might have a tyre strategy and try and double stint the tyres, which would minimise your time in the pits and keep it running like clockwork. That's the key here, time in the pits is time lost and going quicker in your laps only to spend a long time in the pits isn't worth it.
Just talk us through what happens when you come into the pits. How easy is it to do the driver change? Is it just a simple one hops out and the other hops in?

Rick Pearson:
Yeah, in theory - there's a bit more to it than that!

Basically as you come into the pits, you hit the 60kph line, you get your thumb on the button to make sure you have the speed limiter running for the pitlane, we'll be ion second gear at that point. As soon as you see the pits, as soon as you see the marker board, you knock it down into first, kill the engine, loosen all the belts off and get ready to pop out.

As soon as you're stationary, you pop the belts and pile into the passenger seat and the next guy will already be in. He looks after the shoulder straps and pulls the crotch strap up through his legs. You then plug in his lap belts for him, plug in his top belts for him, plug in his radio, plug in his water bottle and pile out as quickly as you can over the passenger side.
And roughly how long does it take?

Rick Pearson:
We can get it down to well under 30 seconds which, given that its 45 seconds to fill up the car means we have plenty in hand.

It isn't leisurely though, it's almost as physical as driving the car!