Aston Martin Le Mans Festival 2012
The team I work with was given the opportunity to run the support race for the 2012 Le Mans 24hr. As we’re currently involved in running the Aston Martin GT4 Challenge, this was a nice fit. The aim was a grid of 30 Aston Martin GT cars, and that’s exactly what we got.
The planning for the race started in mid 2011, but a great deal of the details couldn’t be ironed out until spring 2012. With such a colossal amount to organise, dealing with the ACO had its own challenges, the language barrier and the 24hr race both conspired to slow things down during our preparation. The ACO were actually very helpful, you have to work ‘their way’ but they gave us all the assistance we needed, particularly beneficial given that only one of the team had actually ever been to Le Mans before.
The entries came from all over the globe, bringing with them Aston Martin GT cars of every flavour. The fabulous variety ranged from historic Le Mans winning GT1 cars to a box fresh Vantage GT3, via a gaggle of GT4s.
Our paddock was on the left hand side of the Ford Chicane, close to the fun fair, well pretty much in the fun fair, which made keeping drunken fans out of the team trucks a bit of a task. Comprised of a combination of tarmac, gravel trap and boggy grass, parking up the teams in our paddock threatened to be an absolute nightmare, particularly as it was pouring the rain when the majority of the teams arrived. A bit of frantic paddock plan re-calculations and some serious trundle wheel action resolved any issues as they occurred and the 17 teams got themselves set up without too many disagreements.
There was real festival atmosphere amongst the teams with plenty of multi-lingual banter, but also a great deal of cooperation. With the paddock bracketed by the fun fair and one of the campsites, we attracted quite a lot of attention. Great fun, particularly when the teams were having to, shall we say ‘problem solve’. After running their DBRS9 in practice, Vantage Racing discovered an issue with the car’s gearbox. The ‘box wasn’t matching the revs on the downshifts, creating, at best, instability under braking and at worse potentially putting the gearbox itself at risk. They needed to test some down changes, but the only road available was the one through the campsite…
We got the ok to do a couple of ‘low speed’ runs past the tents and motor homes, but that was all. Stuart Hall jumped in the car and set about testing the issue, the only problem was that the clutch was cold and they aren’t the easiest things get off the line. Queue a boot full of revs, a cacophony of V12 thunder and a massive pair of black lines off the rear tyres. A bright yellow & blue DBRS9 fishtailing past a group of very sunburnt, very drunk Scottish lads resulted in huge cheers from the now growing crowd. It was a brilliant moment, right up to the point where the paddock marshal told us in no uncertain terms that we wouldn’t be doing that again. We definitely didn’t need to speak French to get the gist of what he meant.
The race itself took place in very wet conditions, pretty scary for seasoned la Sarthe veterans, let alone a bunch of gentleman drivers who hadn’t been there before. The standard of driving was actually very high, with no one doing anything really silly. The main aim was to put on a show for the crowd and let some hugely evocative machinery strut its stuff.
James Appleby duffing up some of the bigger cars in “character building” conditions:
Our small team had never done anything so big before and there was an immense feeling of satisfaction once the chequered flag came out. Lots of happy drivers, teams and fans, which was wonderful to experience. The support race slot isn’t available for two years now (Ferrari & Porsche have got it in ’13 & ’14), but based on how it went this year, 2015 could be mega.