My first visit to the Le Mans 24 Hour Race- with Sean Doyle
Originally I was meant to travel to Le Mans the evening after racing in Mondello Park on June 7, but before I could, I had a task to complete. All of the Murphy Prototype goody bags had to be collected in Dublin as they weren’t ready when the team had departed for France so I had to go to Dublin to collect them in my Nissan Ireland Nissan Juke, all 4,000 bags I’ll have you know! Before I could depart on Tuesday morning to catch the boat in Rosslare there was also a late delivery from Fran Hollywood of madeinhollywood.ie, who sent me eight #murphysmen cut out signs to bring with me to the track.
I left for the boat from Wicklow to Rosslare on a lovely sunny day and there was no hanging about once I arrived at the Port. I checked in, drove up the lane and straight onto the boat. I got to my cabin dumped my gear and went for a wander. To make the most of my time onboard I edited a couple of videos but with a lack of sufficient WiFi I couldn’t upload them till later in the week.
I got to the track mid afternoon on Wednesday and having collected my pass and car pass I parked just outside the back of the paddock. When I arrived it was straight to work as I grabbed the team’s golf buggy in order to get the goody bags from the back of my car and bring them to the truck to prepare them for handing out to all the fans. While we were doing that practice was underway but unfortunately there was an incident midway through the four hour practice and the Murphy Prototypes car had to be brought back on a flat bed. The mechanics worked hard to get the car back out with with twenty five minutes to go and they showed good pace.
The next day Thursday there wasn’t much on early morning so there was time for a lie on. I planned on picking up Karun Chandhok’s Dad from Le Mans Town but his plane was delayed and he was going to miss the Train from the Airport to Le Mans so I hopped in the car and drove to Paris at 17.30 just making it back for the final hour of qualifying. After a good qualifying session we were 8th on the grid for LMP2.
With no activity on Friday it was time to chill a little bit before the long couple of days ahead as we would be working right through from Saturday till Sunday. Saturday started with a short morning warm up with all three drivers getting two laps each before we had to make our way to the grid for 13:00. Team Manager Alan McGarrity sorted me with the race suit I required in order to work on the grid and in the pits as we pushed the car onto the grid for the start of the Le Mans 24 hour race of 2015.
The race got underway and it was time to sit back and watch as the 60 cars fought for position from the start. Late evening I went to watch the cars coming in around the first corner and it was unreal to see how quick the LMP1 cars were coming in and how hard they were braking! The TV doesn’t do it any justice at all. Another thing that is not evident from the TV pictures is the amount of camber on the public road sections of the circuit, but I’ll get back to that later.
During the race one of my first duties was to hand out the goodie bags. Myself and Emma, our grid girl, went around the paddock handing out the bags I had brought over in the trusty Juke. I know everyone loves free stuff but I was amazed by peoples reaction to the Murphy Prototypes freebies. As soon as they saw us coming with the bags they were almost running towards us to grab them. Many of them were also looking to take pictures, with Emma and not me for some reason!!
With the PR work done I could get back to the garage and observe the team at work. I had no specific job to do
during the race apart from making sure the team had everything it needed, including food and refreshments, as they could not leave the garage. Everything was going fairly routinely for Murphy Prototypes until early on Sunday morning, around 03:00, when I heard the call that the car was coming in for a scheduled stop. Just before we pitted the Ferrari GT in the next garage was in for a fuel stop and while this was taking place the Italian machine went up in flames. The fire was put out just in time for us to be able to stop safely, just as the Ferrari was pushed into its garage. Five minutes later it was back on track. Around 07.30 I fell asleep for thirty or forty minutes and woke up nice and fresh ready for the reaming seven and a half hours.
The biggest drama of the race arose from Mark Patterson being hit from behind, which damaged the rear wing. Mark got the Car back to the garage and while the mechanics were taking the rear end apart I went and got a new one from Oreca and brought it back to the Murphy’s pit ready for them to put it on and send Mark back on his way. You don’t realise the size of an LMP2 rear wing until you have to carry one through the paddock and it was good going by the team to have such a major repair turned around in under ten minutes. In the end this incident contributed to us finishing fifth in class, which is a great result but slightly unfortunate, as we were running in a podium position for quite a while during the race.
After the race we all had a sit down and chat in the teams catering about the race. When we were finished Greg Murphy got us into the Porsche hospitality unit, as he is Brendon Hartley’s manager, and It was great to be part of the winning team’s party. We stayed there till around 02:00 on Monday morning and then made our way back to the lovely Château which Greg very kindly put me up in over the week I was in Le Mans.
While everyone headed home on Monday I had to stay till Tuesday as I had to get the boat back with my car to Ireland, but it was well worth the extra day stay as it gave me a chance to go the circuit museum and to see all the fantastic Le Mans cars. Before I left I just had to take the opportunity to drive the Mulsanne straight and then up to the Porsche curves on my way to the boat. As I said earlier the TV doesn’t do some things at Le Mans justice and this was when I saw just how severe the camber is on the public roads which are used for the event. It was bad enough in my road car and I can’t imagine what it is like in a Race Car doing speeds in excess of 200mph, however I do hope to find out in the near future.
I’d like to thank Greg Murphy for the opportunity he and his team have given me to be a part of the Le Mans 24 Hour race with such a fantastic Irish team and such a great bunch of people. Roll on 2016.