Imagine having to fix a car in 20 minutes, knowing that the driver, the team around you and thousands of people outside are depending on the work you do just to make sure the vehicle leaves the garage.
This is the task faced by the mechanics in the pit lane at races all over the world. They can truly be called mechanics as they are the guys in the thick of it. There is no diagnosing an errant MIL light, while any telematics adjustments are left to the data team at the back of the pits. Instead, the team at the sharp end are required to refit body parts, check tyres and change brake pads and discs in times you could only dream of achieving.
You may have already noticed I’m a bit of a motorsport fan, so when Gulf Oils offered me the chance to see what goes on in a pit garage during a test session I was understandably excited. When they told me I was to work with the Aston Martin Racing (AMR) team at the official Le Mans 24 Hours test weekend, which was the icing on the cake. What I learnt over the course of those two days changed my view on the work that goes on behind the scenes, giving me a new found appreciation for the guys to whom the team really look to bring home the results.
The Le Mans test gives teams the opportunity to fettle the cars and achieve the best set-up possible for the drivers. Taking place on the weekend of the 7th and 8th of June, two-weeks before the famous endurance event, the first day was all about setting up the garage, building the cars and doing any promotional work, photography and so forth out on the track. It was attended by all teams and drivers across all the different classes, LMP1, LMP2 Prototypes, LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am. The AMR team had two cars in each of the GTE categories, with the number 97 being the team’s lead car, driven by Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Bruno Senna. Turning up on the first day, I was just in time to meet with Partner Manager Warren Jones, who took me on a brief track walk around Dunlop Curve and the chicane to the Dunlop Bridge, where the 97 car was having promotional pictures taken. Here I got to meet Darren as well as some of the team I would be spending the following day with. Walking back, we were able to traverse the length of the pit lane, with the Audi, Toyota and Porsche LMP1 cars on display outside their garages.
Unlike Formula 1, Endurance racing is a much more open series to its fans. You will never see an F1 car sitting in the pit lane with people flocking around to take photographs without being blocked or having screens erected around. Letting fans get closer to the sport gives them more reason to want to be involved and it was certainly working at Le Mans. Even at a test day, the circuit was packed with people just there to see cars doing the odd run of laps and then pitting.
The following day we arrived at the circuit at 8am, with many of the mechanics having already been there for a couple of hours. I was given my team shirt, a set of gloves and then was put to work helping to finish the garage build. While doing this, I was able to keep an eye on what the mechanics were doing to get the cars prepped and ready. I also found out a bit about what goes on during a test day. One example is the brake discs and pads. These have to be ‘scrubbed’ so they are at their best ready to use on race day. With two guys stationed at each wheel, a disc and set of pads were changed in under two minutes, including removing and replacing the wheels. The heat that came off the discs after just one lap was immense! These were then put to the back of the garage to either be used later or kept until the race.
Other duties performed during the day included checking the wheel weights on the wet-weather wheels and tyres, cleaning the cars themselves and scraping – heating the tyre with a heat gun and scraping off the excess rubber (or marbles) that had been picked up on the circuit. These little things all add to the performance of the cars, with every tenth gained helping towards the overall team position.
After lunch, Warren offered me a set of overalls and the opportunity to watch the action from the pit wall opposite the AMR garage. It was here I was able to view the cars out on track, as well as blasting past on the pit lane. The one thing that stood out was the speed of the mechanics in pulling a car in, working on it and getting it out on circuit again. It was also fascinating to hear each car with its own unique engine note. The GTE Corvette was certainly the loudest!
At the end of the day it was a quick debrief, while I watched the guys pack equipment away ready to be used again in a fortnight’s time. The hard work and effort that went into that one test day will be quadrupled during the actual race and this effort is repeated time after time at various different circuits all over the world. It was certainly an eye opening experience, at the front end of motorsport is the driver, yet behind them is a team working hard just to gain those crucial tenths that could be the difference between success and failure.