This is it! The run up to the most famous motor race in the world - the 24-Hours of Le Mans - has begun and the Murphy Prototypes team is currently preparing for its fourth assault on this annual nirvana of endurance racing.
The team will compete in the 83rd running of the race with the same Nissan-powered Oreca 03R it uses to contest the 2015 European Le Mans Series. It will be driven at Le Mans this year by Karun Chandhok (India), Mark Patterson (RSA/USA) and Nathanaël Berthon (France).
Following last Sunday’s official test on the 13.629km (8.46-mile) Circuit de la Sarthe, when Chandhok set the third-fastest LMP2 time in the morning and then went on to set the fastest time in the class in the afternoon, the team is upbeat about its chances of a good result this year. However, it’s not just speed that counts in the toughest race in the world, as Team Principal Greg Murphy explains:
“Le Mans pushes you to the limit: whether you’re a driver, an engineer, mechanic or team owner, everything you’ve ever learnt about racing - and even what you haven’t - gets tested to the full.
“There’s something about this race. It’s not just because you’re competing twice around the clock, it’s everything else as well. The long straights and tight corners mean the car is being stretched and, with so much prestige attached to the event, the pressure’s on to do well. We hope that our pace in the test last week will follow through to the race and, with the driver line-up and set-up we have this year, I believe we’re in with a great chance of a top result.”
The build up during the week leading up to the race is almost as legendary as the event itself, with scrutineering and public displays by the teams in the town’s Place de la République on Sunday and Monday. This is followed by a series of media events and the drivers’ autograph session on Tuesday, with two free practice and qualifying sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday represents the calm before the storm with attractions and activities laid on for the public, including the chance for spectators to walk the pit lane and take photos of the teams in their garages. And then it’s Saturday, when the tension mounts before the lights go green at 3:00pm.
Q1: Following the official test, what do you think of the team’s prospects for the race?
Karun Chandhok”The test went well for us despite the tricky weather. I was fortunate to do a reasonable lap in the afternoon that put us P1, but there's certainly more performance to come. We didn't get to do any of the tyre work, which was unfortunate although it's the same for everyone. I think we're definitely in the ballpark for a podium this year, but there’s at least seven or eight teams who I’m sure would say the same. It's super-competitive out there, but if all of us do a good job with no mistakes and some good luck, I’m confident we can achieve a good result next weekend.”
Mark Patterson“After the team’s second place in the ELMS round at Imola last month, followed by our pace in the test, I believe we have a sound shot at a 2015 podium in the LMP2 class next weekend, no doubt about it. Test day let us do dry and wet set ups and our car performed well in both conditions - conditions the forecasters predict will be repeated in the race.”
Nathanaël Berthon“Last weekend’s test was pretty good in terms of performance and reliability. We were very fast, but we now have to think about being reliable throughout one complete day. If we don't have any issues, I think we can be fighting at the top of the LMP2 class.”
Q2: How do you prepare yourself personally to ensure you’re ready for the Le Mans? Is there anything specific that you do for this event that you wouldn’t do for other races?
Karun Chandhok " It's a really hard week at Le Mans because it feels like you're there forever. It's the only race in the year where I stay at the track in a camper van, which is kind of fun, but it’s also important to try and build up your own space away from the madness. I take my bike out there to do some cycling everyday and have a bit of alone time - otherwise it's hard to really spend a whole week in the middle of nowhere - especially when the time in the car is actually pretty limited. Normally it's good to have a relaxed couple of weeks and bank some sleep, but I raced in the Formula E race in Moscow on Saturday so there's not much chance of that happening."
Mark Patterson"Almost all drivers are fitness freaks, but anyone who’s series about Le Mans will have to step up the regime to ensure cardio endurance is at a peak for race day. Other than that, for me, everything else is a predictive schedule of pre-race rituals and making sure you’re ready for the challenge that lies ahead."
Nathanaël Berthon“When it comes to preparation, I've tried to follow the advice of more experienced Le Mans drivers. As we know, the race is very demanding, not only physically but also mentally, so I will start by having a good nights sleep all this week. Then, from a physical point of view, I am already training hard every day for the GP2 championship, so I don't think this side of things will be a problem.”
Q3: Having competed at Le Mans before, what is your experience of the race and your opinion of it as an event?
Karun Chandhok " The actual Saturday and Sunday of the race is magical - you just get so much satisfaction from driving around that track. As I said, it feels like it takes a whole month of your life and it's important to keep your mind occupied and also take the time to relax and switch off. A very special race indeed and I once again feel so proud to be the first, and so far, only Indian to take part in the 24-hours of Le Mans."
Mark Patterson "The world is laced with epic racing events, but one has to be the undisputed best (to paraphrase Mohammed Ali) - without exaggeration ‘dis be de greatest’. The track is unique, the crowd is enormous and deeply involved, the weather irritatingly unpredictable and every year half-a-dozen cars do something so out of character it boggles the mind and drastically alters the outcome of the race."
Nathanaël Berthon“Le Mans is a very demanding event, especially as you’re constantly having to overtake slower cars and then be overtaken by faster LMP1 cars. There’s also the issue of Pro versus Amateur drivers. Last year’s Le Mans was one of my best ever experiences in motorsport, even though we didn't finish. I was honestly surprised to see how professional everything was. I love this type of racing, as it's great sharing the experience with team-mates.”