It’s been a rather long break after Le Mans and I was looking forward to being back in the cockpit when we tested at Lausitz three weeks ago. We’ve learnt a lot about the car in the first three races and were able to improve the car in all areas over summer. We’ve introduced a few aero updates which provide a higher downforce and should help improve the 919’s race performance for the remaining races.
The biggest difference for me coming back to Austin this year with the sports car is the temperature, because we never really raced there in super hot conditions in F1. The WEC race there is a bit earlier in the season and it looks like it’s going to be hotter and the track will behave a bit differently from a grip perspective.
The Circuit of the Americas is a very demanding track as it’s got a lot of different speed ranges, long straights and also lot of elevation changes. Turn 1 has got quite a spectacular and dramatic approach up a steep hill featuring a blind apex.
I think generally the low speed corners will be a little bit more awkward in the sports car because it’s heavier. The backend of the middle sector when we get into turn 12 to 15 is going to be a bit more challenging than in the Formula One car. I’ve got some pretty good knowledge about the track having raced there twice with F1 and I’m looking forward to swinging that across especially into the first two or three sessions.
The race will start at 5pm local time and we will race into the dark. I think it’s such a great atmosphere and it’s pretty rare in motorsport that you get the opportunity to run in the twilight window. We will be starting pretty much in the peak of heat of the day, very late in the afternoon. I’ve experienced this before racing in Abu Dhabi and have always enjoyed the special mood when the sun goes down and the night settles in, except Abu Dhabi has always been well lit. On the track in Austin I think it’s only the pit straight that has artificial light and the rest of the track will be pretty dark so the big lights of the Porsche will come in very handy.
Having raced in Austin before I’ve seen how passionate the fans out there are about motorracing and they seem to enjoy big powerful cars and endurance racing. The LM24 hours has a big following when it comes to the American audience and it’s the same with the Sebring 12 hour race which is very famous and the 24 hours of Daytona. It will be great to get out there again also because the North Americans particularly love the Porsche’s.
Cutting down from 20 to eight races in a season sounds like gaining a lot of downtime – and it would, if you weren’t a competitive, driven, outdoor loving Aussie who can’t quite sit still. Mark has a thirteen-week gap until the next race in Austin in September and he talks about the racing break, Wimbledon, the Football World Cup, mountain biking and why you should be careful of Kodak moments.
You asked what happened. Porsche were to have a stop in 3 laps app.10 minutes, but Timo picked up a puncture, so they had to do the stop earlier. Mark had to rush.
Thanks for clearing that up. I only saw that situation on the replays.
For the first time in 15 years I went down Mulsanne last weekend. Coming over the crest of the hump I thought of the very different experience I had there in 1999 but it actually, and thankfully, felt like another lifetime. So much has changed in my world since then and I’ve been through plenty of trials and tribulations which perhaps helps to put things into perspective and leaves you more chilled that these things can happen.
I am certainly more relaxed going into the race than I was 15 years ago. It’s only natural when you have a lot more experience, you’re a lot more composed. When I was a young driver going into Le Mans driving for a major manufacturer, I was aware of the expectation on me, I was trying to make my way as a professional. But now, even though I’m still extremely respectful of the job I have to do, as an experienced driver, I’m more aware of the bigger picture and focussing on the things that will be important at key moments. When you’re younger you probably don’t appreciate that stuff as much.
The pre test last weekend was pretty seamless for us. The car ran well and we learnt a lot during the two four-hour sessions. The track is incredibly quick and the pace of the 919 around there is phenomenal. It’s close to 330 km/h on the straight and there are many other times during the lap when the speed is very high and that’s really enjoyable. The track is very long and around 3mins 30sec lap time in any top-flight motor racing is a long lap to put together consistently. You really have to go there and walk around to experience just how long the lap is and get a feel for the different speed ranges that the cars have to go through. It was nice to confirm to myself that I really enjoyed the challenge of putting it together around La Sarthe. To be honest, I’m pretty low on my laps still but we did as many as we could during the test last weekend as well as factoring in the other drivers. I got into a good rhythm and emotionally it was a pretty calm day for me.
I really enjoy the section down into Indianapolis. It’s a fast right-hander followed by a very cambered left-hander. I think most racing drivers love corners that are quite cambered so you can really use the grip of the car and the tyres. Also, to get all of the Porsche Curves together is a great challenge for a driver and when you do it’s very rewarding as it’s such a famous part of the track. The chicane after Dunlop and before Tertre Rouge is different from when I last drove there and also they’ve flattened out the hump on Mulsanne after I had my crash. It was a lot steeper then and now it’s not as dramatic going over the top of it. Also, the last chicane was a lot more open when I drove there back in the days; they’ve made this a lot tighter by putting in some big kerbs.
Le Mans has a very unique atmosphere amid its 24-hour cycle. There are different phases of the race and the changing light; sunset, twilight, racing in the dark before dawn, sunrise and a new day. There are 200,000 people watching and it’s such an endurance based race for the drivers, the mechanics and the cars. You see how beautiful the cars look at the start of the race and how tired they look at the end and everyone else looks pretty much the same – even the fans after having had a few drinks during that window! The atmosphere in the build up to Saturday afternoon’s start is quite unique. It really is a race that has its own rules and given how extreme it is with the distance we have to cover, it’s like nothing else.
It’s a big challenge to get things right on race day. As a team we have to work collectively and extremely openly together. The adrenaline is still in the system even when you’re not in the car so it’s not easy to shut down completely but I will have to find a window to wind down. I hope I will be absolutely knackered by the end of the race, which would be a great problem to have because it’ll mean the car has run very, very well. That’s what we want - we want to keep the garage time to a minimum. If the car is running well then, of course, we have good tactics when each driver will have their rest period and get some sleep. It’s important to try to shut down and allow the brain to have a little bit of a recharge because come the next morning and up until lunchtime, that’s when all the drivers will be getting a little bit more tired and that’s when you still need to remain fully focussed. Short little nano-naps will be the order of the day. It’s been a long time between drinks, but it’s actually very good to be back at Le Mans.
24 hours is a long time, especially if you’re not sleeping and you’re staying focused, concentrating on racing a car with 200 km/h around a 13km track.
As Mark prepares to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, how about showing your support and be in with the chance of winning a signed T-shirt by the man himself?
To enter, just send in a message of support – it could be a written message, a photo or a video; whatever takes your fancy.
We’ll put the very best on markwebber.com and Mark will choose his favourite to win the signed T-shirt.
How to take part:
Send your message of support to email@example.com before 6pm GMT on June 1. Include your full name and daytime phone number.
What’s up for grabs?
The winner will get one of the new Mark Webber endurance tees signed by Mark and the two runner-ups will receive a signed cap.
We’ll get in touch with the winners to arrange getting their prizes.
I remember watching the Monaco GP when I was about 8. It was one of the first races I watched on TV and Nigel Mansell was leading in the Lotus. It was pouring down with rain and he crashed out on the hill which was my most vivid memory as a young lad. Monaco for sure is one kind of a race. Anywhere where you have such an impressive setting with the ocean and the cliffs going straight into the backdrop of Monte Carlo is massively dramatic. Then you’ve got the boats parked in the bays of the harbour and in the middle of all that lies the racing track. For a driver it certainly is a special setting. You come through a tunnel, go past a casino and all these very famous landmarks are part of the track.