Written by Simon Dolan • Published 23rd June 2015
Simon Dolan is owner of British motor sport team, Jota Sport, and a successful businessman. He built SJD Accountancy into the UK’s biggest independent accountancy firm, and is now a Partner in The PHA Group. Throughout the season, Simon is giving a unique insight into the secrets of success on and off the track. In his fifth blog, he reflects on driving in the Le Mans 24-hour race: the most iconic, and brutal, event in motorsport:
Part Five: Narrow Margins
We drove the perfect race at Le Mans – and we still lost. We drove better than last year when we won the race, and we were quicker. We completed 358 laps at an average speed of 126mph, compared to 355 last year when we won, and in any other of the last 10 years that would have been enough to win the race.
It was the perfect week at Le Mans except for a small electrical component that let us down; we had a problem with a small gearbox sensor half an hour into the race. It’s just one of those things. There are 5000 different components in the car and one of them broke, just like it could in your TV or washing machine at home.
Oliver Turvey, one of our three drivers, radioed in that he was having problems with the gear selection. If the gearbox itself had gone that would have been our race over after just 30 minutes.
We identified the problem, that it was a sensor, and replaced it. We had the contingency plan in place, but it does take time. We lost nine minutes in the pits and lost the race by 42 seconds.
The winners went off the track twice, but managed to get back on it straight away both times. You need that bit of luck to win the race.
For us, the race was bitter sweet. Everyone performed brilliantly, but after spending nine minutes in the pits we had to spend the next 23 hours of driving trying to claw back the time we had lost. We knew we had to race flat-out for the rest of the race. It was exciting – that’s what Le Mans is all about, fighting back through the pack.
It was almost exactly the same as last year when we won, having battled back from mechanical problems. It was déjà vu. So we thought the outcome had to be the same, but it wasn’t to be. It’s ironic that we came second, having performed better than when we won the year before, but that can happen in this sport.
It was the most enjoyable drive I have ever done at Le Mans. It was my fifth time here and I was so much more relaxed than on some previous occasions. When you’re not overawed you drive better. I did four stints and was the fastest Silver (amateur) driver. One of my drives was from three o’clock in the morning to daybreak so it went from pitch black to the sun coming up. It was quite magical.
If we had the race again, there’s nothing I would do differently. We did everything we possibly could. Our preparations were spot-on. There were no bad strategic calls, the pit-stops were good, there were no driver mistakes.
We only lost because of circumstances beyond our control.
It some respects it makes the outcome more galling – we knew we had done everything right. But coming second in the biggest race on earth is not bad.
Now I’m having a bit of recovery time, spending time with the family – it takes a week or so to get the race out of your system – and then I’ll be back in the gym going flat out. Meanwhile, the car’s taken apart. Every part is taken off and it’s completely rebuilt. It’s just done more than 3000 miles – that’s an entire F1 season compressed into 24 hours.
There’s plenty to be optimistic about for the rest of the season. Filipe Albuquerque and Harry Tincknell are coming back into the team for the last three races. Filipe broke a 40-year-old lap record at Le Mans, driving for Audi, and Harry drove brilliantly for Nissan. We should be blitzing it in Austria for the next race in July.
There’s really stiff competition, but if we can make sure we get firsts and seconds in the final three races we should win the European Le Mans Series.