The Le Mans Test Day takes place each year several weeks before the Le Mans race weekend. It acts as a way for drivers to settle in to the circuit, and also to make adjustments to find a fast and comfortable car to race for the race itself. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, Automobile Club of the West, or ACO closes the French public roads required to complete the 8.6mile Le Mans Circuit de la Sarthe course we run on for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Because of this, the course itself is only available for one day of testing, which allows for a practice with two separate 4-hour sessions of on track action.
Once you split this time between 3 drivers and factor in competitors crashing which delays valuable clear track time, and remember the fact that the course is almost 9 miles long and takes ~ 3 minutes 30 seconds to complete each lap you know that you are almost certainly going to leave wanting more.
Luckily our Le Mans test day goal was simple. Our focus was on prioritizing track time for myself to get acclimated and to learn the daunting circuit, doing set up work later in the day, and finally, making sure that everything felt good in the car and we were as comfortable as we can be in these ultra-fast cars.
The day started well with shorter runs for each of us to make sure we are comfortable, and that the car is safe. After that we moved through our mandatory 10-lap runs. To be approved to drive at Le Mans for the race itself, each driver must do 10 full laps around the circuit.
For me the circuit itself is literally a dream come true… I’ve dreamt of running this historic track since I was young, and it lived up my expectations. In addition to flying past road signs used for normal traffic at 210mph, the track has these corners that really are what separate the good from the great.
For example, you turn in to the corner named “Indy 1” with a light touch of the brakes and clip the apex (tightest, centerpoint of the corner) in the top of 5th gear at close to 180mph before braking again for the 2nd gear corner “Indy 2” – there are walls on the inside and the outside.
Only two corners later you drag the brakes to downshift into 5th gear before turning right into the “Porsche Curves” complex at 155mph where you stare towards another wall and then flick the car into the another set of flat out double left-hand corners that have barriers touching the curbing at the exit. This completes the Porsche curve.
This is a place where it pushes you to dig deeper & deeper, but much like human endurance there’s a limit somewhere. And at 160 mph pulling 4G through a corner, the limit can appear very suddenly; however, the marks on the walls stand as a constant reminder.
Leaving the test, we have a huge amount of data for the engineers to pour over and look for opportunities to improve the car and also for us as drivers to see where our teammates do a better job and how we can more closely mimic them.
We get back on track now the week before the race on Wednesday, June 12th, with a 2-hour Free Practice session. After this open practice session, every session that follows including the 10PM – Midnight session later that night serves as a qualifying session where our best times are recorded to determine our starting position. The only other requirement is that drivers run 5 timed laps during the night practice sessions to be able to drive in the race during the night portion of the race itself.
We’ll be posting content all over social media, so you can follow along here:
Today was scrutineering day at Le Mans, where the officials make sure we are completely in compliance with the regulations. What started as a cool and rainy morning eventually turned into cloudy day, and finally by the end of the day, it felt like the middle of the french summer.
I started the day with a long run to get the nerves out and stay loose this week and even got to enjoy a really neat Sunday market going on in the center of the town below the Le Mans Cathedral. We were at the track by noon, and we headed to the Place de République for scrutineering of the cars of the cars and our safety equipment at around 1:45pm where we were ushered through the huge crowds waiting to watch all of the cars and drivers rolled past. We stopped to sign autographs and “Selfie Selfie” as much as we could, but were in a rush to check our equipment with the officials.
Meet the Press
After that was complete there was a quick press run, more selfies with fans and small (recorded) conversations with local and international press, driver videos for the tv and social media of the 24 Heures du Mans. The last piece was the most unexpected part was being ushered onto a stage in front of a huge crowd for a sit down conversation that I had no idea was going to happen. I recovered as quickly as I could, but there was certainly a shot in being sat down in front of a crowd of screaming race fans for a translated english-french-english chat for the TV and live audience.
Behind the Scenes
What I thought was the final stage of the day was taking pictures in the center of the square with the entire team of drivers in our Jackie Chan DC Racing team as well as the men and women that work tirelessly behind the scenes to put all of this together. This image will be ingrained in my mind for a long time to come…
All of it was a little overwhelming, but one of the coolest parts was the time we had to wander around the gated circle and chat to fans. I was asked to sign pictures of cars I drove as far back as 2016 at Daytona and Circuit of the Americas and Canada and on and on… It blew my mind. The little kids got so into all of it that it really made it all very real. I remember being those little kids just loving motorsport and trying to get as close to the action as I could.
If this is just the scrutineering day I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings. I’m certainly leaning on my teammates to help me keep my nerves and cool through this crazy week of press events and marketing.