Cape Town - If you ask a general member of the public about motorsport, Formula 1 will be the first and usually the only type that is on their radar, but there are many more types of racing that bring just as much excitement and are arguably more interesting.
Whilst I follow Formula 1, Touring Car racing, Moto GP etc, my passion is for sports car and endurance racing, the pinnacle of which is the 24 hours of Le Mans. I have been lucky enough to participate in various forms racing and have driven many fantastic cars, often on the same circuits that the Grands Prix visit, so I thought I’d explain my preferred branch of the sport.
Endurance racing has recently become more widely appreciated, partly due to the participation of current F1 drivers in the Le Mans 24 Hours, with Nico Hulkenberg winning in 2015 with Porsche and Fernando Alonso winning this year with Toyota in their 1000bhp hybrid monster.
Endurance racing differs from F1 in that there are often several classes of car, each with very different speeds. For example, there are prototypes like the Toyota and then road based GT cars that I drive such as Aston Martins or Ferraris.
The races are usually much longer and last between 3 and 24 hours, and with more than one driver sharing the car there are very different demands on cars, teams and drivers. Pit stops are dictated by how long the car can go on a tank of fuel, and whilst in F1 tyres will always be changed, this is not necessarily the case in endurance racing as time can be gained by double, or even triple stinting the tyres due to saving time changing them in the pit stop. Therefore, as a driver, managing and looking after the tyres while on the racetrack is vital as in the long run it could pay off. These strategies are played out over several hours in a high-speed game of chess.
As it’s a long event, in the past endurance racing has been perceived as not having the cut and thrust and excitement of sprint racing. However, that is not the case anymore, as cars have become more reliable and the competition closer, resulting in what is now effectively a long sprint, with cars and drivers being flat out from the off. This means that there is no margin for error and against a background of strategy and the spectacle of driving through the night, there is a cocktail of drama lasting the duration of the race.
I’ve experienced my fair share of the drama from the cockpit, and in 2017 I won the European Le Mans Series GTE class in a Ferrari 488, including a win on my first visit to Monza – what an experience that was! I have also competed in the Spa 24 hours for GT cars in 2013 in a beast of a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 at the legendary Spa Francorchamp circuit, which was the first time I had raced at night, but I am yet to race at the “big one” – Le Mans – although it’s firmly in my sights.
The Le Mans 24 Hours is such a special and unique event, one which I visited for the first time when I was 7 years old. The 250,000 strong crowd start arriving several days before the race and you’re never far from loud music, the smell of food and the explosive speed and noise of the various cars (unlike F1, the cars sound distinctly different from one another). Seeing the headlights coming towards you and the cars flashing into the dark – it’s something you have to experience to appreciate.
It would be easy to dismiss endurance racing as long and drawn out, but there are so many facets to it to it, and the excitement level can be equal or even higher than F1, but for a longer period of time. What’s not to love? I encourage you to check it out for yourself!