LE MANS
Pre Le Mans
-
14/06/2001
 
Kerry Morse
On Cara's Le Mans
 
Forward: Before the start of last year's 24 Heures du Mans, I asked Cara de Vlaming to keep a journal of her week at la Sarthe. This piece was originally intended for publication last year in the United States. However, one of the sadder aspects of the printed worldwide media today dictates that most articles be edited down to a thousand words or less. The final text had been cut so much that the honest aspect of her account had been lost so the article was pulled. Fortunatley, the editorial policy of Malcolm Cracknell and TotalMotorSport encourages stories like this.

Based on what Cara had to say about last year, maybe we can get Fiona Miller to let us know what really happens at Panoz at this year's 24 Heures du Mans.

The following is a first person account of Cara de Vlaming's 2000 Le Mans.

Kerry Morse



Cara - The Heart of Team Oreca



Many of the people in motorsport exist simply because it is their own personal calling. The true professionals that make the business of the sport function. Then there are those special individuals who arrive as if they were auditioning for a new role in the theater. Cara de Vlaming is such a person. Having a rich, diverse, almost unreal background, Cara arrived at Team Oreca with little knowledge of motorsport. But considering that this is a woman who decided that a walking tour of the islands of the far east would be fun, how difficult could it be?

She was a quick learner with the FIA GT series, the ALMS and of course, Le Mans. Cara now deals with many of the technical matters and the entire handling of press relations. The tall, model like, native of Holland is a much liked and respected member of the GT circus. How good is she? The best testament came from a fellow driver competitor who wondered why Cara and her small hand picked crew of five do a better job than the 20 employed by his team.


Sunday

Leave for the drive to the Sarthe. A good time to rest up for the upcoming
week.

Monday - Thursday

This time is spent in the lounges setting up the equipment, all the computers, fax machines, phones. The cars will be on the track for practice and qualifying for Wednesday and Thursday and the night practice lasts until midnight. There is always someone going from the lounges to the pitbox and back at this time.

Friday

Nothing is happening on the track but the team is busy with the cars. There are reports to get out from qualifying. I enjoy this day as it is a last chance to talk with friends before the race. After dinner I always try to get as much sleep as possible. It never happens though.


Saturday.

Get up very early to be on the circuit by 07.00. to prepare for a long day (actually two days). Even though the race does not start till 16.00, many things to do.

Checking the catering for the lounges, take care of the last accreditation requests, assist with the Viper lap. At 11.25 Vipers from the various Viper clubs, and PT Cruisers for journalists and executives will do a lap of the circuit. Everybody needs to go to the right car and wait till they can follow the pace car. I jump in one of the PT cruisers and get my second chance to see the circuit (did the same last year). Pretty amazing. I cannot begin to think what it must feel to drive really fast. I leave that with no problem to the professionals.

After that a briefing to the PR staff which consists of 5 pitlane reporters who during the 24 hours record everything what is happening. One person in the PR lounge above the pit records everything which is happening in the pits. Cars in / out, who is driving, why they stop, what is being changed, etc. etc. We also include this whenever possible for the private Viper teams.

Then there are two persons who look after everything to do with keeping the lounge in order, as sometime during the race as many as 15 people might be working in the lounge, they also take care of the press kits to the press room, taking the hourly reports, handing out posters, hero cards, make coffee, snacks, you cannot survive the 24 hours without a lot of snacks. etc. etc. Then a writer, translator and photographer are also with the team.

For the Vipers we will send out a race report 4 hours into the race at 20.00 then one at midnight, one at 8 in the morning one at midday and one after the race. For the LMP one 3 hours in the race and 1 hour before every Viper report. Of course unless something happens this seems to work fine. An emergency plan is in place in case an accident happens. Everybody is aware.

We check all the walkies and decide on a schedule for pit reporting in case somebody wants go to sleep during the race - which nobody says they want, but during the night when things are relatively quiet you do not have to have a full staff on stand by.

At 16.00 everybody is where they need to be.

I sit looking out over the pits while recording who is in the cars, and looking at the big TV screen. After the first lap one of the LMP car has a problem and drops out of the race. Oil pressure problem. We decide we do not need to do an extra press release but will tell everybody who wants / needs to know what has happened. Very unfortunate for all, and especially Yannick Dalmas. By the time the first hour is up the PR staff feels comfortable with what they are doing and finds their way with the mechanics, engineers and the enormous number of people in the pitboxes.

After the first hour somebody takes over from me to write the notes and I go down to the pitbox and talk to the drivers and mechanics. During the race (any race) there are few people I like to talk to as they explain technical stuff to me. One of them is David Burger from Caldwell who is a great source of information to me. If there is anything, David always knows. He has a great sense of humor too.

I love to be in the pitbox. It is great to see the pit stops, drivers getting out of the car, drivers going in, the mechanics moving without unnecessary movements, tires being checked, drivers being massaged and looked after. The heat in the car is immense so the drivers are well looked after.

Lots of people in the special area from where they can watch what is happening. Some people hand me their camera as they are not allowed near the car so I hope I take good snapshots. The Speedvision TV are coming by and ask for David Donohue to be interviewed so I go and find him. Radio Le Mans comes and talks to whoever of the drivers are around and ask me some questions. Photographers are taking photographs and apart from the one LMP
not running anymore, things are going relatively smoothly.

Three hours into the race we start to write the first of the press releases. The first about the LMP. While I go and find Lou Patane and Hugues de Chaunac to let them read the release, we start writing the first of the Viper releases. Both are OK so we start copying them for the press room, both in French and in English.

For the guests, we organize helicopter flights above the circuit. I have never been on one of those. I also would very much like to be at the end of the Mulsanne straight to see the cars coming, brake lights glowing and whatever everybody tells me I really should see, but during the race I am never very far away from the lounges and the pitbox. I suppose I feel nothing will go wrong when I am there. Silly me.

Anyway in general I seem to talk and talk and talk. Walk up and down to the media centre, talk some more with everybody, bring press kits and talk some more. Journalists, mechanics, engineers, TV, Radio Le Mans, talk, talk, talk. Kerry Morse is doing a live report in our lounge for radio in Los Angeles and he puts me on the air.

After dinner time when it gets dark I think it is the most special time of the race. Around 11 pm we start to think about the second press release. The number 6 car had some problems but as the car is running for the first time and it is really a test session, the team goes through a learning period. The Vipers are running fine and we are running just ahead of the Corvettes. The press releases go through the same procedure to be agreed upon by Hugues, Pierre Dieudonne or Lou Patane.

I love the night. The heat is not so bad now and I love the atmosphere in the circuit. It seems to become a smaller event. The cars are running smoothly, everybody is sitting down, eating snacks, it becomes less hectic with visitors in the pitbox. I go for a walk to the Dunlop bridge at early in the morning while it is still dark but slowly getting light. Great atmosphere. I decide to close my eyes for a short while on the floor of the lounge but after 10 minutes I hear the TV commentator say that car 53 is in the gravel. So no more sleep for me after that as I go down to the pitbox to see what is happening.

After that it is breakfast time (bacon and eggs) after which it is time for the third press release. The LMP is still running so everybody is happy with that, and the Vipers are still going strong. Unfortunately two of the three private Vipers have retired.

In the morning, the PR staff is back after sometimes three or four hours of sleep and a long shower. Fortunately we have a lounge with two toilets and warm and cold running water, so that is my 'wake up' in the morning. Just before we do our last press release during the race, after about 20 hours of racing there is a very exiting battle between the 64 Corvette and the 53 Viper. Thrilling because the rest of the race was just not very exiting. I spent this time in the pit box and everybody cheers. The drivers are getting very exhausted because of the heat. They look terrible, they must have lost between 3 - 5 kg. Some of the team also look as if they have had it.

Two hours before the end of the race we have to decide to order the champagne for the celebration party. Every year it is tricky to do as you really want to win, and in order to have champagne you have to order it two hours before. We trust everything will be ok so yes 125 bottles are ordered. The last hours are always hard. You want it to be over but then again....one hour before the end of the race, everybody starts to be very nervous. Everybody wants to be in the pit boxes, and we start already clearing our lounge. Starting to pack boxes etc. It always is kind of sad to start taking things down. 30 minutes before the end, even the team starts clearing some of their stuff and also keeping the security very tight, because everything gets 'nicked'.





All the executives wander down to the pitbox to take up their 'position' for the finish, everybody wants to be on the pit wall. I get instructions to bring the winning drivers to the podium immediately after the finish. I know the 'drill' by now but by no means it takes away the exitement of having won another Le Mans. 10 minutes before time I stand on the pit wall with all red shirts around me and everybody in anticipation. After 24 hours the cars cross the finish line and cheering, clapping all around. It is still emotional to see the cars arrive. Also emotions from exhaustion. We all jump over the wall and circle the cars (that was a first to be on the track).

The drivers of the 51 and 53 cars will be taken to the podium. I am trying to find Dominique and Karl but in this crowd it's difficult. Hugues is exhausted. Upstairs in the room before the podium, some of the drivers look absolutely terrible, everybody is hugging and waiting their turn for the podium. I wonder what it is like to be in the crowd. After the ceremony I take the drivers to the press conference. They have to wait their turn as the LMP goes first. This is the hard part for the drivers. They just want to go and celebrate (and sleep) but need to speak to the press first. The attention always goes to the LMP's so the wait is too long. It is slightly better organized then last year, but it needs to be improved dramatically.

After the press conference we 'crawl' back to the pitbox, where everybody is just waiting for the drivers to show up and want to spray the champagne. I have my champagne shower as well, which makes me feel good but smell awful. It always makes me feel very much part of the team, and people ask me if I ever get tired of winning and champagne, but my answer is no, never.

In the meantime, we need to get the last press release approved by Lou or Hugues, whoever is closest. Around me the lounge is being dismantled. Everything in boxes, cars are being loaded, the paddock is empty, the circuit is quiet. Everybody is carrying boxes, drinking glasses of wine, and I am so exhausted that I do not know which way to turn. After the cars are packed, I will stay in the lounge with the photographer (Peter
Fox) and the writer (Andrew Cotton) and the translator (Patricia Kiefer) to wrap up the writing, translating, sending, etc. Peace and quiet. I thank everybody for the great work well done and hope that we can do the same again next year with the same group of people. It was wonderful. We all go out for dinner (it is by now 20.00) but I decide I will only come for a drink and go to bed. I have been up since Saturday morning 06.15. I am in bed by 21.30 hours and I am dead to the world.

It takes months of preparation, the weeks before Le Mans are hectic, the week of the race is never one second to yourself and seems to fly. It was my 5th Le Mans and it is never the same. Just after the race I am glad it is over, then I feel sort of lost without all the work and continuous meetings, calls, etc., then I am glad it is another year till the next one, and all of a sudden it is the end of the year and the whole thing starts again. I love Le Mans.






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