LE MANS
PK Sport At Le Mans
Ricardo Vehicle Engineering
14/06/2001
 
Friday
Post Qualifying
 



"Chill out, that's the plan," said Mike Pickup at the end of a relatively quiet Friday morning. PK Sport had spent the previous few hours tidying away a few loose ends and assuring themselves that everything was in hand for the race. "There were a couple of things that weren't done yesterday, and we've refitted some ancillary parts to the fuel system so they're new and ready." Perhaps with an eye to what happened to the car that crossed the line first in GT last year, Mike has been very particular about the fuel system. "We've checked and double checked everything," he said. "I've lost track of how many times we've tested the capacity of the fuel tank, just to make sure."

Mike Pickup was in a surprisingly relaxed mood. "Last night was a huge relief to me," he admitted. "We came through qualifying with no accident damage or mechanical problems and we're now in great shape for the race. As for what happens tomorrow, well, God will take his course."



His ability to be lighthearted under these conditions is probably testament to the high degree of preparation that everyone at PK has put into the team's participation at Le Mans. "The boys have worked really hard this week," he said. "They rebuilt the car from the ground up yesterday in about eight hours. Then we were out on the track again last night and the car ran faultlessly. There were no problems with it at all. It was perfect."

As always, there is an enormous amount of pressure on every team at Le Mans, but this year there seems to be an added level of intensity - and professionalism (the team truck, left). A glance at the qualifying times confirms that there are no "also-rans" in this year's grid, with fierce competition in every category. Take a walk along the pitlane, peer through the paddock fencing, or admire the architectural splendour of the team hospitality buildings, and it's easy to see that this year's Vingt Quatre Heures is being taken very seriously indeed. After last year, when there were no British teams for the first time in years, perhaps ever, it's also excellent to see so much involvement in 2001. MG and Bentley may be grabbing most of the headlines back home, but the increased awareness in the UK and coverage on terrestrial television as well as satellite benefits the smaller teams as well. As a result PK has found itself mentioned in the same breath as MG for reasons that might not be immediately apparent. Having a two-letter moniker helps, perhaps, but the two teams are also the only ones comprised entirely of British personnel - drivers and crew included, and the many thousands of racegoers who have made the cross-Channel trek have latched on to this. On the flip side, there's been as much discussion about what actually constitutes a "Bentley", with the consensus being that what Bentley has achieved here has nothing to do with car or component, but is all about presentation and persona. The team has generated an aura around it that manages to recapture the essence of the historic Birkin era, but without actually using anything, in a mechanical sense, that is even remotely "Bentley". Despite this, the net result is that this year's 24 Hours has a very British feel to it, with images of the Bentley plastered across every poster, hoarding, badge, sticker and T-shirt. It's many years since BRG was ever this prominent!

If Mike Pickup is conscious of any increased expectations, he has not allowed it to get under his skin. "I'm feeling fairly comfortable with everything," he admits. "I was here in the 80's, and the crew has all done Daytona. We know what it feels like to race for twenty-four hours and everyone knows what they should be doing and when." They certainly seem well prepared for the challenge ahead of them. "Yes," says Pickup. "One of our major concerns is to decide what toolkit we put in the car, if any. The cars are all so technical these days that there's not a lot a driver can do if something goes wrong. You can hardly expect him to be out there checking the points gap or something like that." It seems that the fundamental prerequisite for the fully-equipped driver's toolkit these days is the mobile telephone.

Asked about his plans for the race, Mike was prepared to be more forthcoming than many might be. "Mike Youles will start the car, and we intend to remain conservative for the first six hours or so. Once we're through that, then we can start looking at the bigger picture. I've got half a dozen TV sets in the garage and I can keep watch on all the major corners. In my book, the kerbs are not part of the racetrack, and if I see one of my guys crossing that line, they'll know about it." It's a tongue-in-cheek comment, but one suspects that underlying the humour in his eyes, there's a serious message here. Mike Pickup is out to finish an endurance race and the last thing he wants is to have his drivers taking unnecessary risks. "They're all working really well together now," he adds. "They're focused on the task ahead, just like the rest of the team, and I have no concerns about any of them."

David Warnock had his own concerns on Wednesday but came through second qualifying having chipped away steadily at his personal best. "I know David's pace," continued Pickup. "He's experienced enough to handle the situation and I had no doubt he'd find the speed. He's won Daytona and he knows what it takes to be successful - how to get to the end." All three have completed twenty-four hour races, although Mike Youles is the only one to have picked up a class win here at Le Mans. Although this is Stephen Day's first outing at La Sarthe, he has contested - and finished - three Spa 24 Hour races, so the balance of experience and pace is pretty even in the PK camp.

With rain already a feature of Friday, the prospects for the weekend look damp. PK's decision to draw a line under qualifying on Wednesday night, and view Thursday as an extended test session, may well pay dividends. "All our tyres are scrubbed in and ready," concluded the team owner. "We've got a full set of all the different compounds prepared for racing, so we should be able to cope with whatever the weather throws at us," he said. As is often said, winning at Le Mans is all about preparation, preparation, preparation, and there's little doubt that PK is well prepared.

Mike's partner Caroline and baby Jo look ready for anything too. Jo's first Le Mans, and she's only one and a bit! Most of had to wait until we were adults...or are we all still just big kids at heart?







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Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours

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