LE MANS
PK Sport At Le Mans
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17/06/2001
 
Saturday Morning
The Scene is Set
 



Saturday morning warm-up was a very brief affair for PK Sport. Mike Youles was strapped into the car and sent out for a single exploratory lap, returning straight to the pitlane without passing the timing beacon. It was enough to scrub the edge off a set of wets and raise a few eyebrows in the Media Centre, where a failure to set a time in warm-up is often seen as cause for concern. "We didn't want to take any unnecessary risks," explained Mike Pickup. "We're all organised - the car's ready, the tyres are ready, and we're all ready."

There have been some worries about the weather. Friday afternoon and overnight we had heavy rain, the sky remains overcast this morning with the occasional shower, and the forecast is not good. "It will be interesting to see what the weather does," admitted Pickup. "It will keep us entertained, if nothing else!" He does not appear to be too concerned one way or the other. "We're used to the wet," he continued. "Daytona was wet and we've got a cracking tyre. Obviously we'd prefer some sunshine, but all the drivers are very experienced in the wet."

While the Legends race was getting away to an emotional start, the PK team was relaxing over breakfast in the paddock hospitality. Mike wouldn't be drawn with predictions for the race, either his own or overall, but he did want to comment on the return of big-name British teams. "It's great to have Bentley and MG back here, and if the British fans can get behind us as well, all the better. As far as the race is concerned, well, all I know is, four o'clock will come round on Sunday afternoon. It always does. Whether we'll be there or not, that's down to Lady Luck."

Everything was equally relaxed in the PK pit yesterday afternoon. However, while lunch was still a recent memory the team had been tending to another vital lighting issue. Having corrected the headlights on the Porsche during Wednesday qualifying, the guys then discovered that they needed additional illumination . . . on the paddock quadbike! The quad is used to carry wheels from the garage through to the secondary paddock, where the tyre trucks are located. During night qualifying it soon became clear that the ambient lighting wasn't enough, so a low wattage unit has now been tacked on to the bike. The fact they had time to do this on the pre-race Friday is some indication of quite how well-prepared the team has been this week - as was subsequently confirmed by the decision not to do any laps in Saturday warm-up.

Although Mike Youles had to be at the track early this morning, the other two drivers didn't roll up until mid-day. We took their low-key arrival as an opportunity to tackle David Warnock on a fundamental Le Mans question: why the hell does he do it!




"I often ask myself that same question, especially in these big races. I think it's to succeed, basically," he replied. "People ask me, one, why do you do it, and two, do I enjoy doing it. My response is usually the same. When I'm out there on the track, to be honest, I don't particularly enjoy it. I'm concentrating too hard all the time to think about enjoyment, but it's very different when you get out of the car afterwards. If you've done a good stint, and done the job properly, you feel great, really great."

Then there's the danger. In any race there's an element of risk, but at Le Mans it's a bit more than that. Every time a driver goes out on the track he (or she) is, quite literally, putting life on the line. "I don't think people believe how fast you have to go to be competitive here," said David. "Even a four minute twenty lap is hard to achieve, and people just don't understand what it takes. The GT3 Porsche is probably the slowest car I've driven (on a circuit) for years, but if people could experience the speeds we have to achieve around this track they'd be astounded. It's true, there are two elements of cost. There's the financial one, and then there's the risk."

Here at Le Mans there's something extra for a driver like David who, although well respected in GT racing, is still a "gentleman racer" in the old sense. One of a declining breed, perhaps, but for many years the mainstay of sportscar racing. "You've got drivers here like Martin Brundle, being paid hundreds of thousands, the MG drivers, getting tens of thousands, and then there's drivers like me who are actually paying for the privilege. I can't think of any other sport in the world where that can happen. As a driver at Le Mans you're on the world stage. People are looking at you all the time, expecting you to perform. The pressure is intense and it's on you all the time. Why do people climb Mount Everest? Because it's there. Why do I want to race here at Le Mans? Because I can play on the same stage as the best drivers in the world."

David paused for a moment, gazing down at clasped hands, then looked up again. "There's one more thing," he said. "This is history. Everything you do here is documented, photographed and recorded. You become part of history for ever. It's an enormous achievement just to take part, yes, but at the end of the day, it's history in the making."

David's serious approach to this weekend's race is both a reflection of his whole view on racing, but also, perhaps, some indication of an underlying nervousness. Mike Youles, who will take the start in this afternoon's race, tackles nerves (if he has any!) with humour. He's always good company, and ready for a laugh. You only have to browse around the TotalMotorSport website to find proof of that! Last night he was supposed to be joining the team of TMS for dinner in Arnage, but got delayed along the way . . .

"We arrived at the level crossing, and it was down," begins Youlsey, recounting the tale. "There was a long queue of traffic, so we decided to drive round them and pull up at the house. We were going to pretend to knock on the door, get no answer, then drive on. In the end, when we got near the front of the queue, we saw a gap. I just pulled into it!" It turned out that the barrier was actually stuck, and had been for some time. "Some guy telephoned and was told the barrier couldn't be raised, so we did a U-ey and headed back as fast as we could to drive the long way round. As we did, some guy in a silver Audi A8 was doing the same. He pottered back to the roundabout doing about twenty, and I couldn't get past. When we got to the roundabout he virtually stopped, and I decided I'd had enough. I blasted round him, leaning on the horn and gesticulating. Then I saw who it was. It was Mario Andretti!"

The cars are now out on the main straight and the build-up to the race start is in its final stages. As mentioned before, Mike Youles will be starting the race for PK Sport. Mike is the most experienced of the PK drivers and can take things seriously when he needs to. The first hour is usually the hardest of any Le Mans, with it being all too easy for a simple mistake to end a team's twenty-four hour challenge. Mike Pickup wants the team to take the first six hours or so "conservatively" and then reassess the strategy as necessary. We will be posting regular reports throughout the race.



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