PK Sport At Le Mans
Ricardo Vehicle Engineering
The Race
Part 2

Hours Three To Eight

Stephen Day was in the car as we started the third hour, and soon had some of the worst weather conditions of all to contend with. Call up any old cliché you wish, from cats and dogs to stair-rods, and you'll only scrape the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the degree of rainfall these guys had to endure. From quarter to seven through to ten past, and then again from half seven until quarter to eight, the conditions were considered so bad that the only way racing could continue would be from behind the relative safety of a pace car. Even then, cars were sliding off into the gravel and hitting the Armco with alarming regularity.

Testament to his experience and skill, but this did not apply to Stephen Day. The PK Porsche enjoyed a trouble-free third stint, although the frustrating net result of all the safety car periods was that he couldn't exploit this with any advances on the track. Four hours came and went with car #76 still twenty-seventh overall, fifth in GT.

By just after half past nine Mike Youles was back in the car and spinning on the way into the first of the Mulsanne chicanes - the so-called Playstation Chicane. "I'm so angry," he declared afterwards. "I braked in the same place as I'd always done, and the back just snapped away from me. I should have seen it coming." Apparently, he'd noticed the increasing rain at the Mulsanne corner on the previous lap, but hadn't anticipated that the next time around it would have moved further up the straight. "I was doing about 270 kph when I went off. I thought, 'Jesus, this is a big one!'. I must have gone round half a dozen times before I hit the barrier." He caught the front right hand side of the car. "Fortunately the gravel slowed me, but I knew I'd done the radiator without having to look." he said. He threaded his way between the tyrewalls and brought the PK Porsche safely back to the pits. "The temperatures were still almost OK when I got back to the pits," he added. "The water was up to about 108, and the oil at 110, but I'd bitten my tongue." An hour later it was still painful.

Inspection by the mechanics confirmed that the radiator would need replacement and that the mountings for the nose section were deformed, although only slightly. It took forty-two minutes for the repairs to be completed, although it could have been a lot longer. "Under normal circumstances we'd have been stationary for about an hour or so," commented Mike Youles. "but the new quick-release components developed by Ricardo worked brilliantly. I just didn't want to test them this way!"

The sixth hour (10:00 pm) came and went while the car was stranded in the garage. Officially, the PK Porsche stood in 25th place, eighth in GT, and 13 laps down on the leading Biela / Kristensen / Pirro R8. The front-running GT car at the time was the #83 Siekel Motorsport Porsche GT3, four laps ahead.

Youles was back at the wheel when the #76 resumed racing at just after ten fifteen. The stint in the pits had cost the team about five laps but, surprisingly, only three places (two more since the hour) to resume 27th overall.

Youlsey was certainly fired into action. The rain had stopped by now, but the track remained treacherous. Average lap times were about 20% slower than they'd been in the dry, but Youlsey's very first lap out of the pits equalled the fastest time of any GT car on the track. His next was the first to duck under the five minute barrier for over half an hour. While most of the other Porsches in the class were finding it hard to cut five minutes thirty, Mike Youles was consistently fifteen to twenty seconds faster than everyone else. It was a remarkable display, but not as easy as he made it look. "The conditions were changing all the time," explained Youles. "The amount of rain, the distribution of gravel on the track, the areas where the rain was falling. It was never the same two laps running. It made things very difficult."

Come eleven o'clock (seven hours gone) and Mike was still holding twenty seventh overall, ninth in GT, but having unlapped himself no less than twice on the Taisan Porsche ahead of him.

At 11:42 Mike Youles was back into the PK garage to hand over to Stephen Day. It had been a very long stint indeed, but Mike hadn't even broken a sweat. Initially David Warnock had been scheduled for the next stint, but the continuing poor conditions had prompted the decision to send Stephen out again ahead of time. "I'm quite happy with that," said Warnock. "Mike (Pickup) has said that if it stops raining and the skies look clear, then I may be able to double stint later." Although it had stopped raining at the time, the track conditions were still very difficult. "Once a prototype goes past you, all you see is a yellow mist," explained Youles. "Your own headlights illuminate the spray, and you simply cannot see where you're going."

There was another problem with visibility. "At exactly 260 kph the wiper comes away from the windscreen by about an inch and starts waving around like a conductor's baton. It's really very amusing," said Youles. "I was humming along!" Fortunately, at that speed the moisture on the screen is blown away by the windspeed, and when the car slows down for a corner, the wiper comes back into action again. Apparently Ricardo, who have done so much to help the development of the PK Porsche and have representatives here this weekend, have already started making plans to address this problem for the future.

An amusing story came to our attention at about this time. It seems that Mike Youles' brother Steve, who is working with the team this weekend, went out to the Dunlop Curves on a quad bike to view the race. When he'd had enough, and was preparing to head back to the garage, he couldn't find the keys. He ended up pushing the thing all the way back to the garage, only to find the keys . . . in his pocket. Well, Mike Pickup found it amusing!

Within moments of Stephen Day starting his second stint, the rain came back again with a vengeance. It was absolutely foul out there. Even so, Day was able to lap every bit as quickly as the rest of the GT class, and often faster than some of the more powerful cars who were finding the conditions less than sympathetic to high-torque engines. Come midnight (eight hours gone) and Stephen was up to twenty-third overall, confirming that the GT class as a whole continues to move up through the field.

He had also recently passed the #72 Taisan Porsche to move into 8th in GT. Although he was easing away from the Japanese car he still had four laps to make up on the #70 Aspen Knolls Callaway, but a milestone had passed. It was Sunday, and the PK Porsche was still in contention.

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