LE MANS
PK Sport At Le Mans
Ricardo Vehicle Engineering
17/06/2001
 
The Race
Part 4
 
The Dawn Run

Hours Thirteen through Seventeen

The sun rose above the treetops to reveal just 27 of the original 48 starters still listed in the ACO's official classification of remaining runners, although question marks hung over even several more of those. Not so Mike Youles, who was still throwing down consistently quick times in the #76 PK Porsche. For those spectators and supporters following the team's fortunes, it has become increasingly frustrating to realise just where the pretty little Porsche might have been "if only" - but the record books of Le Mans are littered with "what ifs" and "if onlys", and neither ever won a race. What they can do, however, is finish, and with the rate of attrition we've seen this year, that alone will be an achievement.



With this in mind, the team has worked through the hours of darkness and into the dawn with just as much enthusiasm and dedication as they demonstrated in the first few hours. At that time they led the class, but by six on Sunday morning they were eighth in GT, twenty-first overall, and very tired. Despite this the car remained among the fastest of its class, with Mike Youles regularly popping in times of between 4:25 and 4:29. Unfortunately, being seven laps adrift of the car ahead, any hope of making up positions within the class rest with others making errors.

The PK drivers have been completing stints of between an hour and fifteen and an hour and twenty minutes, with Youles and Day tending to double-stint. Seven o'clock came and went with #76 now listed as 20th, thanks in the main to the official retirement of the Racing for Holland Dome of Lammers, Hillebrand and Crevels. Youles was finding his stint relatively trouble-free. "I had one spin going through the Esses just before the Dunlop Bridge, and they kindly put out the oil flags for me on the next lap around," admitted Mike, but his indiscretion was brief and not significant. "I put some pressure on the Seikel car," he added, "and tried to encourage it to go off, but it didn't." He was also seen to be enjoying quite a battle with the remaining Reynard #38, and tagged along to its tailpipes for almost an entire lap before the 675 Prototype finally eased away.

The transition between night and day is sometimes quoted as being the most testing period of the race, but Youles claimed to enjoy it. "Dawn was very pleasant," he said. "Seeing the vortices swirling off the rear wing was fascinating, and the sun rising over the Dunlop Bridge was quite beautiful.



After his earlier stint, David Warnock had gone back to the team motorhome. "I couldn't sleep," he said, "but I managed a rest. I feel quite refreshed." Recalling that night-time stint he was prepared to admit that it had not been easy. "On the dry the car was fantastic, but on the wet it was awful. There was only one dry line, and if you moved off that, well . . .you can imagine. Each lap I grew a little bit more confident and perhaps more aggressive. I was trying to make up ground, but then, on one lap, I overcooked it." That was when he spun at the Dunlop Esses. "I started off slow and cautious, but after a while I got a lot quicker. I felt pretty good."

Eight o'clock and PK reached a significant milestone; the top twenty. Nineteenth place overall had fallen to the GT Porsche just before the hour following a smoky demise for the RML Saleen. Co-driven by Johnny Mowlem, Ian McKellar and Bruno Lambert, the British-entered S7 had briefly led the GTS class, although the #4 Chevrolet Corvette had taken over the honour late last night.



Twenty minutes later and Mike Youles was back into the pits to complete his double stint complaining of cramps in his back and feet. A session with the team physio relieved some of the tension, and he was able to relax while Stephen Day headed out into the brightening day. "There don't seem to be many left out there," observed Youles. Compared to sixteen hours previously, he was right. "With the amount of time we've lost in the pits, we might have had a substantial lead by now," he added. That too, was right, although it qualified highly for another "what if" moment. "When we've been running, we've been the quickest car in the class." Now, of that there can be no dispute. Stephen Day was out on track reaffirming the point.

While the hours progress the light has increased, but so did the likelihood of further rain. At this rate Stephen Day will begin to believe his earlier jest about "someone up there doesn't like me." Half way through his first morning stint and what had been an almost-dry line disappeared beneath a fresh deluge of water. By that time, however, those remaining in the race had clearly come to terms with the varying conditions, and the arrival of fresh rain wasn't met this time by copious spinners and sliders. Instead there was a spurt of activity in the pitlane as cars came in to swap boots before heading out to face the challenge.



By nine o'clock the grandstands and better-protected viewing points had started to fill, but there were few other indications of change. PK remained nineteenth overall and still eighth in GT. The works R8s #1 and #2 were leading overall, with the #8 Bentley still running third. Heading the 675 class was the #38 Reynard, three down on the GTS leader, Ron Fellows' Corvette #63, while GT was fronted by the #77 Freisinger Porsche. Of all the classes, however, only GT offered any obvious possibility of a real "race", with the #77 car coming under pressure from the #83 Seikel car, at that time just half a lap behind. With seven Le Mans hours still to run, that is considered close.



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