PK Sport At Le Mans
Ricardo Vehicle Engineering
The Race
Made It!

The final laps of the Le Mans 24 Hours are always special. There are few other occasions in motorsport - any sport - quite like it. In the last hour, tens of thousands of spectators start to converge on the finish line. From every corner of the vast circuit they make their way, like some biblical exodus, towards any available viewpoint. Every vacant plot, from the brow of the hill beside the Dunlop bridge through to the edge of the Porsche Curve, from the uppermost tiers of the grandstands to the packed mud of the fenced enclosures, becomes filled by a swathe of faces and flags. The atmosphere and tension generated by the crowd, combined with the Radio Le Mans commentary and the sight of battle-scarred cars still thundering around the track, becomes almost palpable. For those directly involved, still willing their cars to keep going, there’s hope and expectation mixed with enormous pride.

In the PK garage, exhaustion and weariness were forgotten. The team was busy moving anything that could be moved from the pitlane back inside the roller shutter doors. Experience states that anything that can be removed will be removed. The spectators may look upon these trophies as just another stack of souvenirs to take home, but items like the panel over the garage door proclaiming “Porsche 76” become tangible reminders of history in the making to the teams themselves.

Meanwhile, out there on the track, Mike Youles was still pushing hard. The #74 Porsche was less than half a lap behind and, as was proven last year when the lead in LMGT changed on the very last lap, anything can happen at Le Mans. That that was a battle for the podium, whereas Mike’s was for the security of sixteenth position (7th in class), only makes the difference relative. To those concerned, it was every bit as important.

In reality, only two sets of cars were still disputing territory at the end. While PK and Alphand had sixteenth at stake, Henri Pescarolo’s Courage #17 and the Andy Pilgrim #64 Corvette were contesting thirteenth. The former had serious engine problems and was slipping down the order fast. With three hours to go it had been fifth overall and vying for a podium. Minutes later and it was immobile in the garage. It stayed there for over two hours while the team attempted to revive the ailing machine, and one by one the cars still running passed it by. By three o’clock it had slipped to sixth and the team was resigned to the fact that the car would be unable to defend any more places. They cleaned and polished the prototype until it looked like new, filled it with enough oil to complete one final lap, and at 3:53 sent it out one last time.

Similar drama was unfolding out on track. At ten to three the last remaining Cadillac prototype; the #6 car driven by Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli and Christophe Tinseau, stuttered to a halt in the Porsche Curves. Apart from a starter-motor problem it had been running well to hold seventh overall. Now Tinseau was left working with whatever tools he had to hand to sort out a failing clutch. The effect on the rest of their team of both these last-minute failures must have been devastating.

Just to add a little spice to the mixture, the third-placed Bentley had incurred the wrath of the organisers by overtaking under the safety car. No small rap on the knuckles this one, but a whopping four-minute stop-and-go. With ten laps in hand over the Chrysler in fourth, the delay was of little consequence, but staged within the last half hour of the twenty-four it had the effect of heightening the tension. Wallace resumed his final stint to huge cheers.

Out at the very front of the race things were so settled and the result such a foregone conclusion that there was enough time to orchestrate a staged finish. There’s nothing unusual about that, but this time it was being arranged between teams, not just within them. With the Audi garages at the top of the pitlane, and the Bentley garage right at the bottom, there was a lot of running up and down by representatives from both before details were agreed. In due time however, the two remaining works Audis crossed the line to begin their final lap with the third-placed Bentley driven by Andy Wallace right behind. It was two minutes before four.

Moments later, Mike Youles rounded the final element of the Ford Chicane. He was starting PK’s last lap. The tail skipped out briefly, but a quick correction had the yellow Porsche, now discoloured by brake dust, muddy rainwater and a splattering of rubber, powering up the main straight towards the Dunlop esses. This was no sedate procession Audi-style, but a flat out thrash. Honour and sixteenth place was still at stake!

Two unusual things now happened. To great cheers, the #6 Cadillac suddenly appeared in the Ford Chicanes. All but forgotten in the growing excitement, Christophe Tinseau had finally managed to get the Cadillac’s Northstar V8 rolling again. He was progressing at a snail’s pace, but at least he was moving. It was painful to watch as the car inched through the final bend and moved towards the finishing line. There was no way he was ever going to complete another lap, but the leaders had only just gone through to start their last. He had no choice and wisely recognised the fact. Ten yards short of the line, he stopped the car.

This had a strange effect on several of the backmarkers, who came around the corner to discover the Cadillac parked just off the racing line. A few actually stopped in sympathy, before realising what was going on and driving around to commence their final laps.

Another cheer then rose from the grandstands as the #17 Courage came weaving its way just as slowly through the Ford Chicanes. It too would never complete another lap, but lined up behind the Cadillac to await the arrival of the winning cars. It was a bizarre yet moving sight as the two wounded prototypes, manifesting in their own way the spirit of this remarkable race, sat motionless on the track. They had an extraordinarily long wait.

Out on the far side of the track, witnessed by millions on TV but invisible to the thousands waiting at the finish line, the perfect photo-opportunity was being prepared. For almost eight minutes we waited . . . and waited. The tension was almost painful. A strange quiet had descended as everyone strained to be the first to catch sight of the victorious cars.

Even those who couldn’t see knew instantly when the leading Audis rounded the final corner. A huge roar erupted from the stands. To the sight and sound of thousands of people simultaneously cheering, clapping and waving flags, the cars threaded their way side-by-side through the Ford Chicanes. With headlights ablaze, about half the remaining twenty cars headed for the line in race order. It was an unprecedented sight.

Emanuele Pirro in the winning #1 R8 and Laurent Aiello in the #2, straps undone and each with flags and both hands aloft, crossed the line to record another one-two for Audi. Andy Wallace, visible between the two, finished a brilliant third for Bentley on their historic return to Le Mans after an absence of seventy years. General Motors, in the guise of the Chevrolet Corvette C5, took over where the Vipers left off with a clean sweep of GTS to celebrate their 50th anniversary in style. The #60 Saleen took a class third from 18th overall after some very troubled final hours.

Winners in GT were the Seikel Motorsport trio of Gabrio Rosa, Fabio Babini and Luca Drudi, an impressive 6th overall. Close behind came the #77 Freisinger car, with the #75 Perspective Racing 911 third, 9th overall. But where was Mike Youles?

Crowds of photographers, pit crew, marshals and team members were already milling around the winning cars by the time Mike Youles brought the PK Porsche powering through the Ford Chicane. His was probably the fastest finisher of any in the race, and the sight that met him as he crossed the line must have been quite bewildering. Forced to a rapid halt by an effervescent mass of people, his car was instantly surrounded by a sea of black and yellow.

Almost every member of the team had rushed over from the pit wall to greet him, eager to clasp his hand and share the euphoria of the moment. Hours of tension eased in seconds by the relief of finishing, and with that came an overpowering emotion. Although doing his best to control any outward signs, Youles was clearly moved, and it was some time before he’d remove his helmet. David Warnock and Stephen Day stepped up to share the moment, with Mike Pickup one of the last to arrive. He’d gone back to fetch his one-year old daughter. Now he was the very epitome of the proud parent – little girl clutched in his arms, valiant Porsche 911 there on the tarmac.

As the cars moved off towards Parc Fermé the Porsche disappeared beneath a festoon of arms and legs as the pit crew clambered onto any available ledge. Doors open and engine still bellowing out a defiant roar, Youlsey took the #76 PK Sport Porsche on the last three hundred yards of its mammoth 24 hour ordeal.

In their Le Mans debut PK Sport has excelled themselves. From the heights of leading the class, to the trials of almost two hours lost in the pits with mechanical damage, the team has demonstrated the perfect cocktail of professionalism, spirit and good humour. It has been a pleasure to work with them and an honour to share in their celebrations. We wish them the best of luck for the rest of this season and hope to be back with them at Le Mans again in the not too distant future. Thank you, PK.

Marcus Potts.

Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours
Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours

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