Lola in Le Mans: Life in the pit lane

This weekend Huntingdon-based Lola cars will be aiming to win one of the world s greatest races. The Hunts Post found out just how gruelling the race will be for the team from St Peter s Road. HUNTINGDON S internationally-renowned racing car manufacture

This weekend Huntingdon-based Lola cars will be aiming to win one of the world's greatest races. The Hunts Post found out just how gruelling the race will be for the team from St Peter's Road.

HUNTINGDON'S internationally-renowned racing car manufacturer Lola will know this weekend whether 10 months of planning for the Le Mans 24-Hour race in western France have paid off.

The St Peter's Road company, which is this year celebrating its half-century of manufacturing high-performance cars, has taken a 2,900 spare parts, worth a staggering £2.9million, for the seven Lola cars that will be competing in this year's endurance race.

Fourteen Lola staff will be responsible for ensuring that the Huntingdon-built racers stay on track to the end of the race at a total cost of £4.8million - one of the car division's biggest investments in showcasing its excellence.

Company spokesman Sam Smith estimates that each members of staff will cover 78 miles on foot in the pit lane during the 24 hours the cars are running in the event, which starts on Saturday.

Each mechanic will consume 18 espresso coffees and lose 700 calories an hour, Mr Smith reckons. The entire team will be complete strangers to sleep during the event, he added.

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Chairman Martin Birrane said: "2008 is a very special year for Lola. Reaching the milestone of 50 years in race car manufacturing is quite a remarkable achievement. For most of this time Lola has been the largest and most successful constructor of race cars, producing winning designs for virtually every category from Formula Ford and Sports 2000 to Formula 1 and Le Mans Prototypes.

"The 24 Heures du Mans is the greatest motor race in the world and I am heartened to see a further increase in our entries this year to seven - the largest since 1979. Lola is currently the only constructor offering open and closed cockpit models in both LMP classes. We have enjoyed LMP2 victories in the last four races at La Sarthe and hope to add another in 2008.

"We also have all the resources major manufacturers require for a Le Mans programme and are actively seeking opportunities to realise our vision of winning Le Mans outright.

"The Lola factory, with its state-of-the-art wind tunnel, seven-post test rig, and top engineering team, produces cars which are not just fast but also safe and beautiful," Mr Birrane said proudly.

There will be high hopes at the weekend for the B08/60 LMP1 coupé of Charouz Racing System, powered by a V12 Aston Martin engine and run in conjunction with Aston Martin Racing, which set the ninth fastest time at a wet test day earlier this month. Its three drivers, Tomas Enge, Stefan Mücke and Jan Charouz, all completed laps of the 13.65-kilometre circuit in the sleek blue and white machine on the car's very first run in the rain.

Amanda Stretton, driving for the Chamberlain-Synergy Motorsport team in her first outing in the classic race, is the first British woman to race at Le Mans since Juliette Slaughter in 1978 (also in a Lola). Amanda will share driving duties with husband Bob Berridge and Gareth Evans.

Although Lola has never won Le Mans outright, it has been first in its class in 1972, 1976, 1981, 1984, 2000 and in each of the last four years.

Readers may wish to support cars numbered 10, 12, 19, 25, 33, 40 and 44 to cheer on their local mechanics.

FOR engineer David Scotney, who has been with Lola for 30 years, this will be a 17th sleepless Le Mans 24 Hours.

David's role is to look after all seven of the company's customers, ensuring their support teams have access to technical advice and spare parts to keep them on the road for up to 5,000 kilometres.

His day will start in the pit lane at 7am on Saturday, ready for warm-up laps to start an hour or so later. "We have a big artic full of spares ready for the day," he told The Hunts Post from the course on Monday.

"I ply up and down the pit lane, in and out of the teams' garages, helping them with any problems and spares. Then from about midday until the race starts at 4pm they get the cars out into the pit lane for photo shoots and so on, so we get a bit of respite."

The 55 cars starting the race doing a rolling start behind a pace car before racing begins in earnest.

"Once it starts, every time you see a Lola car come down the pit lane, you go to the garage and oversee the stop. If it's just for fuel and tyres, that's fine. But, if it goes inside the garage to be worked on, I go to see if they need advice or spares.

"You get no sleep at all. With one car, you can take a 45-minute rest between pit stops. But with seven, as we have this year, they are coming in and out all the time.

"By the time daylight comes, we may be down to five cars or even four. By that time it's just a matter of keeping them going and away from accidents.

"You get periods when you are really tired, but then you get your second wind and your third wind."

Modern Le Mans races are different animals from David's first experience in 1979, shortly after joining Lola. "It has changed considerably since then. We used to sleep in caravans next to the race cars. It was like a family outing. But we came second overall in class with Nick Mason, drummer of Pink Floyd, as one of the four drivers of the car."

Once the race is over, it is time for congratulation and commiseration before going back to work after nearly 36 hours on the go. "We have to make sure there are parts ready for the next race, which for some is two weeks later just north of New York.

"We have to be back in Huntingdon on the Monday to write our reports before we take a real break, but we shall go into town for a few beers and then some sleep on the Sunday night before we fly home," David said.

So how will the Lola cars do on the track?

"I would be very disappointed if we didn't get at least one car on the podium, but we won't win the race outright. I expect the Aston Martin will do best of the Lolas. It would take a disaster for the Audi and Peugeot works diesels not to win overall. I think the Peugeot will be less reliable, so I expect the Audi to win," he predicted.

"The Dutch Porsche will probably go pretty well, but we will give it a good run for its money.