The run-up to the big day can put a strain on drivers before the race even starts. With scrutineering in the city centre a week before, practice and qualifying on the Wednesday and Thursday evening, then the Drivers’ Parade on the eve of the race, drivers have to make the most of any gaps in their schedules. “There are so many gorgeous cars and great drivers that it’s tempting to wander around the paddock and chat to people, but you have to save your energy for the race. After a while, you learn to rest as much as possible," says Nicolas Lapierre, driver of the LMP2 #36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Alpine A470-Gibson. To Paul-Loup Chatin, driver of the LMP2 #48 Idec Sport Oreca 07-Gibson, “the hardest part is getting to Saturday afternoon on top form.”
We joke about it between ourselves. The 02:30–03:00 stint is awful.
During the race, sleep is a luxury. Everyone is different when it comes to fatigue and recovery times can differ greatly. "In theory, you can get five hours sleep over the course of the race," says Paul-Loup Chatin. "Last year, I managed pretty well. I had two 15-20 minute naps. It was enough to keep up the pace", says Rebellion Racing driver Thomas Laurent. The young drivers agree that what drains the most energy is watching your teammates at the wheel and feeling a bit scared. "I’m lucky enough to have two exceptional co-drivers that I trust entirely. When I’m not in the car, I don’t worry about what’s happening on track," says Paul-Loup Chatin. “My first year, my bungalow was right next to a loudspeaker. Every time the speaker raised his voice, I checked my phone to make sure it wasn’t my car. I tired myself out", says Thomas Laurent.
Light therapy to stay awake
What time is the worst during the race? Nicolas Lapierre: "We joke about it between ourselves. The 02:30–03:00 is awful. We use light therapy lamps to stay awake and exercise bikes and warm up routines to get into the swing of things. We force our bodies to wake up."
Driving at race pace is so taxing that drivers have trouble getting to sleep after a stint at the wheel. Paul-Loup Chatin has the answer. “I watch a film I’ve already seen and that I like. It helps me drop off."
After a gruelling race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans you might think all drivers sleep in the next day. "Both times, we partied after the race and I didn’t go to bed until I dropped. I didn’t get up until 11 or 12 the next day. It helps you recover, it does you good." On the other hand, if the result was disappointing “you get up and do something completely different on the Monday morning, to start afresh and motivate yourself for new goals.”
All drivers will be exhausted by 15:00 on Sunday but the satisfaction of finishing, or – for the lucky few – of a podium place, erases the weariness.
PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES DU MANS, SUNDAY 17 JUNE 2018, RACE. A well-rested Paul-Loup Chatin, driver with French LMP2 team Idec Sport, takes over the wheel.