Originally published in SimRacer Magazine (Volume 1, Issue 7)
Monday, June 1, 2015, 11:00 – Executive VP Steve Myers calls me down to his office for an unscheduled meeting. I walk down the hall to see what is so urgent and arrive to find VP of Art & Production Greg Hill and Associate Producer Kevin Iannarelli already discussing something. Steve is not one to start a meeting with friendly chit-chat so he gets right to the point – We came to an agreement with Le Mans and we need to laser scan and photo reference next week. Are you available to go to France this weekend? Of course the only sensible response is oui! It’s days like this that I really like my job 🙂
Greg spends the next couple of days making travel arrangements – no small feat to find hotel rooms for six people one week out from the biggest endurance race in the world! The rest of my week was a whirlwind as I attempted to wrap up several projects and plan for the trip. I experienced a minor scare on Friday when I couldn’t find my passport – luckily my wife knew where it was!
Sunday, June 7, 2015 – Off to the airport. Since direct flights from Boston to Paris were unreasonably priced on short notice we opted for the scenic route through Iceland. It turned out to be quit enjoyable and I plan to make a longer stop on the volcanic island nation the next time I head across the pond. Sunday turned into Monday and next thing you know we were sitting in traffic on the peripherique around Paris. Several hours — and a couple of coffees – later, we were in the central square of the village of Le Mans to meet our track contact and pick up our credentials. Public scrutineering was in full force and it was great to see so many cars and fans already taking in the event. Full media access and two passes to drive our cars on the circuit. You can’t get better access than that!
Once credentials had been sorted we headed to the circuit. Since we couldn’t get on the track surface until Wednesday we immediately began photographing trackside objects. We split up into several teams and began wearing out our cameras.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015 – After a really long day, about 36 hours without sleep, we were feeling a little fresher having slept in to about 7:30. Today’s assignments were similar to Monday’s as we still couldn’t get on the track surface. Photographing the trees, homes and business along Mulsanne straight was fun, even when we were be watched by curious homeowners and sometimes yelled at. We weren’t doing anything nefarious but if you look at it from the homeowner’s perspective it is a bit weird to have half a dozen Americans shooting photos of your house and property. No police were called, no one was arrested and most importantly no one was hurt in the making of this virtual track. We did nearly lose one of our photographers when he inadvertently stepped in a post-hole that was dug for the temporary armco and left uncovered. Luckily he was uninjured; more importantly, his cameras were also undamaged.
I think the best way to get a real sense of just how long the Mulsanne straight is, is to walk it. I goes on forever!
Jack Davidson and I even managed to do a short interview with American racing driver Jordan Taylor. He happens to be an avid iRacer and races for Corvette Racing in the #64 car – yep, that’s right, the same car that won GTELM Pro class! So much for the iRacing curse. You can see some of his interview here.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015 – Having made very good progress on trackside objects the past two days – six photographers lets you cover a lot of ground – we planned to arrive early at the track to see if we could get on the racing surface before our allotted time of 12-2pm. Getting there early paid off as we were able to get on closer to 11 and stayed until after 3pm. Unfortunately this day also brought us some rain. Not a big deal for the photography but the laser scanner was not too happy. A good quality scan would have to wait until Thursday, which coincidentally, was the last time we would be allowed on the racing surface. No one said it, but I think we all went to bed with a final thought, prayer or wish for a clear day tomorrow. If we didn’t get the scan on Thursday it would literally have to wait an entire year.
Thursday, June 11, 2015 – The day began with checking out of our hotel as we need to move further away from the track since all of the rooms nearby Le Mans had already been booked for the race weekend. Once at the track we were able to get on the racing surface a little early again. Thankfully the weather was perfect and the laser scanner was able to capture the precise detail that you have grown accustomed too. Again, we divided into teams and were able to finish photographing everything we needed – the track surface, barriors, signs, light poles, fences, gravel traps, houses, corner worker stations, garages, grandstands, etc. If you can see it from the track, we have pictures of it! Once again we were yelled at, this time by some corner workers who didn’t understand or frankly really care why we were on THEIR track. The one police officer who did stop me seemed fine once I showed her my credential – got to love the all access pass! We finished up in the evening and half of the crew headed back to Paris to catch a flight the next morning. The rest of us moved to our new hotel, about an hour from the track in the beautiful town of Chartres.
Friday, June 12, 2015 – We had planned to use Friday to finish up the trackside photography but since we were done with that and there wasn’t much on track activity we decided to head to Paris for the day and see some of the sites. It’s a beautiful city and a place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. I won’t bore you with the details of our walking tour but I will say it was great to be back in Paris. I lived in the city many, many years ago and this was my first time back. Felt a little like going home again.
Saturday, June 13, 2015 – Early alarm so we could get to the track and beat the traffic. I guess we should have left a couple of hours earlier if we wanted to get in before the crowds. Luckily our all access passes still worked and we were able to find a nice parking spot in the infield not far from the paddock. Today was our chance to see, experience and photograph the facility in a race setting: the crowds, the carnival, the pits, corner workers, the shops and displays. Everything had really come alive and the circuit had a completely different feel now that several hundred thousand race fans had arrived.
We watched the pre-race ceremonies and start of the race from a balcony near the media center – it’s a great place vantage point. We could see the tens of thousands of spectators jammed on the front straight. I have been to countless races and never experienced anything like this. The Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sebring 12 hour, even the Indy 500 pales in comparison to the Le Mans experience.
We shot more photographs throughout the afternoon and into the night. We’ll use these for reference so we can incorporate the atmosphere into our digital version of the circuit. As you can imagine the track has a completely different look and feel once it is populated with race fans!
Having worked until literally the middle of the night and then driving an hour back to our hotel we were completely wiped out. We never did manage to make it back to the track Sunday as we needed to catch up on some sleep. We eventually hit the road and headed back to Paris for the night so we could catch an early flight back Boston.
It’s hard to put into words what it was like to be at Le Mans and to be a small part of the team that is bringing iRacers this great track. Everything came together so quickly and thanks in large part to Greg’s ability to plan, organize and keep us on track (see what I did there?) the trip was a huge success. We even managed to keep this all a secret. None of us posted anything on social media about being at the race. No one wore any iRacing gear – quite a change for a marketing guy like myself who lives and breathes our brand and almost always wears something with the iRacing logo emblazened on it. I actually had to go out and purchase a couple of new shirts before I left as literally 90% of my shirts say iRacing on them!
With more than 35,000 photos, a complete laser scan and even video reference of laps driven in the rental car we have everything we need to recreate this iconic track.
While the release of this track is still a long way off, I know that we’ll bring you the absolute best version possible. From the perfectly modeled track surface, to the subtle details on the houses lining the circuit – it will be unlike anything you have ever seen and it will be worth the wait, I promise.
I was off to Daytona, again. I’ve been there a number of times over the years for everything from Rennsport Reunion, to test days and the Rolex 24. I’ve been to the Rolex 24 as a fan, as a vendor and as a car sponsor. This time would be different as I was working for a team that was competing in the twice around the clock race. In case you are wondering, no, they don’t let me drive. I am the PR guy for Mitchum Motorsports. I also shoot photos for the team. This year we were entering a Porsche 997 in the Rolex 24 along with our two Camaros we run full time in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge.
Our weekend started strong, with both of our Camaros finishing in the top ten in the season opener. The entire Mitchum team was feeling good about our results Friday afternoon. Both Camaros had struggled in qualifying yet finished with good championship points. No one said it, but I think everyone was hoping the same would hold true for the #86 Porsche in the 24.
Mitchum’s driver lineup for the 24 included two-time class winner Randy Pobst and three rookie drivers – Joey Atterbury, Cooper MacNeil and Derek Whitis. While rookie drivers in the Rolex series, all three have plenty of experience racing. Atterbury competed in the Continental Challenge in 2010, Cooper placed second in the SCCA National Runoffs last fall and Derek runs Freedom Autosport, another Continental Tire team where he races Mazda MX5’s regularly. Our plan was to start our veteran driver, keep the nose clean and see where things shook out when the sun came up. Sounded pretty simple to me.
Randy took the green flag at 3:30pm . By about 3:31pm, as I watched from the photographers’ coral in the international horseshoe, the #86 car was into the outside wall. James Gue in the #41 Dempsey Racing Mazda RX8 made contact with our car and pushed Randy off into the grass and ultimately into the wall. I can’t express in words how gut wrenching it is to see your team car go off track and into a wall on lap one of a 24 hour race. It was almost surreal. The amount of time and effort, not to mention money, that goes into a Rolex 24 entry is mind boggling, and to see your hopes dashed on lap one is a feeling I don’t wish on my worst enemy.
Over the team radio I hear Randy report he is in the wall and then a calm and collected Chris Mitchum (team principal) responds with directions to the driver and crew. We went straight to the garage to assess the damage and affect repairs. The team did an outstanding job of fixing what they could and getting the car back on track.
Randy finished his stint, albeit with a less than perfect car, and turned the reigns over to Cooper who drove exceptionally well for his first Rolex race. Joey was next in the car for a double stint and he too kept the car out of trouble before turning it over to Derek just after the sun went down. Unfortunately another RX8 would cause problems for us. Heading into the infield portion of the circuit, the offending RX8 dropped fluid all over the racing line. Derek found the fluid before the flagmen did and he was into the wall, further damaging the left side of the car.
After another trip to the garage Derek was back on track and keeping a good pace. We weren’t going to get our laps back but if you follow endurance racing you know that just by clicking off laps you can often improve your position – lots of cars have problems over the course of the race.
Sometime during Derek’s stint, while I was once again shooting pictures in the international horseshoe, I got to experience the impact of a car first hand. As I stood against the blue guardrail I was panning my camera to capture an image of a car rounding the corner, I heard the crowd behind me get really loud all of sudden (keep in mind I was wearing a crew headset and cars were racing at speed so it is hard to hear much of anything). It suddenly registered with me that something was happening near me so I spun to look back down the track toward pit out. Just as I turned my head another RX8 slammed in the guardrail exactly where I was standing and abruptly came to a stop. Water from the tire barrier splashed on me just as I felt the impact. Wow, that was close! After the car was pulled out and taken to the garage I did notice a few of my fellow photographers giving me nods and smiles – signally they had all been there before and they knew the feeling I had just experienced. No harm, no foul, right? Once my heart rate returned to normal I started snapping pictures once again. I also swore that I wouldn’t tell my wife Laura this story, oh well.
Back to the race. Derek would find himself in the garage again after a big spin in the bus stop. The car was towed back slowly as we were concerned we had lost the engine. After a thorough checking out of the car, including a visit by a Porsche Motorsports engineer, it was determined we were ok. Cooper would head back out on track for his second stint of the race.
After just a couple of more laps I heard the call on the radio that we were off in the bus stop again. This time there was contact with the wall which would put an end to our Rolex 24. The entire crew worked so hard leading up to the race and especially during, in order to keep the car racing. It was definitely a huge disappointment to not finish but a great experience none-the-less.
If you have never been to the Rolex 24, I highly recommend it. There really is nothing else like it in this country. The Sebring race is only 12 hours and the six hours at the Glen is, well, just six hours. To put this race length into perspective, we raced for about nine hours before we had to retire. I found a hotel room at about 2am Sunday morning after packing up my gear at the track, slept for a few hours, hopped on an earlier flight which touched down in Manchester at 3:15 in the afternoon. As I was walking down the jet way it occurred to me that the race wasn’t even over yet.
It’s time for the Roar before the 24 again. Three final days to get the cars, drivers and crews ready for America’s premier sports car race – the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I am headed to Daytona with Mitchum Motorsports to support their two car effort – the #6.2 Camaro in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and the #86 Porsche in the Rolex Series. This isn’t my first trip to the twice around the clock race, but it is the first time as truly part of a team.
Last year I was there as a sponsor of the #99 Gainsco car as well as a Mustang in the Continental Tire series. Prior years I was there in a vendor role, showing off iRacing.com to the teams and fans. I am really looking forward the opportunity to document this historic race for Mitchum Motorsports in both words and images.
The Roar Before the 24 will serve as a warm-up for the team. We’ll find the right setups, practice pit stops and get comfortable with everything. I’ll do the same and find some spots to shoot the cars on track as well as work the media center to get the word out about Mitchum’s two cars.
Daytona here we come!
It all began at the Glen – turn one of my last on track session. I stepped on the clutch as I was braking, beginning my shift down two gears just prior to turn in. I pushed the shift lever forward but I couldn’t find my gear. So I tried pushing again, and again nothing. I quickly checked my mirrors again to make sure no one was closing rapidly, thankfully no one was near. As my heart rate went up I thought about what all of my PCA driver instructors over the years had told me to do when something doesn’t go as planned – don’t panic!
I kept my 944 S2 on line through the corner so as not to do anything too abruptly. Once I exited the corner I pulled off line. I continued to try and find a gear as I was coasting down the hill. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I still hadn’t found a gear and now I realized there was no place to pull my car off track! As I came to a stop I whacked the shift lever forward as hard I could, partly out of frustration and partly out of desperation. This time it worked. I had found first gear! I checked my mirrors and looked for a flagger. No cars in sight so I slowly pulled forward limping back to pit lane. I managed to force my way up to third gear by the time I got to the bus stop.
I pulled into the paddock and my crew chief (my father) asked how my run was and I told him what happened. We looked under the hood and under the car and found nothing that looked out of place so we took the car for a short drive around the paddock. Shifting was difficult but nowhere near as bad as it was in turn one. As I debated if I should drive all the way back to New Hampshire with this problem or hire a wrecker my father offered me a tow. He unloaded his racecar car and loaded my car. He towed me seven hours home, spent the night and then drove back to the Glen to pick up his car and drive home to Virginia. Can you say Father of the Year! Thanks again Dad.
After consultation with everyone I know and some I didn’t, I concluded my clutch was shot. It was fitted with the older, rubber center clutch and this was textbook symptoms of failure. After pricing out a clutch job I decided I would try to do this myself (“myself” actually means with the help of a half dozen Porsche Club members, my father and a certified mechanic).
A friend offered her garage equiped with a car lift, and another offered his transmission jack and still many others offered ideas and strategies. Next my father came back to NH specifically to help with the job. I prepped the car a bit before he arrived by removing the exhaust and some other miscellaneous parts. My father had consulted with his mechanic Robert in Williamsburg, VA prior to visiting. Robert actually loaned us some tools and extra parts that he thought we would need, and boy did we need them! He also made himself available via phone for questions.
My father and I spent two full days under, inside and on top of my car before he had to leave. I was able to finish the job the following weekend in a couple of hours. The job required more patience and muscle than technical ability. Once you get everything apart it really only goes back together one way. Just make sure you connect your ground wires correctly if you want the car to start – ask me how I know some time.
I really want to thank everybody who helped – Judy, Edgar, Robert and especially my father. I saved a ton of money doing it by ‘myself’ and learned a whole lot about my car.