Interview with Double Le Mans Champion Harry Tincknell
In the wake of his second Le Mans 24-hour victory on the weekend we caught up with Harry Tincknell for a fascinating insight into what it takes to win the race that everyone wants to win.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest active endurance race and is considered one of the most prestigious races in the world. 28-year-old Harry won his first Le Mans on his debut in 2014 at the age off just 22, in what was only his fourth ever sportscar race and has this weekend become the first person to win both the LMP2 and GT classes.
The #97 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GTE that Harry shared with Alex Lynn and Maxime Martin fought off a strong challenge from Ferrari to take the chequered flag after 24 hours and 346 laps of fast and furious racing. We spoke to Harry about how the race panned out and what it takes to be a two time Le Mans Champion.
Huge Congratulations on your second Le Mans win on the weekend. How did the win in the Aston Martin compare with the GT 40?
Thank you so much, it is a bit surreal it still hasn’t really sunk in!
When I first won the race it was my first year at Le Mans so I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t really appreciate just how much it takes to win and the effort that goes into it not only from the drivers but the team in the background not just on race day but in the 18 months building up to it. I went into my first year a bit blue eyed and bushy tailed! To win was incredible but I went back for the next 5 years, had some different experiences and I started to think I don’t know how I’m going to win this again! I came very close in 2017 finishing 2nd, I finished 4th in 2018 and 19 and in those two races especially I felt that I personally couldn’t have done anymore we just didn’t have the full package that year.
This year the car didn’t miss a beat, the team were amazing and both of the other drivers drove fantastically. This time around I certainly appreciated it a lot more.
How do you maintain a focus for such a long period of time during the race?
I get asked this question a lot. Driving at 200 mph does focus the mind pretty well! I can imagine it’s the same for a jockey doing 30mph on a racehorse over fences knowing you could fall off at any moment with 10 other horses galloping over you! It’s kind of the same in a racing car, you’re much more protected than on a horse but at the same time the speeds are a lot higher and you can still do yourself some serious damage. The speed and the adrenaline definitely focusses the mind but it is easy to fall out of the zone as well. I have a tactic where I try to take it one corner at a time. If I feel like I fall out of the zone all I try to focus on is getting the next corner right, taking one corner at a time and ticking off the laps. It sounds simple but it’s actually very effective. The Le Mans lap is a very long lap, its only 14 laps per hour that we do but it’s amazing how when you get in the zone, the last hour of the race just flew by.
How long is the average stint you drive for?
The stint we drive for is just under an hour, it’s 58 minutes which is how long the fuel lasts and we double or triple stint during the race. I actually just did double stints so its 2 hours in the car and I did that 4 times around, so just under 8 hours in total driving. For this race I then had two other drivers in my team, Alex and Maxime. For the standard championship races which are only 6 hours you just run two drivers but for races longer than that we get a third in to help us out.
What do you eat and drink during the race?
We have four physios in the team for the week and when we get out the car we have a quick debrief then a massage with the physios and they give us our food, take us back to the motorhome, put us to bed, then come and get us up again an hour before we’re due in the car. We are treated like babies from that point of view but it just means that it enables us to just focus on the driving.
In terms of eating, it’s the normal slow release energy food you would expect really, pasta, lean chicken. I have shot blocks, which are energy chews with caffeine in, which they give to me in the car during the stint when we’re re-fuelling. We do have an onboard drink as well with electrolytes in which I drink during the pit stop.
When I’m at Le Mans, I get out the car at 2am in the morning and I always have a craving for a ham and cheese toastie! I can’t eat anymore pasta and it’s just full of salt and fat and carbohydrate and it’s just what you need, so I did have one of them at 2 o’clock in the morning! I’m not sure what the sports nutritionists would say but the rest of the time I do eat pretty clean.
What is it like driving racing speed, at night under the race conditions?
It is an amazing experience. Everything speeds up in the night so if you thought you were going quick in the day it feels even quicker at night. The mind plays tricks on you a little bit because it’s very easy to back off a bit because you feel like you’re going too quick but that’s where you really have to trust and believe in all your reference points around the lap. For every corner I have a reference point, that could be a board for instance a 100m or 200m board which they do for each corner or it could be a line going across the track and in the dark you really have to trust those reference points. Sometimes you get to these points and you rest the pedal and you just think I hope this thing stops but luckily for me on the weekend it did each time!
Then of course in the dark there’s the other cars. Everyone knows what it’s like when someone comes up behind you on high beam, it’s very hard to know exactly where they are. It is a big challenge in the dark.
Your lap times are actually generally faster in the night than they are in the day if you know what you’re doing because in the dark the temperatures come right down so that gives you more power and the tyres work better so you have more grip. We’re only talking 1 or 2% but at that level it makes a massive difference. So it really is a time to push on during the night but at the same time you need to survive and get through it because if you don’t make it to the next morning you’ve got no chance of winning so it really is one of those risk and reward situations.
It is a special feeling though, when you’re going down the Mulsanne straight at 200mph and you’re the only one on the straight and it’s just your headlights lighting up the road. It might sound stupid but for me that is the most peaceful experience I’ve ever had in my whole life, its just the most amazing feeling.
Is endurance racing similar to Formula 1 that you need to have a high level of fitness? What type of fitness training do you do in a typical week?
The race is obviously a lot longer than a Formula 1 race but its probably a similar level. The cars are probably slightly less brutal than a F1 car, G-Force wise it’s slightly less loaded than a Formula 1 car but you’re in the car for a lot longer and you also have to recover and get straight back in the car. I’m also slightly taller than the average driver and just like a jockey the more weight in the car the slower it goes, so at Aston Martin we have a Head of Human Performance who creates a training programme for me and I’ll train 3 times a week with my trainer in London. I do a lot of circuit training and neck strength training. Neck strength is obviously very important in the car with the G-forces. I also do a lot of cardio training, mainly running for me which also helps keep the weight down. A lot of drivers cycle but for me with cycling there’s also the risk of falling off and knowing my luck it’ll be just before a big race so I try to don’t take too much risk from that point of view. For me being physically fit is really important when you’re driving and I still do a lot of racing in America so it helps with the Jetlag as well.
You mentioned racing in America, is that your main focus for this year?
I’m part of the Multimatic Motorsport team, who build the Mazda I drive. Multimatic also work with Aston Martin which enabled me to take time out of my Multimatic and Mazda schedule to drive the Aston in this year’s Le Mans race, so it’s great that it worked out, but yes my primary focus this year is the Mazda in the States
What does your training involve in the car? How many hours a week do you spend in the car on average?
Motorsport is quite unique from other sports in this respect in that you can’t practice every day. We don’t really have a structured weekly routine when it comes to driving, every week is different. We do between 15 and 20 test days a year plus at the races we get practice and qualifying days but we don’t do as much in car practice as you would think because it is just so expensive to test. However, what we do to counter that is that we have a super high-tech simulator and I will go on that most weeks, at least one day a week sometimes twice. I’m racing this weekend in America in Ohio so today I’m doing half a day’s practice around that track on the stimulator.
The best way I can describe it is as an insane play station game! The tracks are all laser scanned so every bump, every crack in the road is then computerised into a model and they recreate the car to exactly how it feels in real life. It’s on a pneumatic platform, moving around and it recrates the G-forces and it’s so accurate. Whatever lap time I do this afternoon on the stimulator I can almost guarantee that when I get to the track I’ll be within 1 or 2 tenths of a second. We can also change everything on the stimulator that you can change on the car, so for example I can change the suspension and whatever it does on the stimulator 95% of the time it replicates in real life. So if we make a change and give the car more front grip we know that will do the same in real life on the track so part of today is for me to get my head in the game for the weekend but another big element of it is for the engineers and they’ll have lot of different settings to try and they will then formulate a plan based on the data they get from today.
So whilst we might only test 2 or 3 days a month on the track outside of races we do a lot of stimulator work.
What do you do to relax in your spare time?
I’m a big sports fan. I’m big into horseracing, my family has been involved in the sport ever since I was born so I really enjoy that in the winter. I also play a lot of golf and I enjoy watching any sport. I travel around so much that I do just enjoy having some time off to chill out with my family and friends. Last year I did 75 flights and I’m lucky to travel all over the world to see so many incredible places but the travel does catch up with you after a while so when I get the opportunity I do enjoy just spending some time in England to chill out with my friends, play some golf and watch the horseracing.
Finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to an athlete, motor racing or other, what would it be?
All gas, no brakes!
Always believe in yourself. Whatever your goal, if you work hard enough whether you achieve it or not you’ll always be able to look back and say I gave it all I could. I remember someone once said to me, don’t look back and think I wish I’d done more.
Insurance Specialists for the Sporting World