He’s raced in all 4 classes at Le Mans and he’s won in two of them. In the wake of this weekend’s race we caught up with Harry Tincknell for a fascinating insight into what it takes to win the world’s longest motorsport race and his team’s chances this year.
What is the format of Le Mans and what class will you be racing in this year?
There’s 4 classes at Le Mans, two Pro Type classes, LMP1 and LMP2 and two GTE classes, GTE Pro and GTE AM. I first won in LMP2 in 2014 and then I won the GTE Pro with Aston Martin in 2020.
This year I’m racing with Porsche in the GTE AM class. Next year I hope to be back in LMP1 which is where I want to be, but I’ve been loaned to the team for the season and so far it’s going really well. There’s 3 in our team, Seb Priaulx who’s the young pro, Christian Ried, whose an amateur driver and myself. Every car in our class will have an amateur or ‘bronze’ driver as they are called. Christian is very experienced; he’s been driving for a long time, and he’s won Le Mans before in GTE so I’ve got a great bronze driver with me. For me, the more I can support Christian to be able to drive as fast as he can, the more chance we have of him being quicker than everyone else’s amateur.
The last 4 years I’ve been mainly in America racing in the LMP1 with Mazda so I’ve been in the top class coming through the traffic, whereas this year I am the traffic! It’s good to have been on both sides of the coin because when you’re in the slower car but you have experience of driving the faster car you know what the faster car is thinking and where he’s thinking of lining you up. So many times, there’s contact between cars in different classes where there’s just been a mis communication. Having experience of driving both cars is a real benefit for me as a driver.
Having won the race twice before, what are your expectations for this year?
I’m really looking forward to it and we’re quietly confident. There’s a saying you don’t win Le Mans, Le Mans chooses you and I think having won the last race at Spa in the World Championship, we feel as though we’re in a good position to go to Le Mans and do a really good job.
Our confidence is really high going into the race; we’re second in the World Endurance Championship at the moment. We started with a fourth in Florida, which was actually a really unlucky fourth. We would have easily been on the podium but the race got stopped an hour from the end because of lightning strikes in the area which was a shame. We put it right with a win last time in Spa at the start of May however, so I think we’re right in the mix.
It is very difficult to go into a 24-hour race and be ultra-confident as they are so many variables out of your control but we do tick a lot of boxes. We’ve got a strong driver line up, a great team and a great car so we just have to try and stay level-headed and not get too excited.
For me it is slightly different this year in that I’ve got a much younger teammate who’s never done Le Mans before. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in that position, being trained up shall we say, but I’m the trainer now and this year has definitely been slightly different from that perspective, in that as well as being a driver I’m also a leader in the team in terms of what we do with the car. Sebastian is a very fast and capable driver but Le Mans is not just about being quick, 24 hours is a long time and you’ve got to get to the end. I think we’re in a great place. A podium finish would be fantastic, but the goal is to come away with the win.
With three drivers in the team, how many laps or for what amount of time do each of you drive?
The fuel will more or less last an hour, so one ‘stint’ as we call it would be one tank of fuel. Generally, we do between double and quadruple stints so you would expect to be in the car for between 2 and 4 hours. You can’t do more than 4 and it’s unusual to just do the 1.
The team will tend to have plan A, B and C with regards to who drives when, pre-determined before the race. By the time we’re 4 hours in they’re usually on about plan F as it changes so rapidly but it’s all part of the strategy in terms of when you want certain drivers in the car. Some drivers might prefer the dark, some prefer to start the race, others prefer to finish the race. Generally, I will finish the race. You tend to want your most experienced driver in at the end, when it gets down to the nitty gritty. In Spa for example I got into the car in 5th position, but I barged my way through pretty quickly! You need someone who’s willing to put it all on the line but equally that needs to be set up by someone who’s going to be a safe pair of hands and give the car over to the finisher in one piece. It depends on drivers’ personalities and traits but in general in the 24-hour race because it’s so long and endurance is such a factor, the driving will get spilt pretty evenly, about 8 hours each. In the past, the maximum I’ve driven is 10 hour and minimum 7, it’s always similar. As I say, the team usually start with a plan, but it doesn’t take long until it’s recalibrated. There’s a whole team that are re-calculating that every time that something happens on the track.
How big is your team, in addition to the 3 drivers?
Our team has 3 cars in it but just in relation to our car we have 4 engineers, 8 mechanics, 3 or 4 backroom staff who will be working on strategy and data analysis. You’ve then also got physios and runners – I would say around 20 members of the team for each car, so times that by 3 and there’s about 60 in the team. As drivers we are looked after very well, everything’s prepared for us whether it’s food or hydration; they get us out of bed, they put us to bed after the stint, so all we have to focus on is the driving.
You mentioned about being put to bed after a stint, do you get much sleep when you’re not driving?
We have a motorhome each which is a 5-minute golf buggy drive away from the garage so it’s all very close and intended to maximise the rest time, but I struggle to sleep if I’m honest, especially if the car’s in contention. You’ve just been driving at 200mph for 3 hours, adrenaline is pumping and you’ve just passed the car over to your mate so you want to see how he’s getting on. As I’ve got more experienced, I have learnt however that you can’t influence anything outside of the car so the best thing you can do is try to get some rest. I will have a shower and get in to bed, close my eyes and listen to the radio between the cars, but rarely have I ever slept in a 24-hour race when we’ve been in contention.
Hitting speeds of 200mph, is it scary when it’s dark?
I think if you’re scared you’re probably in the wrong job!! As a horseracing fan I would be scared if I was galloping on a horse at high speeds towards a fence but it depends on what you’re used to I guess. Everything does feel a lot faster when it’s dark so you do have to get used to barrelling into corners and trusting that your brake marker when it’s sunny in the day will still get the car stopped in the dark. Your eyes do take time to adjust, and you will see with the amateur and less experienced drivers they drop off a lot in the dark because it feels a lot faster but actually it isn’t, it’s a mind over matter thing and you just have to train yourself. In reality, you’re actually able to driver quicker in the dark as the temperatures are cooler so the engine has more power, the tyres have more grip but the majority of the time it can be slower unless you’re a more experienced driver.
In relation to your tyres, how do you know they are at the optimum temperature or that you are at the edge of the grip? What is the first indication you are about to hit trouble?
We have the tyre temperature and pressure live on the steering wheel so I can see if my tyres are starting to overheat. If you start to hit the limit of the grip, it’s like if you are driving on a really dry piece of road then you suddenly hit a wet road or some ice; you suddenly feel the car slide. You will also get more wheel spin and the car won’t turn as well. Because the margins are so small, having all this information on the steering wheel enables you to drive the car accordingly. If I see the numbers are starting to creep up, I can try and make the tyres last longer by asking a little less of them.
You mentioned earlier that the fuel tank lasts for about an hour’s stint. Does the car feel much different from when you’re full up to when you’re getting towards the end of a stint?
That’s a great question actually as it changes a lot especially in the Porsche. The fuel tank is all in the front of the car so where the engine would normally be in a road car that’s where the fuel tank is, so as the fuel comes off it really affects the handling of the car. To start it’s very heavy, there’s much more weight on the front which generally means that the rear is more slidey, more chance of over steer, more chance of having some big slides on the exits. Then, as that fuel comes off the weight distribution becomes a lot more balanced and you can drive into the corner quicker, you can get on the power earlier, so it does make a big difference. From a full tank, it’s like having a pretty large passenger in the front seat. The team aren’t particularly happy with me if I put on 2kgs so you think when you put 70kgs of fuel in the car, if there’s a difference with 2kgs then with 70 there’s a big change.
You’ve touched on the weight differential with the different fuel loads. How much weight will you lose over the course of the race?
Quite a lot actually, probably 3 or 4kgs. I am quite a high sweater anyway but it gets very hot in the car and in the past I’ve lost up to 4kgs.
We have a big support team that looks after all of our hydration and nutrition, there’s food and drink ready for us as soon as we get out of the garage, but it is difficult to keep rehydrating when you’re in and out of the car 4 times during the race.
We do have a drink in the car as well but given the heat of the car, that nice cold drink they put in the car at the pit stop doesn’t stay that way for very long! I’m experienced enough now to know it’s still doing me some good however so we just have to do the best we can.
You frequently hear commentators talking about drivers working with their engineers to look for extra speed and quicker lap times. Can you give us an idea of the type of information you’re looking at or the type of decisions you’re making with your engineer, is this in relation to tyres and fuel as you’ve mentioned?
There are 800 sensors on my car, measuring everything you can possibly imagine and that’s all being fed back to the pits live, so the 4 engineers and 2 or 3 strategists are seeing all of that information live and they collect a lot of data which can then be used to help make decisions. When I come in after a session I’ll sit down with the team and I’ll go through corner by corner what the cars doing, what I like and what I don’t like and what needs to improve. The team will then use that feedback plus the data and they’ll come up with changes to try and improve the car, whether it be suspension, aero dynamics or braking. Obviously the fuel load and new to old tyres makes a big difference but there’s also a lot of other things you can do to manipulate the bounce of the car. We get a lot of that information from the simulator in advance, which is probably 90% correlated to the real track so we have a good idea of what set up and adjustments we can try based on the feedback from that. For instance if I come in and say I’m really struggling with traction and they can see on the data I’ve got a lot of wheel spin and we’ve tried a set up change on the simulator which we know give us more traction they can be very confident that if in the next session they put it on it will improve the car.
Harry is number 77 and the race starts at 3pm BST Saturday 11th June, with all 24 hours live on Eurosport. From All the team at All Sport we wish Harry and the team the best of luck.