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Thunder Thighs & Chicken Wings

Murphy Prototypes driver Mark Patterson shares his 2015 Le Mans behind-the-scenes insight beginning with his travels from New York to the mandatory test day sessions.
June 28, 2015
Story by Mark Patterson  –  Photos by Thomas Murray  –  Special Thanks to Chequered Flag Media

Le Mans 2015 with Mark Patterson and Murphy Prototypes.
I saved at least 50% of the cost of flying to the Le Mans mandatory test days by using Icelandic Air, which requires you to connect in Reykjavik with a quite reasonable 3 hour layover.  What I hadn’t planned on was that two mid-length flights and three hours near a crowded boarding gate don’t make for optimal rest on a red eye flight and certainly almost no sleeping time.  The good news was that the sun had almost completely gone down just before midnight when we landed in Iceland or the surface of the moon – not sure which – and that just further destabilized the jet lag meter.  After another three hour layover and a train ride from the station inside Charles de Gaulle airport,  where use of a public loo runs almost a Euro, Alan McGarrity kindly picked me up at Le Mans. He was in one of the two ugliest VW rental Combi vans you could imagine: confused chocolate brown with massive yellow HERTZ rental signs splashed diagonally across 30% of it!

For some reason he didn’t drop me at the hotel for a shower and a snooze, so I staggered about the Circuit du Mans garages and the team truck for most of the afternoon, eventually getting to the hotel around 8 PM, exhausted.  Quick dinner and a few calls on behalf of Jazz at Lincoln Center in the perpetual search for wealthy donors with nothing better to do than fund a sound of music entirely and uniquely created in America, and all of a sudden it was 11 PM. But JAZZ was $100,000 better off.
This goes a long way to explaining why I was awakened by the hotel phone on Saturday, blaring in my head at around 9:15 AM.  Karun Chandhok was enquiring if I was being held up as our 9 AM departure time had already passed us by.  I can’t recall sleeping 10-plus hours in many a year and later discovered I hadn’t reset my watch for local time, so the 8 AM alarm did go off, but well after lunch time.  Fortunately the Le Mans Milking Machine (the only permanent perpetual motion machine designed to drain cash from customers without interruption or service requirements) had no scheduled laps on Saturday, just a driver briefing which is never brief.  Plus of course the massive grid photograph with all 55 cars and some required photo shoots of the individual drivers.  So we weren’t late for our seat maker or any other critical deadline, but we certainly weren’t the first team members to arrive at the Murphy garages today.Murphy-Prototype-Ford-Chicane-Race-Le-Mans-24Hr-2015/Le Mans 2015 with Mark Patterson and Murphy Prototypes

Nathanael Berthon had already made the new baseline beaded seat by the time we’d parked at the track, but Karun felt like a bike ride was in order.  I joined him for a 40 km three lap run around Le Mans, the pure race track elements and the public road portions.  Now when Karun was young (he’s still very young by my standards) and growing, he and his similarly short father wore the same L or XL clothing that’s comfortable for rotund Indians with huge white smiles and pitch black hair.  One day Karun urged his father, Vicky – who runs the FIA in India – to buy into the notion that he could become a good race driver some day.  “Call me when you lose 20 kilos” was the reply.  A few months and 25 kilos later Karun asked his Dad to live up to his end of the bargain and today he is one of the best race drivers ever to have come from India.  He is still short, but has a tiny waist, though his legs remain large and powerful.

This gets us back to the bike racing episode…fortunately there is lots of traffic here and one of us had to tuck in behind the other and he insisted, without any resistance from me, that I draft behind him.  All good for the first mile or so, but Thunder Thighs had a cadence that only idiots would try to maintain and my little chicken wing legs started to debate the sanity of this whole exercise pretty quickly.  One way or another for a lap and half I stayed tucked up right behind one of the best black Spandex views at Le Mans, before he insisted “we step it up a bit for the next mile”.  That’s when separation between church and state kicked in.  Holy cow.  Off he went into the distance, waiting for me at the 90 degree 2nd gear Mulsanne Corner, urging me to slowly crawl back to the grid while he took off in another direction for another hour of Thunder Thigh theatrics.  I ignored him until I’d finished three full laps of Le Mans. It’s always amazing how track walks or bike rides around a race track do in fact alert you to tiny implications that are very hard to detect or even sense are there when driving a race car at 130 or 185 mph . The world at these speeds is a sequence of millions of minute colorful snapshots that register and implode in a nanosecond.Murphy-Prototype LollyPop Man Roy -Pitstop-Refuel-Race-Le-Mans-24Hr-2015/Le Mans 2015 with Mark Patterson and Murphy Prototypes

By far the most notable change at Le Mans this year is the admission of another LMP1 factory team – Nissan.  Their bright red giraffe necked race car – that we believe by now in testing has begun to reach LMP2 lap times – has yet to enter a WEC race which is 25% into their season already.  The global poster spotlighting this year’s race has four factory LMP1 cars and a Corvette in the background.  The leading LMP1 dominating half the billboard sign is the bright red Nissan slowpoke – a genuine master stroke of marketing finesse and the source of a stroke for the engineer behind this completely unique design – nothing like the Audi or Toyota or Porsche, which with small variations, conform to a reasonably common aero design.  After studying many animals at a local zoo, Nissan engineers selected the giraffe as the optimal baseline form for a streamlined example of what could be designed for as a front wheel drive LMP1 dual power-source race car.  No driver can see well over the enormous nose and hood of the car, which supposedly provide lots of downforce.  The exhausts expel used fumes from the top of the bonnet before the driver’s windshield compared to everyone else purging spent fuel from the side or rear of the car.  It will be an interesting event to see how Nissan fares in this heavily attended race.  Nissan’s marketing department has done something with nothing and let’s hope the engineers and drivers can do equally well.

The second adjustment at least for the test days is to extend the field a bit and allow a few LMP3 cars to join the event, but they will not be competing at the 24 Hour race.  Seems inevitable that they will be included next year.

Murphy-PrototypeTertre-Rouge-Le-Mans-2015 Featured 4x6The third adjustment is a massive new and permanent client entertainment building recently erected at the Ford Chicane by Porsche, who learned belatedly what LMP1 race cars have done for Audi’s global car sales over the past 15 years. Porsche is now all-in, trying to play the same hospitality hand.

An example of the extortive and and monopolistic proclivity that exists over here, we discussed an in-car video camera for the race weekend, which would mean at least some of the almost continuous Le Mans TV broadcast would be from inside our #48 car too. The camera costs about what a GoPro does, though the fee asked is a mere €40,000 which at even today’s saggy and windswept Euro to the Dollar exchange rate, is a comfortable $45,000. Beyond explanation.

French weather services had predicted three gorgeous cloudy dry days in the mid 70s, but by midday today changed their minds about the only day we get to race the cars – tomorrow.  We’re on from nine until one and again from two until six – a full eight hours to begin to put some rubber back down onto the racing line and test lots of set up and tire choices.  Now it appears that six or seven hours of the track time will be wet which of course triples the amount of the teams’ collective crash damage budgets.  Welcome to Le Mans – and come they all do.

Read more about the author here: [popup url=”” width= “1150” align=”center” height=”760″ align=”center”] Mark Patterson, A Colourful Gentleman-Driver [/popup]

Read Part 2 here