Friday: Dunlop Corner
The above incident involving a Ferrari F430 GT and Audi R18 took place in the downhill Esses after the Dunlop bridge during the first hour of last year’s 24 Heures du Mans. If you’re an ardent fan of endurance racing, you’ve probably already seen the accident footage. When it happened, I was a couple hundred yards up track, just on the other side of the bridge. I heard the response from the crowd, and I knew something had happened. Looking up at the jumbo TV screen in front of me, I was horrified. I figured the worst outcome was a certainty. Luckily, I was wrong.
I’ve watched the footage dozens of times, and I’m convinced that, if the accident were to take place 100 times, 99 of those times the Audi would land in the crowd of photographers. How the Armco managed to snag the R18’s right front suspension, pivot the car around, and drop it back onto the correct side of the barrier, I’ll never know.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Flying Lizard driver Patrick Long about that section of track, the challenges it poses to GT drivers, and last year’s incident…
Patrick Long: “Because you exit [the] Dunlop [corner] on driver’s left, that gives the faster car a chance to get alongside of you, going down the hill. What happens there is that GT cars are on edge, nearly flat-out through there, but you need to have a perfect turn-in. If you get a prototype underneath you, things can go wrong quickly. The GT driver has to be ultra-committed there, but a prototype driver is not taking that into consideration; he’s flat-out through there (easily). That’s the difference between the classes; we’re on the ragged edge in some areas, and they’re flat without a second thought.
That’s a corner where you need to make your move be known. You’re traversing from left to right, through the turn-in point at a very high rate of speed. My opinion of what happened there last year is that the GT driver looked in his mirror and saw the first Audi was going to wait. Then the second Audi decided to advance past not only the Audi but the GT car. By then, the GT had committed and turned in.
A misperception is that the GT driver can drive through a corner with eyes on the mirror. But at a certain point, you have to leave your mirrors and pick up your apex and exit. You have a moment to get depth perception of what is behind you, but then you have to go back to work and trust that the right judgment will be made. That was just a situation in which the timing of everything was not optimal.”
Indeed. But everyone involved lived to tell the story. And while nothing was optimal about the situation, that’s the best possible of outcomes.
For Thursday’s installment, click here