by Natasha Henry, The Telegraph, June 16, 2017
Nick Tandy has a lot on his mind. If the prospect of spending 24 hours in a car driving at speeds of up to 250mph was not enough, he is also contemplating the sweltering prospect of doing all that in temperatures of 32C in France this weekend. "It gets very tough," he says, with more than a little understatement.
Then again, Tandy is used to such demands. He has already won one Le Mans 24 hour - one of the most iconic events in motor sport - and, as he sits in a Porsche hospitality tent, he lays bare the physical demands of an event which can total 38 hours when preparation time and media commitments are taken into account with the nonchalance of someone describing their weekly shop.
“We are regulated by the officials to have a maximum temperature that we can run at, of 32 degrees, although it could well be above that in the race,” Tandy explained. “Then our engineers want to control the air conditioning system, but everything they use to control the atmosphere in the car for the driver takes away from the performance of the car so it’s about finding balance and we are right on the limit of heat exhaustion.
“I know from practice yesterday that you’re taking on more fluids than are actually in the car to drink on an hourly basis. And if you want to do four hours in the car in this temperature, you are definitely going to have to direct more power into the air conditioning into the cockpit.”
Heat is just one of Tandy's headaches. The World Endurance Championship driver, who will race in a Porsche 919 hybrid, is more than aware that he and his team are facing their toughest challenge in recent years.
Toyota Gazoo Racing, a manufacturer that includes former Formula One drivers; Anthony Davidson and Sebastian Buemi, want to take the title from the most successful manufacturers in the sport's history, and the bookmakers are backing them to do so. Porsche, who have won the race a record 18 times since their first entry in 1968, could be lucky to make the podium this time out.
It is a good job, then, that Tandy is able to switch off. The 32-year-old is a fan of calmer sports; most notably darts, golf and snooker. Although he did admit that having two young children meant that he cannot completely step away from energetic activities when he leaves the track.
“To be honest, I feel more sorry for the engineers that control the car because they can't sleep at all," he says. "Yes, it’s difficult for us to drive for three to four hours at a time, but then you get six or eight hours off.
“I think the best preparation is race experience. I know that I need about an hours sleep throughout the race in order to not be tired the next morning while we’re still driving. I think the adrenaline takes over a lot."
He was right to be cautious about the competition with the Toyota car driven by another former F1 veteran, Kamui Kobayashi, taking pole with a time of 3:14.'791.
The Japanese driver will bid to give the manufacturer their first win in the race with Stephane Sarrazin and Briton, Mike Conway. The other Toyota team of Davidson, Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima will start second; while Tandy will start the race in third alongside his teammates Neel Jani and Andre Lotterer.
This was hardly a surprise, but adds to the sense that Porsche - unusually - enter the race as underdogs. “We’ve got a target on our back and our competition knows what to aim at so it’s difficult for us to know how hard to push the boundaries of performance versus reliability," he said.
“It’s the same in any form of motorsport. If you know what you’re trying to beat then you can push yourself to a level of performance over that, and then worry about reliability after that.
“We are aware that our main competition, Toyota, is very strong. The thing is that cars that we bring to this race and this track is different to any other race in WEC. We do know it’s going to be a big fight.”