Juha Kivekas' Post Card from Le Mans 2002

Text and images copyright Juha Kivekas
France is a country of contrasts: beautiful land, French kitchen is wonderful, wine is tempting, and elegance is apparent everywhere. At the Charles de Gaulle Airport you get the first lesson of  French logic. The second lesson comes at the Le Mans accreditation office – and at that point you really run out of words.

Finally, I ended up having a media accreditation card, but no access to photo areas around the track. Nice, especially since I had agreed to do an article for a photo magazine. But The Officials had decided I was not worthy the photo vest that my job really required.  I was not the only one though.

No storms, no heavy rainfalls like last year. In advance it looked like an Audi walk away. The Dallaras and the MG were expected to shine in the qualifying and the early race but nobody really expected anyone other than Audi to win. Yes, the Dome was fast too, but not enough.

Mixed reactions. The famous Dunlop-downhill is now different. JJ Lehto was quite laconic about it: ”One overtaking place less.” Not that this was a track with too few overtaking places, but simply because there is so much to overtake. From spectators’ point of view the new part is beautiful and very open air, but the old view up to Dunlop bridge was like a friend - always there. Now she is gone.

The Audi. It seems they are aiming to perfection in every possible way. Not just the racing or technology, but everything involved: hospitality, press and marketing services, what ever. The rear wing endplate solution really did not fit into this picture. It was a tasteless way around the rules in my opinion. The endplate effect is nothing new to any professional aerodynamicist. Sometimes it is difficult to understand the flex in the polishing of the regs. 

The green Audi, oops, sorry, the Bentley was expected to be slightly slower, yet with similar reliability to the open racers of the VAG-company - and it was.

I’d say the fastest looking car through the corners of Dunlop-chicane and also Indy was the almost silent MG. It looks really nimble: quick turn in, loads of speed into the apex and early throttle. That none of these cars made to the finish is not a surprise, but still, a disappointment - even if the car is not exactly what the LM675-class is about. It is still a great racing car.

Another car that caught my eye favourably was the Prodrive Ferrari. Is it just the bright red or what but it really looks like it is born for this track. Just a pity that Prodrive was only with one car. Odds being what they are, as first timers, a DNF was always in the cards.

The Saleen certainly looked penalized - too much penalized. At no point were they a match to the Ferrari nor the Corvettes. The Vettes were like clocks, coming around again and again with the fantastic macho V8-sound. Couple of odd ones were the Spyker and the Morgan. The latter was not so slow as I expected, but to my eye it still looks like a - joke.

One other thing worth mentioning is the finishing rate of the Judd-engines. The best Judd (Oreca no. 15) was 16 laps down the winner and the best lap time was some six and half seconds slower than the ones of the top Audis. In the qualifying the Dallara was only some 2 seconds off. The average stint length (12 laps) of the Oreca really telltales, that the rev limit had been brought quite down - may be down to 500 - 530 Ps level. So the reliability was there, but the speed was obviously compromised.

The winning Audi pitted 31 times and did 375 laps i.e. 11.7 laps per stint by average. It spent 37 minutes and 38 seconds in the pits. The Bentley did 9.8 laps by average and spent almost 46 minutes in the pits. The best Oreca-Dallara spent some 49 minutes in the pits. Again, if you spent less than 45 minutes in the pits, you were well placed in the result sheet.

Certainly not the best race of Le Mans, but a good happening again.

Juha Kivekas (Dipl.Ing) is the managing director of Apextrem Ltd. which is a small Finnish R&D company specializing in vehicle dynamics and aerodynamics.  He has  also worked as a professional race engineer in lower categories and is the aerodynamacist for the Finnish Ski Jumping team.  He has participated in some 160 aerodynamics R&D projects varying from bridges and race cars to subwaterlevel craft and space devices.
ęCopyright 2002, Michael J. Fuller