LE MANS 3 seasons into the legend

LE MANS 3 seasons into the legend

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The 007C was created to run the World Endurance Championship. The flagship race of that Championship is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It's the emblem of closed-wheel races It's the place where you want to be on the second weekend in June every year. I told myself "I must try to be at Le Mans by the age of 30" I got there at 29 and half So... When you look at it with a detached eye, you realize you were in the Olympus so being there, it's also a privilege.

A challenge... a challenge for us who have designed a car that has to race for 24 hours on a rather peculiar circuit. Anyone who has worked in this world, knows what Le Mans is and somehow aims to be in a race at this level. Being able to participate and to achieve excellent results with a car fully designed by us, fully operated by us and fully developed by us has been an incomparable emotion and an unprecedented success. The project source of inspiration is Jim Glickenhaus. Since ever one of Jim's goals, on his wish list, has been to race in the 24h of Le Mans.

It's a goal we have been aiming for from the beginning of Podium. I remember when, in 2012, after finishing the first 24h of Nurburgring the first project we did, when we were only four of us, we decided to go at Le Mans. Somehow, we thought we were already part of that world, but we were confronted with the sad reality: we were still far away. For me, Podium is a bit of that: A team that has grown over the years and has managed to set itself ambitious goals and work hard to achieve them. Certainly there is a pioneering adventure component, but at the same time, there is method, a strict approach in every projects i.e. courage, also a little bit of defiance toward risks and the possibility of failure, but also a strong focus on target.

It is interesting Romain Dumas' statement after the first 24h, where the result was not expected by anyone, it was the first 24h that we finished, Dumas declared to a french newspaper: "This is a organization completely different form all the others in which I was involved, because it's a professional team that works with the spirit of a start-up. LMH stands for Le Mans Hypercar. They are prototyes, therefore sport cars with no commonality with road cars. They are designed from scratch, from a white paper.

At the end of 2020, I was asked by Podium to support the 007 program, with Glickenhaus, the WEC program as an Operations manager. So we start to build up a structure here in Podium looking for people, like mechanics and engineers on the market. Looking where we can get the right equipment to run the operation and that was the first step. Everybody was new in the team, everything was new in the program But, it seems that was not so bad.

Engine development and aerodynamic development represented two major challenges for many reasons. On one side, there was not on the market an engine capable of respecting the constraints of the new hypercar category. This necessarily implied the development of a new engine capable of meeting the power requirements. So, a big challenge was to define which partner we wanted to have on board. Pipo Moteurs was mainly known for its work on the World Rally Championship. For Ford, for Peugeot, for Hyundai with several world driver and manufacturer titles, over there last 20 years.

The Le Mans project was something completely new for us. So, we'd never done a V8, we'd never done a engine for Endurance. We had a visit from Luca, Marco and Igor.

They came to visit Pipo Moteurs, I showed them what we'd done so far, what we could do for the project. It took us a few months to agree, also to validate with Glickenhaus Luca got back to us in late February, early March to know if we were still up for that project. We told him that we'd started drawing the engine anyway and that in the early February, we'd started drawing the first plans. So when he saw that we were committed to the project he came back to see us and told us "You have never done a V8 and never done a 24h. For Podium and Glickenhaus, it will be a huge project. Why would rely on Pipo Moteurs?" I told him "Well, it's quite simple.

For the last 20 years, every time we've worked on a new project with a manufacturer we were champion either the first year, or the second year, or the two consecutive years." And so we shook hands and got on with the project. On aerodynamics, the theme is that the Hypercar has marked a new way of approaching motorsport programs and their homologation from the point of view of aerodynamic performance.

Sauber Motorsports was set up in the 1970s by Peter Sauber. They entered Formula One in the early 1990s, and they've been competing ever since. Podium entrusted Sauber for the complete aerodynamic development of the car. We were given a sketch of what the car should look like for the wishes of Jim Glickenhaus.

and that was pretty much it. From nothing through to a car running in 12 months, which is completely crazy if you speak to most people. The wind tunnel is another tool to analyze and measure the aerodynamic performance of the car.

We had one private test before the homologation, and we were still missing performance from the car to get it into homologation windows. And still with 20 minutes to go before the homologation test, I was missing a huge chunk of aerodynamic performance from the car, and I was starting to sweat. Jim Glickenhaus was sat in a control room with us. Luca was sat in the control room and I could hear the FIA saying, it's not gonna happen.

We might as well just stop now and not do the homologation. And with 20 minutes to go, my work colleague and myself had an idea and a spark of inspiration. We tried changing something on the car which involved trimming a bit, and then all of a sudden, bang! This big chunk of performance came back and it was the only time in my career that I've been in a wind tunnel control room, and I actually screamed with joy. And, from that point onwards, we managed to homologate the car and race at Le Mans. Luca Ciancetti from Podium has some ideas about drivers and he was already in contact with them I had some drivers in mind so we were thinking who can fit in a good way in this program and in the team So we moved names in different positions and this allowed us to start forming the crew for the first test of the car and the first race event where we want to attend. During the classic pre-race briefing with the race directors, basically being our first time, we asked many questions about the final part of the race.

The answer half funny half serious that we received from those who where there "You don't care about that part of the race" "You will do your 2/3 hours of appearance, which is already a lot! and then leave the final part to those who are here to compete seriously." It was, on the one hand a bit of.. let's say "maybe they are right, let's see what happens in the next few days" Then, with hindsight, we were really proud! I remembered that after the first 24h, where we arrived 4th and 5th overall, the level of respect for our program has changed as night and day. This, let's say, a little more contextualized in the history of competitions, usually it is not an expected result for the big car makers. So the fact that we had 100% success rate the first year was really one of the milestones of this program, which transformed it from a game of a young Italian company and of a small American manufacturer to a program that was really getting serious facing the second most important world championship organized by FIA. The second year we brought a real racing car. The idea was if the first year

we had to make it work the second year we had to make it go fast. In that sense also the team mindset has changed a lot. If the first year we were maintainers, discoverers, the second year, we became a real racing team. We raced with two cars and we finally achieved a podium. A podium finish at the 24h of Le Mans that remains the acme for us.

2023 was not supposed to be there. This is the truth, what happened behind the scenes. The Championship of 2023 would have marked a complete new World Championship cycle with three important players joining at the start of the season who are Ferrari, Porsche, Cadillac. The result was that the beginning of the season was pushed very far ahead. The others teams brought new cars

or who, like us had an old car, has basically brought a new generation of its car. So, at the beginning of season 2023, ours was the only car which never evolved in the course of the seasons. In a meeting held here few days before Christmas, we formalized our presence, enrolling the 708 to the WEC, pre - enrolling the 709 to Le Mans as a second car, with a surprising response from everyone in the team.

Sixty-five people from eleven different countries, so eleven different cultures. It was quite a challenge to get everything together and working together but it worked quite very well. We are a small structure, small operations and we are linked very close together and we have short decision ways, to face problem. We just sit together

and say "ok, what are the ways to solve this problem?" 1,2,3 short decision. Ok, we go. Bang! You arrive at this incredible party, at the end of the motorsport world, where hundreds of thousands of people, i think 450.000 this year, gather around this mythical circuit. On the side of the insiders, you perceive that you are involved in something different, in something greater, far from the typical reality of motorsport. When the race is about to start our car is unable to line up for the start. The futile reason is very simple.

To be able to improve the race performance, on the day of the pre - race break, a change was made to the gearbox and two seals were reversed. So we understood the problem, we fixed it but due to a regulatory quibble of the racing regulation, quite questionable, the cars that starts from the pit, start one lap back. At some point, on a important change of weather conditions, the safety car was sent to the track by the race director. We've made some complicated choices, avoiding a tyre change and keepin dry tyres in wet conditions, with the track drying out.

So we managed to position the car in front of the leader and we gained the possibility to make a pass around and thus catch up with the group recovering our lost lap. That was a very interesting moment because we took a very high risk. We could have risked having a crash and thus ruining the race. But it was also an important stance that the team made to show that we were not there just to finish the race. I think it was 10:00 in the night.

We already used 2 or 3 front bonnets, we have to exchange them after accidents. And then I was going to Albi and ask him about available additional spare parts, and he said, we are running out of spare parts, we don't have anymore. I said, yeah, and what is your plan now? And he said, I don't really have a plan because there's nothing left. We used everything we have.

And I said, yeah, but this is not an option because we have still more than 12 hours to run. So we have to think about what we can do. I said, yeah, and what you want to do now? And he said, okay, we have now three cracked front. So we cut them and we use the best parts of three and we make one of three. Are you sure? He said yes, it's the only solution, if we have another accident and we don't have a spare, what should we do? Okay, we go to the boys, we ask them. Everybody was not really happy because it was already late in the evening or early in the night, It was a cooperation of 4 to 5 people.

Everybody was working on this and try to fix it in a short period together, because you never know when the next accident happens. At the end, we finish it and we need to use it in the morning. I think it was car 709.

We have another accident with this car. So we use this part. It doesn't fit very well on the car, but at the end we managed to get it on and the car finished the race with this part one out of three. So that was quite a nice moment and at the end everybody was happy that we do it. And this is also teamwork.

Working together, finding the solution and then finish the race with this. The early morning hours are called Golden Hours because there is the best condition as far as performance. The asphalt starts to warm up but is not as hot as in the hottest hours. There are many peculiarities in a race that starts in the daytime, lasts through the night and ends during the day.

It really makes the difference. The greatest pathos was reached in the later hours, from the morning onwards. We had to manage three crashes, one of the 708 and two of the 709. It was a marathon! The retro box worked constantly to be ready to get the car back on track. This earned them an award of which we are very proud. It's the award for the most ready and active team in the race.

After a lot of mishaps and accidents, we still managed to get the car back on the track and to defend the positions that we kept until the end of the race. In my opinions, this represents all the work that we have done over the years. It's a nice recognition that we have deserved. Being able to place both cars in the first half of the ranking, 6th and 7th overall ahead all the official Porsche, plus one privateer Porsche, all the Peugeot and some of the Cadillac, it is an unbelievable result for our team and for what our team represented over the years. On this level we run an operation like 007C It's business. It's pure business.

And sometimes you have to pack your emotions on side because we have a target, and we have to go in this direction and we have to organize everything in this direction to get the best possible output of our work. But, at the end when you are able to to finish in Le Mans with both cars the emotion comes up and you can't stop it. Because we are humans and we are not a machine.

And then this is the result and the achievement of all the work you spent before, and all the long hours and long days before. This is the small, the small victory and the small achievement for everybody. Working with Podium was very, very easy and very special. It was more than just a business relationship of providing a service to somebody.

Every person felt like they were a key individual, in this small family team. And I think that feeling remained all the way through the project. This was good times. The hope is that adventure, for Glickenhaus and for Podium, is not over.

We hope that Glickenhaus finds a way back into the race, maybe with an updated car, and a even more competitive program. We also hope that Podium find a way back to Le Mans. We don't consider our Le Mans adventure over, for sure.

2024-05-11 15:09

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