Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

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millemille
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

But after a few stops we've settled into a rhythm and it's far less stressful. And I'm starting to get the beginnings of understanding the timing screen and how to interpret the numbers.

The sun sets, the lights from the fairground and the huge TV screens are on, pit boards are lit, lights on the bikes are on and the flash teams even have illuminated the numbers on their bikes.

The pit lane is as bright as daylight, the team were right to not bother with a lighting rig, with all of the other team's lighting rigs and the circuit's floodlights.

The lap times are unchanging, despite the darkness out on the track.

Status Quo kick off their set at the fairground, surreal to be catching snatches of “Rockin' all over the world” when there's a momentary lull in track noise.

The track noise is monumental; at any one time there's several bikes on the track howling up the gears as the come out of the last corner and blast up the start straight past the pits, numerous bikes in the pit lane on speed limiter, the warning klaxon is continually sounding every time a bike enters the pit lane, the voluble French commentators on the tanoy, shouted warnings to move as bikes are released from adjacent teams, your own team mates having bellowed conversations inches away from each other and the Dante-an staccato beat of hundreds of spectators bikes all around the circuit being held on the rev limiter for minutes at a time.

The fifth pit stop is despatched with no issues, we appear to be climbing up the order which is encouraging but everyone constantly reminds us novices that it's a long, very long, race and there's still a lot that can and will go wrong.

How prophetic...

Our bike has, obviously, aftermarket rear sets fitted. They're a new design from Arrow that the team have not used before and, to give it the obligatory race shift, the gear lever pivots on a separate bracket bolted to the crank cases rather than on the left hand rear set itself.

Two laps after the bike has been in for its fifth pit stop, about seven hours in and well truly in the night part of the race, the bike unexpectedly appears back in the pit lane outside the garage. Frantic shouting and hand waving and pointing – it is an Italian team after all – ensues out in the pit lane and it becomes apparent that the gear lever is flopping about and the rider can't change gear.

The bike is whisked into the garage, everyone falls on the bike in an unrestrained example of bedlam, the failed gear lever assembly is removed and the one from the spare bike - stripped down in preparation at the start of the race for just this kind of scenario – is hurriedly bolted on and the bike is pushed out of the box, given a quick splash of fuel and roars off into the darkness, having spent about the best part of ten unplanned minutes stationary.

Meanwhile, we gather round to look at the failed part; the bracket is CNC'd from aluminium and the machining has left a stress raiser where the bracket steps down in thickness, which is stressed every time a gear change is made and it's snapped clean across the stress raiser.

The only other spare bracket is checked, it's the same. So it's very probable that the bracket we've hurriedly fitted, and is right now being hammered on the track, is also the same and liable to fail in the same way in the same time frame as the first one.

Unsurprisingly the team don't track and life the parts; as best as we can tell the failed bracket was the one with the least track time before the race, having been fitted to the bike that the riders didn't like as much during practise and qualifying, and looked to have failed after about eight hours use.

The bracket that's just been fitted is the one that had been used for most of practise and qualifying and has at least four hours track time on it.

Hurried maths ensues; there's seventeen hours of the race left, there's one bracket with an estimated four hours of life left in it currently fitted to the bike on track and there's a brand new, unused, spare in our hands with about eight hours of life. Shit. We're five hours short.....

So there's two problems to solve; how to make it to the end of the race and what strategy to adopt – fit on failure and lose more time due to unplanned pit stops or pro-actively change the bracket before it can fail, based on some pretty sketchy data?

Various team members are despatched up and down the pit lane to find the garages where teams are running the same model GSXR as us to see if they have anything in the way of parts that we can beg, borrow or steal.

In the meantime we take a look at the spare bracket and try to come up with a way of making it last longer. Tools that would be of any use are in short supply. But what we do have in large quantities is chemical metal; normally used for hurried repairs on crashed engine covers and the like.

The magpies return from their efforts up and down the pit lane, not unexpectedly they've had no luck.

So chemical metal is bodged onto the bracket, on both sides, covering the stress riser in the hope that it will bond securely enough to the bracket – which has been keyed with the only file the team had which wouldn't have looked out of place in a farrier's tool kit for shaping horses hooves – and provide some extra structural strength and extend the bracket's life.

The decision is also made to swap the brackets over at the next pit stop, so that the one on the bike can also be given the chemical metal treatment before it starts cracking and then the plan is to run the zero hours spare for twelve hours and then remove it and put the used spare on for the remainder of the race, keeping the bracket with twelve hours use – and hopefully still unbroken – as a last ditch “Hail Mary” spare.

We make the planned change and bodge the other bracket and then wait to see whether we'll last the distance...

Thick fog is suddenly rolling across the finish line and through the pit lane, I can barely see the stands opposite the garage and the flashing lights from fairground and rock concert are lighting it up like something from “Close Encounters...”. The headlights of the bikes howling up the straight past the pits, with no noticeable reduction in speed, are projecting huge, searchlight like, beams of blinding light up the track.

No, wait! It's not fog, my eyes are stinging, that's smoke, wood smoke! What the hell is on fire to cause that much smoke.

Aah, now it makes sense. The huge piles of pallets have been set on fire.

Apparently there's other parts of the track, unlit, where the riders report they hit the smoke at over 150mph and they can't see anything – the track, other bikes, nothing – for what feels like an eternity before the punch out of the other side and the smoke, even at that speed, makes their eyes water.

So, let's get this straight. The organisers of an international, world championship, race deliberately supply tens of thousand spectators with immense, gargantuan, amounts of flammable material in order that they can set fire to it and make an, already dangerous, event even more dangerous?

There an odd bunch, these French....
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

After a couple of hours the smoke has thinned but it remains visible until well past dawn.

Back to the timing screen.

As part of my visual check of the bike during the pitstops I've been looking at the oil level in the sight glass. This was surprisingly problematic at the start of the night sessions as the clean oil was difficult to see, with any certainty, under artificial light but as the race progressed and the oil started to darken it became easier and it could be seen that the level was slowly dropping between stops.

The oil level has got to just above the minimum mark on the sight glass so it is planned to top it up at the next stop. The oil filler cap has been replaced with an aero-quip style, quick fill, adaptor and the team have an oil filler that is pressurised with an air line and forces a measured half liter of oil into the engine.

“Mark” takes responsibility for the oil fill.

And makes a total horlicks of it, spraying oil all over the bike when he fails to engage the nozzle and fitting correctly before pulling the trigger and half a litre of pressurised oil goes everywhere except inside the engine.

The bike can't be released like this.

The belly pan is whipped off and four grown men with the “mechanician” armbands fight over a roll of blue paper towel and a can of brake cleaner to attack the bike and get rid of the oil.

The crew chief grabs the oil filler from “Mark”, muttering some mighty impressive Italian swear words at him, and legs it in to the garage to fill it back up with oil and pressurise it.

The engine is topped up with the oil being inside the crank cases this time, the bike hasn't – against all the odds – caught fire despite the best part of a whole can of brake cleaner being sprayed on a red hot engine and exhaust and the belly pan is refitted and the rider heads off into the dark again.

Back to the timing screen and the racing rolls on.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

The garages at the Bugatti Circuit have several floors of executive boxes on top of them, and the windows that look out over and down into the pit lane slope outwards so that each floor has a clear view downwards, and then on top of the boxes is a public grandstand, with very steeply raked rows of seats, capable of holding many thousands of people. It's a huge complex, the grandstand bottom row must be sixty feet up from the pit lane.

Image

It's about two in the morning, were starting to get prepared for our next pit stop due in about 15 minutes, when there's a sudden flash of a body falling, head first, into the pitlane, crashing through the lighting rig of the next door garage, and there's an almighty, sickening, thud which momentarily cuts through the cacophony of the pit lane.

There's a body lying, in a growing pool of blood, in the pit lane 20 feet away from where I stand outside our garage.

For a second no one moves.

I'm the closest to it and run over to the body. It's a man, face down, unconscious, limbs at unnatural angles, clear fluid coming from his nose and ears, his head is obviously deformed and there's large amounts blood leaking out from underneath him.

I kneel by him and check for a carotid pulse while screaming for a medic. The cry is taken up by hundreds of people up and down the pit lane, the officials are all on their radios.

I've got my head down by his and I can hear faint groans from him. He's got an irregular and faint carotid pulse so, based on years of occupational first aid courses in the army and the railway, I don't try CPR or moving him because professional medics are seconds away and there's a real risk I'll just make things worse.

After what seems like an eternity (as an experienced racing journalist, who was standing close by, remarked later “they're quick enough to get people there if, heaven forbid, you've got the wrong pass on...”. Which is a little unfair, everything for medical team is geared up for dealing with on track incidents, not in the pit lane) many medics come running down the pit lane with kit bags and a trolley and take over, so I get up and head back over to the garage.

Our crew chief gathers all the pit crew around and is very clear, the riders are not to be told what has happened. It will mess with their concentration and this is dangerous for them, racing as they are.

We carry out the planned pit stop in a daze, the rider weaving his way through the battle scene of the crowd of medics and officials gathered the round the body and the mangled remains of next door's lighting rig to get to us.

A few minutes after we complete the pit stop the medics have the body on the trolley and head off toward the medical centre, carrying out CPR and with him on an ambubag to breathe for him.

We off the team the next door, who are frantically trying to clear the mangled remains of their lighting rig away from the front of their garage, the use of our fuelling rig and pit lane space to carry out their next pit stop, due in minutes, but they manage to create enough clear space outside their garage to carry on as normal.

I sit down on my own, as far away from everything going on as is possible in the circumstances, and have a few minutes to get my head together and then it's back to it....

A few hours later a gaggle of officials and police came to pit and speak with Moreno and then Moreno speaks to us.

The faller was dead, he was declared brain dead at the local hospital. We were not to talk to anyone about it, if we did the team would never be allowed to race at Le Mans again. (note: I think 9 years passing is long enough to tell the detail and it has been discussed, in less detail, on other forums before).

As best as they could tell, or were willing to say, it looked like he was drunk and fell out of the grandstand, probably leaning too far over the rail to watch what was happening in the pit lane.

There was no ID on the body. They were going to have to wait until someone reported him missing.

Grim.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

Next pit stop was the front brake caliper change. Thanks to some solid spannering by “Suspensionsmith”, with a nifty Makita right angle impact driver – or “dee radddle gun” as they were all called by the Italians – the calipers were swapped swiftly and without any problems.

Back to the timing screen.

Next pit stop and I spot that two of the three Dzus fasteners holding the belly pan – the same belly pan we had to remove and refit to clean all the spilled oil up – are missing on one side of the bike.

I point at the release man and, in my best parade ground bellow, let rip “NO!”.

No one else on the team has seen what I've seen so they think I've lost the plot when I run into the garage, drag the spare fairing panels out and start stripping the Dzus fasteners from them and then run back to the bike, shove them into the crew chief's hand and point frantically at the holes in the fairing where they should be. I can't fit them myself because I've not got a “Mechanicians” armband and they won't put the bike in the garage, so I can fit them, on my say so alone so he's got to do it.

The penny drops, he fits them and gives the release man the thumbs up and then gives me a thump on the back by way of thanks.

Back to the timing screen.

The safety car is out, there's been a multi bike crash on the far side of the circuit and there's debris all over the track, Moreno immediately wants a pit stop.

This is where my lack of Endurance racing experience lets me down, I don't fully understand the reason why but we don't lose any places if we do this. As best as I can figure out it's because the safety car is a long way behind us on the track and so long as we can get back out before the safety car comes past the pit lane exit it's effectively a “free” pit stop with no time penalty as we can then ride like the clappers, legitimately, to get round to the back of the queue of bikes behind the safety car while everyone already behind the car rides at the regulated pace. Lots of teams are taking advantage of this, so it obviously is a “thing” in endurance racing.

The pit stops goes well, despite the lack of notice, and the safety car is back in after a few laps.

Chef's been banging out food for everyone throughout the race, as well as looking after the riders well being, with people either nipping up to the paddock for a quick change of scenery and the chance to sit down and eat a proper meal or grabbing one of the baguettes or bits of chicken and the like that he brings down to the pits at regular intervals.

About four in the morning Chef appears in the garage with a slew of mugs and a large, obviously hot, saucepan with a ladle.

He starts ladling the contents of the pan into the mugs and there's a nigh on stampede from the Italians to grab a mug from him. It's hot chocolate, and not just any hot chocolate but the darkest, deepest, probably booze enhanced, hot chocolate I've ever experienced. I manage half a mug and then I start getting heart palpitations and head shocks. Wow. Maybe I'm diabetic and hadn't realised?

Back to the timing screen.

It's now just before dawn, the stands opposite the pits are empty apart from a few hardy souls, it's as cold as a witches tit, and it's what feels like our millionth pit stop and the rider coming off the bike is having a longer than normal hand over with the new rider. He's making the official international gesture for winding the throttle on and the bike misbehaving. But the new rider seems happy to take the bike out so there's no time lost.

Moreno, “Inch” and the crew chief are deep in discussion with the rider who's just come off and it appears that the bike has developed a misfire or stutter coming out of slow speed corners at low rpm.

My money, not that they've asked me, is on the throttle position sensor or the inlet air temperature sensor and the consensus amongst the Italians is that it's not bad enough right now to do anything about until, possibly, the next pit stop.

We get the complete air box and throttle body sub assembly from the spare bike ready, in case we need to swap them over. But that's going to be a good twenty minutes worth of work so there needs to be a compelling reason to make the swap.

The moment the bike comes in for the next pit stop “Inch” has the laptop hooked up to the logger and is pulling the logged data off, he unplugs and runs to the garage while the pitstop starts and progresses as normal.

Meanwhile “Inch” is trying to see whether there's anything logged to confirm the problem and what is causing it.

The bike is held in the pit lane.

Unsurprisingly, given the limited number of channels being logged, there's not and there's a hurried conflab between Moreno, “Inch”, the crew chief and the riders before Moreno makes the decision to leave the bike alone and let the riders deal with it, principally because it doesn't appear to be affecting lap times and the riders don't think it's getting any worse.

The new rider jumps on and yet again roars off down the pit lane, bouncing off the speed limiter.

We gather round the timing screen again.

As the sun rises it gives everyone a boost of energy, but it's incredible to think there's still more than eight hours of racing left, even though it feels like we're on the final stretch.

Pit stops carry on, we swap the gear lever bracket as planned, and the screen continues to have everyone's attention.

We are all numb, exhausted and sluggish.

The misfire is still there, but not getting any worse. We're putting in 22 litres of fuel, give or take, every stop.

The stands are slowly filling as last nights party casualties cautiously surface, the sun is shining and the commentators seem to have found new levels of energy and excitement.

It starts to become apparent, around noon, that our pit stops and the race finish aren't going to align, even if each of the remaining stints are stretched by a few minutes to eke every last drop of fuel out of the tank we're still going to come up 15 minutes short.

So we, along with several other teams, have to do a last minute “Splash and dash”, leaving the same rider – our fastest – on board for the last sprint to the line.

With five minutes to go the stands are heaving, the fences round the circuit are in imminent danger of collapse as the obligatory track invasion revs up and the commentators are at fever pitch as it's looking almost certain there'll be a French team finishing first and second.

Pretty much everyone from every team has climbed on the pit wall and is hanging over the track urging their rider on with cheering and shouting and waving arms and clenched fists for the last few moments before the klaxon sounds.

SRC Kawasaki are first over the line after three o'clock and SERT finish second, a lap down, a few seconds later.

I'm not on the pit wall.

It didn't seem right to me, to be celebrating when someone died in the pit lane a few hours ago. I'm standing alone in the pit lane by the already fading dark stain on the concrete where the mystery faller's life blood ran out of him.

I'm not religious or spiritual in any way, but I spend a few moments in quiet contemplation thinking on how fragile life can be before I join the team as the bike comes back to the garage. The track invasion is in full swing by this time and it's a race to get all of the bike, kit and team into the garage and the doors shut before the ravaging hordes steal anything that isn't nailed down in pit lane.

The Italians want to start packing up the bikes and garage right now.

Bollocks to packing up, me and “Suspensionsmith” head out of the circuit to the bar just outside the Musee entrance with the sole intent of getting pissed. And we succeed. Mind you it didn't take much as we were so tired, after 32 hours on the go, so a couple of beers and we stagger back to the paddock, climb into the camper van and pass out.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

During the race we consumed.

Over 400 litres of fuel. 380 of them in the bike and 30, or more, spilled over the pit lane

1 litre of engine oil. ½ a litre in the engine and ½ a litre on the engine.

18 rear tyres. Most of which Bob will be selling to unsuspecting track day riders within the week.

18 front tyres. The same...

4 front brake pads.

So what did all that get us?

Image

17th overall.

8th Superstock.

799 laps completed.

14 laps behind the class winning Superstock machine and 35 laps down on the overall winners.

Our best lap of the race was 1.42.6.

By comparison, the fastest Superstock lap of the race was 1.38.8 (which, in itself, is amazing as that's only .1 off the fastest full fat Superbike lap time), so we were nearly 4 seconds a lap off the class winners pace and had actually got slower, in comparison to the competion, over the course of the week.

The bike was in the pits in total for a gnat's chuff over 35 minutes during the 24hrs. SERT, as ever the masters of keeping pit time down to a minimum, spent the grand total of 21 minutes in the pits.

By comparison, the winning superstock team spent only 20 seconds fewer than us in the pits.

What does all that tell us? As far as I can tell we were significantly slower on track than we should have been but this was offset by our need to make fewer planned stops and, when we did stop, being sharp and quick on our planned stops.

It looks likely that with the fuelling fiasco, the unplanned stop for the gear lever bracket breaking and then several longer stops to swap the brackets over, replace the missing belly pan fasteners, clean up after the fucked up oil top up and do the data download for the misfire, we probably had a total of 12 minute's worth of unplanned or longer than planned stops.

Without those lost 12 minutes we may have got another 7 laps in, moving us up to 11th or 12th overall and possibly on the podium for the Superstock class.

But, as the saying goes, “If we'd had ham, we'd have had ham and eggs....if we'd had eggs”. We got the result we got with the events that happened....

The gear lever brackets didn't break again, our chemical metal bodge appeared to have done the job.

To finish at all was a testament to the inherent reliability of the Suzuki engine, particularly when Italians don't fuck about with it, being able to cope with the demands it had heaped on it.

To finish where we did was a testament the tenacity of the team members to overcome all manner of adversity – some of it self inflicted but others that no team would ever expect to happen - and the 3 riders ability – despite not being the fastest – to bang out consistent laps, nearly 800 of them, for 24hrs.

It's also a testament to Pirelli's tyres that they gave no concerns whatsoever, depsite the massive temperature range they had to operate in between day and night, and never failed to deliver grip in abundance.

And what did I get out of it?

It was an experience; an exhausting, emotional, eye opening, educational, traumatic, “once in a lifetime” kind of deal.

I've met some truly great people, “Suspensionsmith” is a true star and a friend to this day, and some not so great.

I was told by Moreno, via the crew chief, that I was welcome to come back and work with them any time I wanted.

I'll leave you to guess how many times I've been back....


Postscript:

No Limits are still racing in WEC in the superstock class, still running Suzuki's , still managed by Moreno and still getting similar kind of results.

After getting home I found out that I wasn't the only person to experience the same with “Mark”, finding out after they got to a race to “help” that they were expected to pay for the privilege of being there.

As far as I know “Mark” is no longer involved, in any way, with any form of bike racing.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by porter_jamie »

this 'Mark' character sounds like an utter bellend
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by KungFooBob »

Brilliant read. I rate this thread two thumbs fresh!
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Horse »

Excellent stuff, really enjoyed reading it all. Thank you for writing - and 'enduring' it.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Dodgy knees »

Fantastic, an enthralling read, well written @millemille .

Just needed a dolly girl to strip off in pitlane and every box just about ticked. 👍
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by 2xtwins »

As already said above, thank you for this.

One of the most enjoyable reads I have had on a bike forum - 44 teeth in print. Top Man.

Big respect.

Kev :clap:
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Yorick »

Amazing story :)
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by GuzziPaul »

Pity it ended. I'm sure there must be one more post about getting back home to England with or without "Mark"
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Nobby »

A great write up and very entertaining. Are there more ?
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

GuzziPaul wrote: Sun Nov 08, 2020 10:01 am Pity it ended. I'm sure there must be one more post about getting back home to England with or without "Mark"
The journey home was a non event. I gave "Mark" some euro's for fuel and we drove back, much more quickly. Conversation was polite but I've had nothing to do with him whatsoever since. To his credit, he did apologise publicly on the original forum that started it all for any "misunderstanding".
Nobby wrote: Sun Nov 08, 2020 10:56 am Are there more ?
Not for Le Mans, it was a one off trip and everything that happened is in the write up.

The other racing work I did was much more professional/boring and nothing of any great note - unless you're heavily into the technical side of 20 year old superbikes - ever happened.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by demographic »

Thats been the best thing about bikes I've read in ages.
I also feel like I want to know more about this bike...

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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

demographic wrote: Sun Nov 08, 2020 6:36 pm Thats been the best thing about bikes I've read in ages.
I also feel like I want to know more about this bike...

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http://www.team-metiss.com/
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by MingtheMerciless »

Fantastic writeup, a black comedy in places with a truly grim bit, an enthralling read. Thank you for sharing this with us.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by dayglo jim »

Thanks for the write up, a really interesting read.
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by Rockburner »

Fantastic write up!

Thanks for the thread!
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Re: Dazed and confused in la Sarthe...

Post by millemille »

2xtwins wrote: Sun Nov 08, 2020 9:31 am
44 teeth in print....
Did you know they were going to release this video today, or was it just coincidence?