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Team Spirit in LeMans: The Key to Success

Friday, June 15, 2012


Les 24 Heures du Mans is surely a trial of machine: cars are expected to race at top levels for 24-hours non-stop. But winning Les 24 Heures du Mans is really much more than a feat in mechanical engineering; it is an undeniable test of man and his limits. To stand on top of the podium in Le Mans, with the “24” trophy and the winning Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, demands not only hard work and sacrifice, but also true team spirit in order to come out on top.

Drivers Compromise to Find the Winning Combination

When the first and second place teams here in Le Mans are separated by mere seconds at the end of 24 hours of racing, everything counts. Every aspect of the team needs to be functioning as perfectly as possible as even the slightest hic cup, miscommunication or technical failure could lead to disaster. The human aspect of this connection is most distinctly visible when looking at endurance racing drivers, who are never on their own behind the wheel. “Almost all of us are coming from single-seaters or shorter sprint races where you have to drive for yourself,” explains Rinaldo Capello (ITA), an Audi driver who will be sharing a hybrid car this year with co-drivers Allan McNish (GBR) and Rolex Ambassador Tom Kristensen (DNK).

“You are told as soon as you begin racing that you are not to be nice to your teammates, that your teammate is your worst enemy and the first person you should try to beat,” continued Capello. “But once you move to endurance racing you have to completely change your attitude. I am not alone in the car and what I like is not ideal for Tom, what Tom likes is not ideal for Allan, and then we have to find the compromise which at least works for all three.” The Le Mans race cars are not individually tailored to suit each driver, and when one considers driver height, arm and leg length, driving style and the many number of factors that make us individual human beings, finding the set up in race car to best suit all three drivers sounds impossible... Yet it is done time and time again in endurance racing, and specifically here in Le Mans when that racing is pushed to a 24-hour limit. “I think one of the reasons behind our success over the last ten years is the fact that we are three drivers clever enough to understand that team spirit is the key to success,” concluded Capello.

A True Le Mans Team: Group Effort trumps Individual Strengths

Dr Wolfgang Ulrich and Tom Kristensen during free practice sessions
Having a winning driver combination is not the only component necessary for victory. In general, success in any team sport is a complex matter. A great team is not just the sum of its individual talent but also the result of this talent working harmoniously together. And in Le Mans the teams are made up of many, many individuals. “To build up a team is not only the three drivers per car; no, the team is all the cars together, including the drivers, engineers and the mechanics,” explained Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport. “Team mentality is one of the big factors to make a team competitive, especially at the 24 Hours of Le Mans because here it is really the team effort that counts. This enables the team to get the maximum strength out of the effort, and Le Mans is the best example of the team being stronger than any one individual, regardless of how good he may be.”

Searching For Every Possible Edge

When it comes to Le Mans’ extreme conditions, teams must be at peak performance on all fronts in order to finish the race, let alone finish first. All race teams undergo some special pre-event training and most come prepared with team masseuses, catering, medical staff and other various comforts to help keep spirit up through the week of activities leading up to Saturday’s big race, and during the 24-hour race itself. Yet all teams look to gain a competitive edge over one another. Corvette Racing is one team that has accentuated their focus on people with a multi-dimensional Human Performance Program, a complex offering of services available to every team member. The program includes fitness, nutrition, efforts to improve brain response reaction time, sports psychology, breathing techniques and regular balancing of the metabolism, hormones, key nutrients and the immune system, among other elements.

“The requirements of an event like Le Mans are very unique in the sporting community,” explained Corvette Racing Team Doctor and Human Performance Program Manager Andrew Haymen, M.D. “The Human Performance Program is another way to create an edge and even if it gives you that last 1%, in a race like this, at the top elite level, that can mean all the difference.” The initiation of the program has also contributed to the overall team spirit for Corvette Racing. The team was always connected around the racing component, yet now there is another layer to that connection with the group focus on health. “What we learned from the drivers is that by virtue of the process of caring for them, it bound them together as a team in way that they hadn’t seen before,” continued Haymen. “It provided a new way of relating to one another, a common participation in feeling healthy and performing well together. And now that we are adding in some of the same components for the Pit Crew and Managers, it then binds them into the same idea. The whole team needs to be functioning as well as possible.”

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