500 Nocturnes

Anneau Du Rhin 22.09.2018, by Joachim Westermann

When my friend Frédéric Meistermann asked me a few weeks ago whether I would like to go with him on the 500 km night race in Anneau du Rhin, I refused first. We had the SMRC race weekend at the Circuit de Chambley this weekend.

Endurance races are expensive and besides, you have no chance against the Cup racing cars from Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Renault R.S.01 and Seat Leon Supercopa. It is not very dangerous against these big and fast cars.

Since Frédéric found no one and I wanted to test our 2.4-liter WESMO Cosworth prototype engine installed in one of our CSR racing cars, I told him then. Thus, the wear cost of the engine was a matter for Cosworth. In the end, really, because Frédéric can ride at the same level as me, very good times in Anneau du Rhin. That can make all the difference to move forward in the overall standings. Because the GT cars usually have a rich owner who pays, but does not drive so well and this hired a professional who drives the times in qualifying and drives at 2 changes the start and the last turn. Thus, two equally strong drivers are of course an advantage. To start with, it was said that the overall victory for a Renault R.S.01 with 3 young professionals alternated with the wheel.

We then bought any China LED lamps on the Internet and built them to the car. We also prepared a second CSR 280 for this race, with two Frenchmen, Paul Lorrain and Laurent Fuchs, driving. Their Radical RXC 600R did not make it through the technical inspection. Both are great guys and have been among our customers in the past.

Our mechanic, Thomas Ball, was incredibly nervous and excited to keep the cars going. The ambition that I as a driver to the day, he has as a screwdriver. My efforts to calm him were hardly helpful. I know that I am dealing with an absolute top man with Thomas, who meticulously and securely controls this technique.

The regulations said:

The race is over 210 minutes (3.5 hours) or 138 laps (510km).

There are 2 classes. GT vehicles and touring cars. The Caterham CSR is admitted to the touring cars. Thus, a class victory is theoretically feasible.

There were 10 GTs and 10 touring cars at the start.

Each car must complete at least 2 pit stops of at least 4 minutes. This should avoid excessive hassle in the pits and give a chance to smaller teams without race tank facilities. Only 2 men were allowed to refuel + 1 man with the fire extinguisher. In the tank time no driver may sit in the car and nothing is done on the car. If the car is refueled, you can get in, fill up oil, change wheels or carry out repairs.

Well, in tests in the light we found out on Thursday that our car will consume about 60 liters per hour, about 40 liters / 100 km

This meant we had to make 3 stops so that we could get through the track / time with fuel consumption and our 55 liter tank. At lap times of 1:31 - 1:34 at night we lose almost 3 laps in the pits. This time is hard to do well on the track, especially as the second fastest car in our class, a Peugeot race car with 2 really good riders, who were slower than us for only 2 seconds each lap and could get through with 2 tank stops.

On Friday, during the night training, then came the first disillusionment. All the other cars had real racing LEDs and we set our street LEDs to the left and right to light up the corners on the pitch-dark track. From good view we were miles away. All in all, our 3 LED lamps cost no more than 200 euros, whereas racing lamps only start at 4-digit amounts per piece.

Our times were 1:31. So we were the fastest in the class. Our sister car, Team Fox with Laurent Fuchs and Paul Lorraine, good third.

On Saturday afternoon, we qualified in the same order in the class and 8th overall. 4th row, 2 practice laps, flying start.

From about 17 o'clock the first spectators streamed into the paddock, 100 Euro admission and it was hell going on. Live bands in a huge marquee. VIP areas to admire Bugattis and the local companies presented their businesses in beautiful pavilions.

At 19:10 we drove to the grid, every car had a charming grid girl. The audience was allowed to pit-walk on the racetrack. Dancers, entertainers - just great.

The organizer, at the place, a huge compliment.

Then at 19:35 there was an impressive fireworks display. At 19:45 the Grid-Walk ended. I've never seen such a show in 22 years of racing.

At 19:52 the engines were started, completed two introductory laps and at 20 o'clock then the start which I should drive as the more experienced racer.
Actually, it is tactically not very smart to overtake supposedly faster vehicles at the start, because on the one hand an increased accident risk represents and on the other hand, the overtaken people unnecessarily provoked and you fall back later anyway. On the other hand, it was time to do well on the Peugeot and the sister car and nobody could take the lead in seconds anymore. So I blown the attack and collected the Porsche and the Ferrari 458, which then overtook me again before the adrenaline curve.
Thus, after the start I was behind the 3 Renault R.S.01 and the GT 3 Ferrari 458 and was able to keep up with the first laps even halfway, but was then cashed again. In this action, I seem to have breathed in my open car so many exhaust fumes of the cars ahead, that I literally got shortness of breath. I could only fill my lungs halfway, got a very high pulse and almost panic. I opened the straps a bit so that the HANS would not press on the chest like that, opened the zipper of the overalls, pushed the head mask down - it did not get any better. I just did not really get air. I just went around in my head: So in life I can not manage an hour at the pace of racing.
In contrast to Frédéric, I drive over the curbs in the paddock with the result that the left headlamp broke away and lit up the night sky instead of my left-hander. I think, such a shit, now I'm driving at such a good level for so long and now it's me who messes up everything. But that's not all, in the next round the lamp turns and shines this LED lamp at 220 km / h before the adrenaline rush in the eyes, a drive was impossible. I had to go back into the pits at a slower pace and half-blind and nearly hit the wall of the pit entrance, had to reset and lost 10-15 seconds. Our team co-ordinator could not see that and of course stopped the 4 minute time when he saw me in the pit.
So I got out of the car at 8:30 pm and instructed the mechanics to refuel and prepare for the driver change. For Frédéric, the lap straps have to be adjusted shorter, we had marked the straps with screw locking lacquer to the correct dimensions. 4 minutes were long enough to do it all in peace. Frédéric sat idly in the car for a long time, as our team co-ordinator of course kept the 4 minutes in accordance with regulations. (Better said, 4 minutes minus the time until the pit exit).

Frédéric finally drove off and the timekeeper reported a pit stop of 4:17 minutes. Screwed up for 17 seconds. Meanwhile, I lay down on a couch, but could not control my shortness of breath. It was not until I started to cough and spit out that it got better and I slowly recovered. Frédéric did a fantastic job, winding his rounds like clockwork. At that time we were hopelessly back, he just had to endure the lapses of the fast GTs and was able to collect the slower touring car easily, until then the rain came. But Frédéric did not spend half an hour in the car. The pit crew made the rain tires, what does Frédéric do? He stays outside and drives brilliantly and without mistakes on slicks. The time monitor says we did not lose any time in this phase and caught up with the sister car as they now make the normal stop after 50 minutes and switch to rain tires. We do not know at the time if the Peugeot was already in the pits. In the rain, the yellow Ferrari crashes and hits the pit wall. Nobody can imagine what a row it will make if five or even six-digit amounts vanish in a second. The Safetycar came out for the first time and led the field through the Bosengasse.
Frédéric stays outside now. Also when he is asked by the pit crew for refueling. I think only Frédéric is very experienced in the Caterham. He is the one who always drives record laps in CoR and therefore always with little gasoline on board. He is also intelligent and knows for himself that we have no air due to my early stop at the back. Caterham usually does not just lie down without gasoline, they actually start stuttering in the bends when the fuel runs out. This is usually enough to get it into the pits. However, at halftime after 60 minutes and 50 seconds (+ 4:17 for the first pit stop after about 250 km against 22:20 at half time) he comes halfway into the pits again in the rain one minute behind the Peugeot, but four laps on Team Fox !!! I do not know where and when they lost their time.

Meanwhile, we discussed whether we should switch to rain tires, the Wetterapp says it stops, I know, in wet and cold conditions, the rain tires last forever and decide on rain tires. My mechanic, Thomas Ball says, it stops, then you have to come in, no, we let the slicks on it. Racing is team sport. I'm the boss of Thomas, the driver who has to get out with the expensive car and does not feel like slick conditions at all. And still listen to Thomas, whom I really cursed in the next rounds, as it started to rain more and more. The CSR can be controlled in the rain with slicks but honestly much better than, for example, my white S3. Nevertheless, everything is required of me in driving, on the one hand not to put the CSR in the gravel and on the other hand to bring the times so as not to fall back hopelessly. It would also be unfair to Frédéric to let go and not give everything. And behold, contrary to my idea and the cold weather, the track dries up. And I stayed away from the curbs!
The lap times go down and I have grip again. However, this is easily written, as the track dries slowly and not evenly everywhere. The windy places are dry faster than the forest and with the naked eye you really see nothing. At that time I was only overtaken by the two Cups Porsche R.S.01 and the Lamborghini, all on rain tires. They have to go back into the pits with the heavy cars. I have no idea where the Peugeot is because I did not overtake it on the track and I do my laps, switch to gas-saving and engine friendly at 7000 rpm instead of 7800.

I calculate: Half the race was over. When wet, I save a lot of gasoline. Frédéric was out for over an hour in the rain and Safetycar and I also had rain. Maybe the Safetycar will come out again and I can drive through. Then I run on the Ginetta G55 GT 4 to lap, but had lost a taillight and fades me. At first I thought, one of them turned and came to meet you. I pass the Ginetta with difficulty, you can not imagine how bad you look when you look into a bright light. Even if the R.S.01 come from behind with full illumination. This really hurts in the eyes and you can not see anything for a second.
The round on it turns the Ginetta in the paddock curve and does not come from the place. The Safetycar comes out and it is about 23:15 clock. We conclude on the Safetycar, I chug in the sixth gear, fuel-saving lap after lap around the track and think that could be enough without stopping again.
After 210 minutes or at 23:30 it's over. That's my plan. The Ginetta is now off the track and it is at half past twelve, then I think, why do not make the re-start now? Do you want to shy away from the risk of a re-start and win the race under Safetycar-Gelb? It is 23:30 and no one swings black and white.
Yes, Hergottzack, what's going on? The Safetycar comes in, the race continues. My engine is running properly, no jerking, nothing. How much gas do I have left? How many laps are the R.S.01 from 500 km away? Round by lap ... more than one SMRC race distance by midnight, I think they'll be dropping off at midnight, when else? They can not let us drive this 500km, at some point the people and especially the marshals want to go home. I count the minutes on the well-visible clock on the bridge. 12 o'clock - they do not wave. WTF, what's going on today?

It starts raining again and a Renault Megane flies turn 3 into the gravel. It is pitch dark there. The Racecontrol sees it anyway, another Safetycar comes out. Should I come in? No, the engine is running and running. I think, come on break now. It is raining again, how much risk does the race management want to take? No, the Safetycar comes in re-start and finally after 1 hour, 49 minutes and 46 seconds we see the fireworks and checkered flag at 0:15 after 125 laps.
With relief, I turn the exit lap to stop like all on the final stretch at the Parc Fermé and finally to learn that we have finished fourth overall and with a lap advantage our class.
I was 58 laps in a row at the wheel. 214.6 km at 55 liters in the tank mean 25.6 liters / 100 km. That's not for a race car!
The joy in the finish with the new friends and my family was one of the best experiences in my racing career. The award ceremony was held in the large tent with many spectators. We drivers were willing to give the interviews they wanted and had a great time.
After the victory, Thomas drove the CSR 100m into the pits. There the engine stopped and did not start anymore. The tank was dry.

You have to imagine this. I would not have come a single lap. Right here you can see how close victory and defeat are together. How lucky or unlucky you can be. Had we stopped again, we would have lost over 4 minutes and finished first in the class. In the overall standings we would have become 4th only in front of our sister car instead of 4th.
Back in the pits, Thomas put them together, loaded them up, had a drink and later emptied another bottle of delicious Alsatian wine from Frédéric in Bergheim to drive to the SMRC Eurocup in Chambley the next day.
Team Westermann Motorsport:
Driver: Frédéric Meistermann, Joachim Westermann
Team Manager / Timing: Josquin Pepper
Chief mechanic: Thomas Ball
Tank attendant: Steeve Burger
Mechanic: Lucas Lenore
Firefighter: Nicolas Ermel
Team FOX:
Driver: Paul Lorrain / Laurent Fuchs
Chief mechanic: Thomas Ball
Team Manager / Timekeeper: Steeve Gerard
Timekeeping Helene Lorrain
Tank attendant: Francois Quiquerez
Mechanic: Lucas Lenore
Firefighter: Francis Brondani





<< Media