With temperatures hovering around 28°C during qualifying and expected to rise to into the thirties this afternoon, the Paul Ricard 1000km is set to be comfortably the hottest round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup so far this year.
Second only to the Spa 24 as the longest race on the calendar, the six hour race is often considered a warm-up to the calendar’s jewel in the crown as the only other event on the calendar to run into the night and use the same ‘Category B’ configuration of BOP, but ROWE Racing BMW driver Alexander Sims says he will be treating the race like any other.
Having recently finished fifth at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the Briton isn’t expecting to physically troubled by a race that is only a quarter of the distance, but admits he will be grateful for the M6 GT3’s AC system after driving the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 in 2013.
“In the BMW we’ve got really good air conditioning and assuming it all works as it has done, then it should keep the cabin temperatures pretty manageable,” Sims said.
“I don’t expect it will affect me as much as if we were driving a McLaren three years ago, because that was hell! Even in Spa it was ridiculously hot inside the car and I remember here doing the last stint of the race, getting on the podium and feeling quite ill for about 20 minutes.”
Not everyone is quite so lucky however.
“We’ve got no air-con system, we’ve literally got the vents that come through the front of the car and that’s it!” said Callum MacLeod, who qualified a season-best 16th in the Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 he shares with Tom Onslow-Cole and Ian Loggie. “It doesn’t help when your Am driver is fitter than a triathlete! When Ian got the car, it wasn’t an option he ticked, but if we do need it after this weekend then obviously we’ll get it for Spa. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
All drivers have their own strategies for coping with the heat. Black Falcon’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 is another to run without AC – saving both weight and power – meaning Adam Christodoulou will be relying on the flow of air channelled through a vent into the cockpit under the steering column. However, that comes with its own problems.
“The natural air flow in the Mercedes is very good, but I suffer with dry eyes, so I’ve got a pair of glasses that I’m going to try for this race,” Christodoulou explained. “We want maximum air flow in the car for this race, but I don’t want it to kill my eyes!
“The way it works is the faster you go, the more air you get. When you’re flat out, your adrenaline is at the maximum and generally you’re okay unless you’re doing a double-stint and stay in the car while they’re refuelling. When you’ve been stood still for a few minutes with no air coming in, as soon as you get some movement it feels like heaven!”
Starting at 6pm and running through to 12am, the conditions will certainly cool as the race goes on, leaving drivers to draw straws over who will take the opening stint.
“I hope I’m in at ten!” said McLaren’s Andrew Watson. “The helmet cooler is good and when we raced in Sepang for the 12 Hours we had a cool suit, but I think they’re too heavy to put in these cars.
“After Sepang I’m never going to complain about the heat ever again – I wouldn’t say it’s that much more tiring, it’s just that sweat is running into your eyes and your water bottle is roasting, it’s like drinking from a kettle. But this is what we train for, it’s our bread and butter!”
Motorbase’s Ahmad al-Harthy may be more accustomed to the temperatures than most, but says he won’t be taking the conditions lightly.
“As the race goes on, it’s going to cool down for sure, but as an Arab driver I think they want me in the hottest part!” he joked. “I was lucky enough to race in the Porsche Carrera Cup at Abu Dhabi during an F1 support weekend, which was extremely hot and I think until now the hottest I’ve ever raced in. Having said that, it’s always hot in a race car and you just have to make sure you’re prepared by remembering to drink water and be hydrated all the time.
“The work you’ve been doing pre-season is going to have an impact later in the stints as some drivers lose concentration and start to make mistakes, so we have to be ready for these blips. They can happen to the best of us, we just want it not to happen to us and to stay away from any trouble happening around us.”
Many teams are keeping cards close to the chest over whether drivers will be double-stinting, but defending Paul Ricard 1000 winner Alex Buncombe revealed that Nissan will be changing drivers after every stint in a bid to keep them fresh. With no teams likely to repeat WRT’s sub-70 second pitstops from Silverstone, changing drivers within the 90-seconds it takes to add fuel and change tyres should be easily manageable.
“We don’t find any advantage in doing a double, we think it’s better to put a fresh guy in the car and it worked for us last year, so let’s hope it does again!” he said. “Our car generally I don’t think likes the heat, so we’re looking forward to the evening stint when it’s a lot cooler.
“The air con really is the saving grace. We run it for anything longer than a three-hour race and we have it in the seat and in our helmets as well, so it really is a big help.”