Manor Endurance Racing’s first ended in disappointment today, as the team was forced to retire its Oreca 05 from the race with less than four hours remaining.
The team’s race provided almost a complete insight into the effect that this great race can have, with the team experiencing a whole range of emotions all the way from joy and excitement through to sadness and extreme disappointment.
The weather played its part, as it has throughout the three weeks that the team have been at Le Mans. Sunny for the grid walk, it began to rain shortly before the start and then increased to alevel thjat Race Control opted to start the race behind the safety car. It was nearly an hour before the green flag was waved, and Roberto Merhi rapidly moved forwards to take the lead of the LM P2 class. He was able to build a solid lead to hand over to Matt Rao but Matt’s progress was hampered when a car in front of him knocked a bollard into his path which he was unable to avoid. The bollard became trapped under the car and the resulting damage took 40 minutes to rectify.
Matt re-joined the race some 11 laps behind the LM P2 leader, and made solid progress before passing the baton to Tor Graves. Tor was similarly unlucky, having to brake and swerve to avoid an unexpectedly slowing GTE car. The car went into the barriers but Tor was able to bring the car back to the garage. The team worked swiftly to repair suspension and bodywork, and Roberto was given the initial task of taking the car back up through the field.
Between the drivers, the car was back up to P14, from its low point of P21, when shortly after 11:00 the car went sideways at Indianapolis while Matt was at the wheel and the car hit the barrier. Matt tried to drive the car slowly home, but the front of the car went into the barriers and this time there was no way to bring the car home.
John Booth, Team Principal
“I’m of course incredibly disappointed to have to retire the car with less than four hours of the race to go. The main thing is that neither Matt nor Tor was injured when the car went off. Le Mans is a race where luck plays a part more than any other, and I feel that in the first two incidents we were very unlucky. But we can be proud of our attitude and teamwork and level of preparation; and I think we have shown the established teams that by running solidly at the front on both wet and dry surfaces that we are very much a force to be reckoned with. I’d like to thank everyone in the team for their dedication”
Roberto Merhi, Driver Car 44
“The beginning of the race was really good. I think we stayed too long behind the safety car as we weren’t really pushing the tyres and we could have been on inters. My first two stops were a bit annoying as once another team got in my way and we had to push the car back, and on the second stop a cameraman was standing in the pit lane so I couldn’t turn in and had to overshoot. But after that it was really good, and by the end of my stint I’d built up about a minute lead. When I got in for my second run I knew we still had a chance to do ok so I pushed really hard and managed to run five stints on one set of tyres. On the third run I set a new lap record so although I’m obviously very disappointed I think everyone out there now knows about us. Overall I was happy with the performance and pretty much everything to be honest.”
Matt Rao, Driver Car 44
“I feel the team has done a fantastic job. All three drivers showed excellent pace, especially Roberto, and if we’d had a trouble-free run we’d have been looking at a top five place, if not a podium. It was unfortunate the race ended the way it did but we will learn for our next Le Mans and also we’ll be back for our next race at Nurbürgring and try to get some points for the WEC”