As we talk, the #48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03 Nissan Karun is sharing with Brendon Hartley (UK) and Mark Patterson (USA) has qualified 15th overall and seventh in-class. Audi’s 1-2-3 on the grid proved historic while Toyota’s laptimes during warm-up suggested the team’s race pace was much more aggressive than they’d hitherto suggested. There’s ultimately little significance however: qualifying at the sharp end is all well and good but a misplaced wheel during the night mean you could just as easily be set for an early shower. It’s all part of Le Mans. And for Karun, it’s all part of the excitement.
“I actually enjoy circuits like this where there’s a challenge. It separates the good drivers from the bad. And then there are the rivalries. Unlike single seater racing, where you always watch your opposition even in terms of strategy – you kind of need to second guess what they’re doing – so you’re always watching someone else in order to get good track position. Here when you’ve got 34 or 35 pit stops as opposed to two or three in F1, the game changes. You have to run your own race. You have to work out what’s the quickest way for you to get from 3pm to 3pm. And then you just have to see how the cards fall. If you don’t do your own thing then you can lose sight of the big picture, and that’s very easy to do in this race.”
Rather embarrassingly, it’s at this point I can feel a yawn brewing. It’s certainly nothing to do with Karun, whose insights so far I’ve very much enjoyed, but the 6am start and the prospect of a full race still to run has caught me off guard. I try to suppress the yawn as best I can, but Karun has spotted it and smiles. Since the cat’s now out of the bag, I ask him the best way to conserve energy during the weekend.
“Sleep! [Laughs] You want to sleep as much as possible and bank it up.” – these words replay through my head some twelve hours later when I return to the circuit media centre, coffee in hand, and discover a photographer curled up asleep under my desk – “And in the week leading up to the race, you want to stay calm and relaxed. The more chilled out you are, the easier it is to wind down and go to sleep when you get out of the car.
“I learnt last year from my teammate David Brabham – last year was his 18th Le Mans, so he’s pretty handy around here –he said, ‘forget about the car: just get out, do your debrief, say your bit and just walk away’. And that’s the only way you can go into your motorhome and [snaps fingers] fall asleep for a couple of hours, and wind down. I mean, if you’re constantly worried about where you are, what position you’re in, how it’s going, what strategy you’re on, blah, blah, blah, you’ll never go to sleep. I think I had four and a half hours last year or so, and I was pretty happy with that.”
A gameplan is nice, but it doesn’t always pan out. Karun and Murphy Prototypes ultimately finish the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans 13th overall and seventh in-class, two places shy of their objective and seven places down overall on his result last year. He hopes next year will be third time lucky though.
As for me, I look ahead to 2014 and my own difficult sophomore Le Mans appearance. At least this time I know there’s a place to sleep under my desk.