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An invitation to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most prestigious sports car endurance race in the world, is both a great honor and the start of weeks of planning and preparation.
On February 1, SRT Motorsports accepted an invitation from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) to field two SRT Viper GTS-Rs in the 81st race on June 22-23. Participation in the world’s oldest sports car endurance race is by invitation only.
Fortunately, Bill Riley and his team have experience in moving equipment and personnel across the Atlantic. Mike Croake, the director of product support at Riley Technologies, was in charge of getting everything needed for the two cars to compete in the race transported to France. “Checklists are extremely important,” Mr. Croake said. “Obviously Customs has to have their lists of things that you are bringing over. We’ll take that list, add detail to it, and that will become our checklist. Customs really doesn’t care if the torque wrench is in bin number AF2; they just want to know that we’re bringing it over and we’re bringing it back. You make a list and just check things off. Hopefully, it all gets there.”
Support equipment was sent in a 40-foot sea container that departed on May 6, 2013, from South Carolina, on a three-week journey. The two Viper race cars, six engines, telemetry, gearbox assemblies and other parts left on May 23 for Orlando; on arrival, the 15 tons of cars, engines, transmissions, spares, and pit equipment will be loaded on a Virgin Atlantic Cargo plane to Heathrow Airport.
Air freight is around nine times more expensive than shipping by sea, Mr. Croake said. “We’ve broken it basically into two shipments, a 40-foot sea container and then obviously the air freight of everything that we don’t have multiples of. We bought extra stuff like brooms, you buy that, throw it into the container and you don’t have to worry about air freighting it. The race car will be flown over but we did have a spare chassis that we put into the container – God forbid if we need it.”
Once in France, the SRT Motorsports team will lease a tractor-trailer for use at the track. Other teams have simply used a tent during the event while some send a tractor-trailer by boat.
For Bill Riley, vice president and chief engineer at Riley Technologies, the trip is the highlight of his racing season, despite the logistical concerns and physical demands of the 4,075-mile trip. “When I went there the first time I had goose bumps when I walked in, and I still get those goose bumps when I walk into that track.”
Riley said the team will depart Charlotte, N.C. on June 2, arriving in Paris on the morning of June 3. Eventually, he will have around 50 people in Le Mans.
“Try to sleep on the plane,” Riley told his team. “You need to get on their time schedule as fast as possible. You don’t want to fall into the trap of taking a nap as soon as you get to your hotel room, getting your second wind and then staying up way too late the first night that you’re there. Usually I force myself to stay up and then around 11 o’clock at night, normal time there, you’re ready to go to bed.”
The world famous twice-round-the-clock race is brutal on man and machine. While Riley said he doesn’t plan to sleep during the 24-hour race, Riley Technologies Crew Chief Frank Resciniti said he advises team personnel to “take a lot of naps.”
Resciniti told the crew, “Everybody thinks of it as a 24-hour race, but for the crews... Your day starts at 7 a.m. when you get to the racetrack and it continues if you are lucky enough to keep running, which we’re planning to do, all the way through the 24 hours. So, you’re more or less up for 36-40 hours straight. You’re in the fire suit the whole time. You’re got your helmet on, your radio headset on. Every 45 minutes or so the car comes in for a pit stop. You’re constantly aware of the car and what it’s doing because you’re hearing it in the radios. you've got TV screens all around the pit and garage area so you can watch the race. But during that time, you do try to take naps between pit stops. You’d be surprised how much that helps. Whatever you’re doing, you still have your radio on – never take your radio off.”
Resciniti said he expects crew members to be impressed by the spectacle of the race.
“The start is a pretty big show but the finish is just unbelievable,” Resciniti said. “The way they have the pits, there’s a grandstand straight across the racetrack from the pits that will be just packed. As the race goes on and it starts working its way into the night, the number of people over there (in the grandstand) disappears. There’ll be a couple of guys sitting over here, a couple of guys sitting over there. They’ll be some guys sitting up in the corner wrapped in an English flag. When the sun comes up, the grandstands start to fill up again. The last two hours of the race, they’ll be packed with people again.”
Jessica Rowe, logistics manager for Riley Technologies, is making her first trip to Le Mans. She said, “It’s a little more challenging just because you’re there for so much longer.... The crew number is almost doubled. It’s challenging just to make sure that you have everyone covered. It’s not just that I need to get them plane tickets, credentials, apparel, there’s a lot involved. When you times that by 40 or 50, it gets a little overwhelming.
“I've reminded the crew they need to call their cell phone providers, call their credit card companies and banks and let them know that they’re going to be overseas and make sure they’re stocked up on medications. ... Our translator Thierry Lecourt, he’ll help us get set up and help with little things that you kind of take for granted while you’re at home.”
Riley said that a positive attitude makes a huge difference. “I tell people if you go over there with the attitude that you’re not going to have a good time, then you’re not going to have a good time,” Riley said. “If you go over there with the attitude you’re going to have a good time, then you’re going to have a good time.”
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