We're following along with Greaves Motorsport as they spent the week prepping for and racing the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Read Part 1 of the story here.
After Gaëtan's unfortunate meeting with the Mulsanne Corner's barriers late Wednesday evening, the car was recovered back to the garage past 01.00AM. What had already been a long day for the crew was about to become even longer. The first job was to see if there was any damage to the tub, that would mean the end of the event. Well perhaps not, as Greaves Motorsport had their spare car in the transporter - but even if it were allowed by the organizers, it would be a massive undertaking to prep a new car in the time available.
The good news was that there were no problems with the tub, but there was a fair amount of bent and broken parts to be replaced. As they always do in these circumstances, the crew set to and started fixing the wounded beast. Finishing at almost 05.00AM, they had sorted the worst problems out. They could troop back to the chateau to get some well earned rest, confident of finishing the job the next morning. The team was tired but quietly satisfied with their achievement, it was not the first time that Wednesday at Le Mans had turned into a night without rest - as there had been similar issues to deal with in the 2013 and 2014 races.
After an impact of this magnitude the whole car is given the once over - nothing is left to chance. The speeds at Le Mans are so high that any failure of a component can have catastrophic results.
No more heroics in the two Thursday Qualifying sessions, just getting on with optimizing the Gibson for the race. Gary took on the lion's share of the driving time, getting thoroughly hooked up. Gaëtan also climbed back on his horse and got his head down... despite the problems of the day before, there was a quiet optimism in the camp. The reasoning went, we have had our slice of misfortune and come through it, we will be OK for the race.
Friday is allegedly a day off, of course not for the crew, everyone pushes as hard as their tired limbs let them. Budsy and Neil are kept busy cleaning up the part-used tires.
The fans have their duties too, being allowed into the pit lane to observe the feverish activity in the garages. The intermittent rain was just another irritation, hardly noticed by the avid crowd.
The crew goes on checking and re-checking the car from front to back...
... and from top to bottom.
The drivers have to prepare for another unique Le Mans tradition - the Grande Parade des Pilots.
Seated in the back of open cars, usually classics, they are driven around the city centre of Le Mans, receiving the adulation of the fans. Gaëtan seemed to attract the special attentions of some of the local mesdemoiselles.
A passing bunch of Crusaders joined in the fun... looking for the Holy Grail no doubt - I am confident they found what they were looking for at a nearby bar!
Our heroes survived this ordeal with equanimity, basking in the early evening sunshine.
The parade unrolls into a great street party and for the most part the whole affair is good humored and cosmopolitan, Brazilians and Danes soak up the atmosphere.
After an impossibly short night it is suddenly Saturday - race-day has arrived, the waiting is over!
The first task is to check the car over in the morning warm up session. All three drivers get a few laps in, the team examines the car and the telemetry - scrutinizing every aspect to ensure that all is as it should be.
Then there is a big gap before the main event starts. Support races and parades are run, then the cars are lined up in echelon against the pit wall and there is yet another delay. This year we had a visit from the French President, Mr Hollande, only the third time in the history of the race that the French head of state has attended. The reaction from the crowd was very vocal and almost unanimous - boos, whistles, and abuse that I could not translate... I suspect he will not be winning any elections in the near future.
Then suddenly all crowds assembled on the grid are shooed off and proceedings get underway with a lap behind the Safety Car, everyone behaves themselves...
Till the Tricolore is waved, this year by William Clay Ford Jr., Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company, in town with details of the Detroit giant's new GT program (read about the Ford GT's plans for 2016 Le Mans here.) Then the inner hooligan that each racer possesses bubbles to the surface and the first lap is run at a furious pace till the brain regains control of the heart and matters settle down.
The team had Jon Lancaster start the race, the "Lancaster Bomber" is quick and fearless and keeps the #41 Nissan-powered Gibson in the leading group battling for class honors. He reels off a quadruple stint keeping the car in contention.
Then Gary Hirsch takes over and in his first stint of a planned four he moves up the leader board to second... this is getting good.
Suddenly all contact with the car is lost, the best guess is that there has been an electrical problem. The TV screens show the car stranded at the side of the track at Descente Chapelle. Then a mobile went off in the garage, it was Gary... maybe the problem could be fixed if he could be helped. For the following two hours the crew and Gary tried all manner of work-arounds, but there was simply not enough electrical juice to start the engine. The team accepted the inevitable and posted a retirement.
For the whole team there was bitter disappointment - but for Gaëtan it was perhaps even worse, he had not got to drive in the race... so near, so far. The Le Mans 24 H is a seductive but cruel mistress, but strangely compelling and addictive. We will be back.
Monday morning I went back to the track to see the last of the team packing the car into the transporter... Jacob, the Team Manager, was already thinking about the race in 2016... roll on next June.