KCMG endures heartache at Le Mans
The 82nd running of the 24 Heures du Mans this past weekend had its fair shares of action and full-throttle drama, as the 55 entires that spanned over four highly competitive categories fought against each other, the weather and "Lady Luck" through the day and night.
KCMG was there in the heat of battle, as the Chinese outfit, run by Paul Ip, was looking to better their efforts following their debut in the iconic race last year. Armed with the newly-updated Nissan-powered ORECA O3R for Le Mans, they were hoping to challenge for the LMP2 class honours at Circuit de la Sarthe.
The Hong Kong-based outfit showed initial prowess during their performance at Silverstone an Spa-Francorchamps for the opening rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The team of Alexandre Imperatori, Richard Bradley and Matt Howson were looking forward to showing the true pace of their race car from 7th in the LMP2 class, when it came to grid positions for the race.
Imperatori started the race during the customary rolling start, as Scuderia Ferrari's Fernando Alonso sent the strong and competitive field along their way for the next 24 hours. After taking the proverbial "bull by the horns," the Swiss ace came into the pits after his 45 minute stint behind the wheel and was leading, as he handed over to Le Mans rookie Bradley.
The Brit ventured out back on track, only to be confronted with a torrential downpour that covered the 8.4-mile track in Pays de la Loire, but as he tried to negotiate his way back on Dunlop slick tyres, the ORECA machine aquaplaned off track and hit the tyre barriers after the first chicane ion the Mulsanne straight.
The car only suffered minor front end damage, but the incident plummeted the team down the order to 11th in class. After getting back out on the track, both Bradley and Howson set about gaining back as much as ground as they possibly could, before the baton was passed back to Imperatori for his second stint behind the wheel.
Double points for any team at Le Mans is incredibly helpful, especially as KCMG were looking to close the gap to the G-Drive Morgan of Olivier Pla, Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal, who currently lead the hunt for the LMP2 title in the WEC. But six and a half hours in, the efforts that the team had made came to an abrupt halt.
The car suffered heavy damage after going off track at Karting corner, which was due to a terminal driveshaft failure, which forced Imperatori to walk away from the forlorn vehicle. This meant that the car would eventually be officially retired from the race itself.
After the incident that put then out of contention a lot earlier than what they would have expected, Managing Director Ip said that it was disappointing to be out at that early stage of the race, but said that focus would have to be put forward to the rest of the season: "We had the pace to be on the podium and were catching the guys ahead. But, of course, over 24 hours, anything can happen. Hopefully, we'll have better luck next year."
Imperatori said that he felt very fortunate that the accident that ended KCMG's challenge at Le Mans could have been so much worse, but said that the pace was there to get at the top of the call in LMP2: "We had the car to win today, so I'm really disappointed. We showed that by leading over the first two stints after moving up through the field, only for weather to disrupt our process. That was bad luck, but we were still fighting hard when the car failed. There's always next year."
Bradley himself, who showed great promise during a difficult first stint, said that there were a lot of positives that were taken by the team's overall performance in the race: "It was just a case of bad luck. It's been a great team performance and personally, I'm happy with my Le Mans debut. It's just a shame the race ended so early for us."
The team now has a lengthy time to refocus on the next challenge, which is the trek to the USA to fight again in the LMP2 class of the WEC at Circuit of The Americas at the latter end of September, after missing out on the double points potential that could have been awarded at Le Mans. They will be fighting tooth and nail in Austin when the lights go out once again.