What Does It Take to Compete at Le Mans? We Ask Porsche Manufacturing facility Racer Felipe Nasr.
The world’s most famous endurance motorsport event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year with the addition of a new LMDh class, which, for the first time, unifies global regulations for prototype race cars. Over that century of competition, no manufacturer has found more success at Le Mans than Porsche, which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023.
Fittingly, Porsche has returned to the endurance-racing stage this year with a new LMDh car dubbed the 963, developed explicitly with the goal of adding to the marque’s record total of 19 victories at Le Mans. As anticipation builds for one of the most exciting editions of the contest in recent memory, Porsche factory driver Felipe Nasr spoke with Robb Report about how he prepares his mind and body for such a grueling race.
This is a big year for Le Mans, and for Porsche as a manufacturer. How do the dual anniversaries affect your expectations for race week?
It’s going be a very busy year . . . we’re going have a lot of guests, a lot of fans around. There’s a lot of things to manage throughout the weekend. Of course, number one is performance. When you are in the car, you want to be in shape, you want to be fresh, you want to be smart when talking to your engineers, giving them feedback and driving the car as precisely as you can. It’s going to be a new edition of the race for all of us—on the driver’s side, the marketing side, and on the team side.
What’s the biggest challenge you look forward to at Le Mans?
I would say that the biggest mental challenge at Le Mans is the actual dynamic of the race, because it changes all the time. You are in and out of the car several times . . . just to be fully focused on the driving and the awareness of the race in the present moment. That’s the part I enjoy the most, especially the transitions; like the transition from daylight to night. It’s very challenging to get adapted to the track as quickly as you can.
Does your training program change with such a grueling race coming up on the schedule?
I do a mix of functional training with weights, core, neck—super important for when you’re driving a car—and forearms. And of course, the cardio gives you that endurance that you need in a race car. I prefer running, I’ve never been a big fan of cycling. And I always prefer running outdoors, [especially] if it’s next to a lake or the seaside. But every day I’m doing something. You see, that is the difference between the drivers that are well prepared. They can jump in and out of the car for two hours of a stint and you see their lap times, no mistakes. They come out of the car, they’re fresh.
How do you balance your diet to prioritize recovery when it comes to Le Mans?
I tend to lose weight throughout the season. You’re always in different countries and time zones, so the recovering side is super important. And you always have to find a time to decompress yourself and recover, refuel, sleep well. That all makes a difference. Giving priority to my eating schedule is super important. Let’s say you wake up at four o’clock in the morning. You’ve just been asleep; how do you prepare to be in the right mindset to jump in the car? Are your eyes prepared? How is your coordination? The worst thing is if you’ve just had a sandwich or a bowl of fruit and then have to be in the car in five minutes. We try to schedule enough time to eat, to digest, to rest, and get ready before getting in the car.
Do you have any specific techniques that help focus your mind before jumping into the race car?
I’ve been practicing mindfulness for the last eight years of my career. It’s been a great ally for me as a driver, as an athlete, and a better person. I wake up and do 10 to 20 minutes in silence by myself. I can always visualize the day, and before getting in a race car, I try to clear my mind.
You want to be fully present in your driving, make sure you’re managing that energy throughout the day, because there will always be times where you have to be more aggressive, or you have to be patient, or you have to save the tires. There are different scenarios that you have to put your mind and body through to be able to correspond to that. And the same holds true when you are out of the car, to know how to switch off the mind.
How have you been able to help Porsche dial in the new hybrid LMDh platform of the 963?
I had the chance to work with hybrid engines when I drove in 2014 to 2016. So I was already quite familiar with the system and how it operates. And now having the chance again to compete at the highest class of endurance racing with the Porsche 963, and having the hybrid back again, it’s a plus. It’s something that I’m used to, it’s something that I can give my feedback to, because you are always trying to optimize that system.
I think [the 963] is a great combination between combustion engine and electrical power, and making them communicate. Nothing goes as smoothly as we plan, but it’s been fun to be learning on the go, and understanding how to make the car quicker, better, more reliable—and getting more performance out of it.
As a professional driver, does your approach change depending on the vehicle and power-train platform?
We see technology evolving, and it’s evolving fast. For us drivers, we always want to sit in the car and maximize the package. So there’s no difference if I’m in a Formula car or if it’s a sports car, I always want to maximize that package.
The 2023 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will start at 4 p.m. CEST on Saturday, June 10.
Source: Robb Report