Kapadia impresses on Le Mans debut

Alex Kapadia exits the Ford Chicane in the Team AAI Porsche 997 GT3 RSR
Alex Kapadia exits the Ford Chicane in the Team AAI Porsche 997 GT3 RSR

Alex Kapadia’s Le Mans 24-Hour Race debut may not have been trouble-free, but the Pitstone racer made a strong impression on a spirited first appearance in the world’s most famous motor race, writes James Beckett.

Teamed with Jun-San Chen and Xavier Maassen in a Team AAI Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (997), Kapdia’s event almost went up in flames before the race had even started when a major oil fire destroyed the car’s race engine during Thursday practice while Kapadia was at the wheel.

Thumbs-up: Alex Kapadia acknowledges the crowds at the end of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race. Pictures by James Beckett

Thumbs-up: Alex Kapadia acknowledges the crowds at the end of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race. Pictures by James Beckett

Although fire marshals were able to extinguish the flames, severe damage was caused which forced Porsche to fetch spare parts from Germany to the Circuit de la Sarthe in central France to allow repairs to be carried out.

Hard work by the team saw a new engine and all of the damaged components replaced overnight on Friday, and the task was completed just prior to the morning warm-up on Saturday morning.

The car undertook a handful of installation laps during the warm-up, and with no significant problems showing, Kapadia and his team-mates were able to take their place on the grid for Saturday’s race start at 3pm.

Right from the very off, the race was run at an electric pace. The battle at the front of the field from P1 prototype entries from major manufacturers Porsche, Audi and Toyota ensured that the on-track action was always frantic - the slower GT cars being forever mindful of the approaching high-speed prototype machines throughout.

Maassen started the 67 car, but it wasn’t long before Kapadia was able to take to the track and complete his first racing laps of the famous part-public road course.

“It was an amazing experience to actually go on track during the Le Mans 24-Hour Race,” Kapadia enthused afterwards.. “The prototype cars were very fast, but you knew they were going to come by so it was easy to keep that in your mind.

“Traffic was certainly harder with some of the slower P2 drivers. They are not quite at such a professional level, and sometimes, especially in the dark it was difficult to judge their movements at times.”

Kapadia spent considerable time in the driving seat of the Porsche, driving long combined stints throughout. With Jun-San Chen opting to drive his minimum quota of four hours in the race, Kapadia enjoyed the lion’s share of the driving - impressing his team members, and others watching.

“I loved every minute of the race,” he added. “It was not easy at times but if we can come back next year then I know that I will be in a much better shape and know what to expect.

“This has always been my dream to race at Le Mans, and now I have I will be working very hard to come back next year and the year after that and so on. It is without doubt the world’s biggest racing event. The build-up is like nothing else in the motor racing world, and at 3pm on Saturday afternoon when the race starts it is mind blowing.”

The Vale racer was handed the opportunity to drive the car to the finish, and Kapadia was in the cockpit of the 67 machine when the chequered flag was waved at 3pm on Sunday afternoon to signal the end of the race.

“It was a great performance by all of the team and it was a privilege to be asked to drive the car to the finish.”

Kapadia and his team-mates finished 37th overall and eighth in the LM GTE Am class. Fifty-five cars started the 83rd-running of the Grand Prix d’Endurance, with the second Team AAI Porsche driven by Han-Chen Chen, Gilles Vannalet and Mike Parisy finishing one place higher. The race was won overall by the number 19 Porsche 919-Hybrid driven by Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and F1 racer, Nico Hulkenberg.