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Bruno Senna: Busy, Busy Bruno

Very busy – and very disappointed at Le Mans again.

Sorry for being a bit late with my column this time, but it was very, very busy for me the last weeks – not too many free hours until my appearance at Goodwood this weekend, which I am already looking forward to, as it is always a fantastic event.

Of course 24 Hours of Le Mans were the highlight in the middle of everything in this kind of crazy one and a half last month… But it already started a lot earlier, in May, when I did the Mille Miglia in Italy for Jaguar together with my Sky TV colleague Martin Brundle.

Bruno Senna D-Type

Quite a new challenge – I think I never did so much map-reading and calculating in my life as in my role as a co-driver there… I think we did not too bad, as we were best of the Jaguars for quite some time, until due to a misunderstanding on the last day, we first thought we were much further behind than we were in reality. So we decided it did not matter anyway and we could really give it a go – not caring about given average speeds and times anymore. Which of course dropped us far back – only to find out later that our real position had been much better than we thought in first place…

Coming home to Monaco did not mean a lot of rest, as very soon I was off to India for the official presentation of Mahindra Racing for Formula E, together with my good old friend of GP2 and F1 times, Karun Chandhok. I am sure we will have a lot of fun together again in this new series, which I see as a very promising new way for modern motor racing…

Senna-Chandhok

Then testing day for Le Mans, shakedown at Donington for Formula E, a quick trip to Brazil for my sponsors to attend the final test match of our national team before the World Cup – and back to the Le Mans week with a half day pitstop in Monaco again… Not too easy, if you come to Le Mans already a little bit tired, as the whole week itself is quite challenging, even – or maybe because – during the first days you are hanging around quite a bit, due to the schedule of registering, scrutineering, autograph sessions…

Aston-Martin-LM-Scrutineering

So everybody is really happy when the racing action starts with free practice on Wednesday. This year nevertheless this developed into quite a frustrating day for me, as due to all the red flags I did not manage to do one flying lap the whole day. Whenever I got into the car, free practice or qualifying it was immediately red-flagged again as somebody had gone off. At least all of the accidents, even the very bad looking ones, left no driver hurt too seriously…

Mark-Cole-LM2014-07

But we at Aston Martin already lost one car – the 99 was too badly damaged when my fellow countryman Fernando Rees crashed at more than 200 kph… Partly probably to the fact that our cars were really difficult to drive, very much on the edge all the time. So the main job for us in the 97 car was to work on the set-up on Thursday to iron this out as much as possible. You cannot drive for 24 hours with such a critical car – the chance to make a fatal mistake is far too big. So you rather sacrifice let´s say two tenth of pure speed for drivability and comfort… We also did not focus too much on qualifying times. The first aim was to get Darren and me qualified at all on Thursday night – as the day before only Stefan had done the necessary number of laps in the dark… After this was done, Stefan gave it a quick try for a really fast lap, which did not work out due to traffic as well… After that, we completely focused on getting the car better for the race again…

Bruno-Senna-LM-2014

It proved the right way on Saturday, as after a very careful start, where Darren mainly tried to stay out of any trouble in the first crazy part and a few maybe not so perfect tyre decisions during the rain period the race really seemed to come towards us. I could do a triple stint when I first got into the car, and as the tyres lasted quite well apart for the very last laps, we managed to get into a fight for the lead. In the first two stints I was a bit careful to save the tyres, so in the end I was able to still attack quite nicely. I had a nice fight with the two Porsches, one I overtook using traffic, with the other it was a bit more difficult, I had to wait until he made a mistake… The main problem as usual was the traffic – sometimes it is really difficult to guess what the amateur drivers are doing, twice one of them nearly hit me. You really have to concentrate on staying out of trouble, which often means losing a lot of time, but it´s probably more or less the same for everybody.

The second time I got into the car in the middle of the night it already looked like our main opponent would be the 51 Ferrari. This time the three stints did not work out so perfectly, as the temperature had dropped quite a lot, which meant that the tyre went out of the window, and especially when I had to go off line for overtaking or being overtaken, the tyre temperature went down so much that it always took about half a lap to get any grip back at all. But it still looked als okay, as we had calculated that with this strategy we could end up ahead of the Ferrari in the end…

Well, it was not meant to be again… We were still in the lead and fighting with the Ferrari with a bit more than five hours to go, when, for the third time in the car I had to come in earlier than planned towards the end of my second stint. The power steering had failed due to a broken hydraulic line – something that had already happened hours before to our 98 car… And the problem is that you can´t drive this car without the power steering, because it is not just turning heavier, it simply blocks… So I already had to fight hard to get it back to the pits, I really felt it a bit in my arms and neck afterwards… With the repair work taking about 22 minutes, we were out of the race for victory of course… At about the same time I was out last year, then after Fred´s crash – and again in a very good position to win… Of course it is very frustrating and disappointing, if everybody had done such a good job so far – Le Mans is such an unforgiving race. We thought we could maybe at least for the podium, hoping for maybe some problems of the opposition as well, but even this did not work, as we were hit by another problem later when a broken connector in the exhaust system let fumes enter the cockpit… So the only thing we could do was to do a very last lap in the end to at least officially finish the race and let Stefan and Darren collect at least a few points for the Championship…

After something like this, the only thing you really want to do is go home and relax – but I did not have too much time for this either, as I had to go to Brazil again for the second match of the World Cup. Back to Europe, I spent some time filming for a new TV program, TV classic, driving ten great different classical cars at the Mercedes Benz World in England, which was quite a special experience. One more event for Jaguar then on Tuesday – and now, waiting for Goodwood with Jaguar and McLaren and first proper Formula E testing next week… And keeping my fingers crossed for the Brazilians in the Word Cup in between, of course…