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Le Mans: Aim high, dream BIG

Coming into 2017,  circuit racing was always on the cards. Team Schatz Competition run the Norma in the Trophée Tourisme Endurance alongside the CFM, and it was very much an objective to compete in one of these races, however a full season of circuit racing was outside of my budget.

Nonetheless, out of all the races that I saw listed on the calendar, there was one that jumped out at me for obvious reason – Le Mans.

Sure it wold be a bit chilly in November, and evidently this would be run on the Bugatti circuit and not La Sarthe, but the significance of driving in a 3 hour endurance race at this legendary venue meant that this was one opportunity I was not going to let pass by.

As with all the best plans, there were inevitably some hiccups prior to the weekend, the most critical being the fact that the driver I was due to share with had injured himself beyond repair in a mountain biking accident… to cut a long story short, the solution was sharing the car with team owner Nicolas Schatz.  He had been contesting the ELMS in LMP3 with Duqueine Engineering driving a Norma M30, so it was undoubtedly a big moment for me to share the car with such a talented driver. It also cranked up the pressure on what was already panning out to be a momentous weekend. 

Thankfully we were treated to some pretty dry weather for Friday practice, the sun even came out in the afternoon. I’ll never forget the feeling as I walked past the security gate with my race bag slung over my shoulder and made my way to garage no. 39. I first came here in 2000 aged 19, and for me the 24hr Le Mans is the ultimate race in the World, to be on the other side of the fence here is something I never thought I’d be doing.

Practice was split into 3 x 30 minute sessions, we split the first then I drove the 2nd and Nico took the final evening spot. I’d prepared as thoroughly as I could, rigorously following the training plan from Formula Medicine and building up a lot of strength in my arms & shoulders as well as working hard on cardio & stamina. Earlier in the week I’d been to Grandprix Race Centres to practice the track on their simulator, this alone was a great help.

LIVE FROM LE MANS: Test day first drive ????????⏱????????????

Posted by Charlie Martin on Friday, November 17, 2017


Comparing my times after the first session it was clear that I wasn’t pushing the aero hard enough, so in the 2nd practice I ramped up my entry speeds from the off and finished the session in P2 on a 1:36:620 

I quite fancied the night session, although Nico later explained that the lights weren’t helping much by the end of the session… Watching from the pitwall was yet another surreal moment, and the sound of the cars thundering down the pitlane with their limiter on is so cool, they pop, bang and spit fire!

That evening we practiced driver changes before checking the radio I’d had installed in my helmet that afternoon. One of the many aspects I love about endurance racing is the fact that the whole team is directly involved throughout the race – from calling the strategy & pitstops to refuelling & helping the drivers get installed as quickly as possible. We got our changes down to 40 secs, not bad when you have to swap seats and thread your belts while leaning over the bodywork (if anyone wonders why I turned up to the SMRC ball with bruises down my shins, now you know!).

Qualifying on Saturday was a bit of a wakeup call though. Being early November, the fog that settled overnight could left the track cold & sodden, and going out to do the installation laps was akin to driving on ice. A car span right on the exit to the pits, followed by another at the chicane before the Dunlop bridge, tentative does not even come close… It was too cold and wet to generate any heat in the slicks (what track temp?), you simply couldn’t lean on them at all and  4 tense laps before handing over did nothing for my confidence come Sunday. Luckily Nico managed to find some grip as the conditions improved mildly and put us on pole for the race start.

2017-11-17 17.23.58 copy

Opening the shutters on Sunday morning, I thanked the powers that be to see that it was relatively clear outside under the amber glow of the street lights, and the tarmac was bone dry. Sadly this didn’t last, and the mist descended with a some fine rain just to be sure that my hopes were equally dampened.

A chat with the host of the AirBnB made me smile the previous evening, he told me that the only other racer to stay in my room turned out to be one of the winning riders in the Moto 24hr Le Mans race. Right now I was pretty sure that luck had passed me by.

After the experience in qualifying, we took the decision to start on wets, which worked out well for us. Nico took the start and first hour, switching between 1st & 2nd before handing the car over to me. There were 3 races running concurrently, a 40 min, 2hr & 3hr, meaning that traffic would thin out as the race progressed. I jumped in for my first stint, the track was still slippery but drying on the line as I took off. Jumping into a race midway through and hitting your rhythm is daunting the first time you try it, as the hour ticked by and the track dried out I was worried about overheating the slicks, so I tried to set a pace that didn’t push them too hard. After hillclimbing for an average of 2-3 minutes, to be racing for this length of time just felt incredible.

Le Mans Bugatti Circuit in Norma M20FCA flying lap of the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans from practice: after driving the Norma M20FC on closed roads all season it felt MEGA to stretch it’s legs – especially somewhere like this. The car just lets you push so hard, every time you go faster to the point that you have to completely recalibrate your idea of grip… circuit racing here we come!! #NGK

Posted by Charlie Martin on Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I handed the car back to Nico without incident, and 30 mins later it was time to finish the race, the car having been fitted with slicks after my first stint. This time I could really lean hard, and that last 30 or so minutes was the best drive I’ve ever had, the car just felt perfect. Taking turn 1 flat at 230km/h into the chicane before standing on the brakes and flicking down to 2nd before turning in is a feeling I’ll never forget.

Perine was calling my laps (in French) over the radio, I was down to 1:35’s and holding P3, only a couple of secs off Nico’s times. That last 10 mins seemed to go on forever, not because I was struggling (I felt good), perhaps more so because the fact that we’d be on the podium was taking it’s time to sink in. I was going quicker every lap, but conscious not to make an error at the final hurdle…

Charlie: Female motorsports driverMeet the female motorsports driver killing it on the racecourse.

Posted by BBC Three on Monday, January 1, 2018


Much like the very first time I came racing in France back in 2014, I simply wanted to come here and compete. I never placed huge expectations on my performance, and perhaps this contributed to the outcome. On that occasion I broke a record and took a class win, this time we were on the podium… at Le Mans.

It has to be by far the proudest moment in my career as a driver, the timing couldn’t have been better either, as I start a new year with the objective to move entirely into circuit racing.

2017-11-19 14.44.20Despite having worn a set of custom earphones, my ears were still ringing when I collapsed into bed not far from Calais around midnight. Not that it was keeping me awake, my heart was still nowhere near a resting bpm. I knew this feeling from back in May 2014,  and all I could think about was what comes next…



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