POUGHKEEPSIE, NY, JUNE 13, 2004 — For Chris Dyson and his Racing For Holland teammates, the 24 Hours of Le Mans proved to be a drama in three acts, with a promising beginning, substantial challenges in the middle act and in conclusion a strong effort that largely overcame the earlier setbacks and made Dyson the highest-placed American at the world’s premier sportscar race.
The highlight of the race’s opening hours came with Racing For Holland’s Dome-Judd running in third place overall. The lows that followed came in the form of a pair of mechanical problems that dropped their prototype sportscar deep into the field. But the ultimate high for Dyson, team-owner Jan Lammers and third driver Katsutomo Kaneishi was a stirring drive from 20th place to seventh at the finish.
”Of course I’m sorry that our final finishing position wasn’t higher,” Dyson said shortly after the race’s conclusion. “But it’s very satisfying for me, coming as it does just a week after the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, to be the highest placed American here in France. The car was certainly quick enough that we could have worried the Audis, and I have to say that our finishing position was not indicative of the car’s or the team’s potential. Overall, I have to say that I’m pretty pleased with how everything came out on my first time at Le Mans.”
With its high average speeds and fast, sweeping corners, Dyson found the Le Mans circuit to be both challenging and fun. “This is a track where you can get a real rhythm going, and that’s nice. Part of the challenge here comes from having several classes racing together. Driving the car isn’t physically very demanding, but the closing speeds on the slower cars are very fast, so you have to be quite careful in setting up a pass. As the race goes on there’s a lot of gravel and rubber debris on the track, so the groove gets quite narrow. You have to time your passes pretty carefully or you could be out in the marbles and in real trouble.”
A Fast Race Pace
For the Racing For Holland team the race began in strong fashion as Lammers and then Dyson set a pace that brought their car from its eighth starting position on the grid up to third place overall as Dyson pulled into the pits at the completion of his first double stint.
“Before the race I’d thought that we were probably looking at a fifth-place finish at best,” Dyson said. “But the Dunlap tires turned out to be even better under race conditions than we’d hoped. They were good during both day and night conditions, and stayed consistent through a fuel run. Without the time we lost to these small mechanical problems, I think we were on track for a podium finish.”
Then, in the early evening while running comfortably in fourth place, the Dome-Judd began to experience fuel-feed difficulties. The RFH car fell back to 12th place before the problem was diagnosed as a clogged fuel filter and the faulty unit replaced.
With Dyson back at the wheel in the early morning hours, another mechanical problem manifested itself, this time in the form of a fault in the wiring harness.
“The engine stalled out on the course, but I was able to bump-start it and make it back around to the pits,” Dyson said. “I was lucky to be able to get the engine restarted. It seemed to take forever to get back to the pits, and I was very relieved when I got close enough that even if the engine died, I could coast in. If we’d been stuck out on the track, we’d have been in real trouble.”
Repairs to the wiring harness dropped the Dome-Judd back as far at 20th, and the remaining 14 hours were spent by the three drivers at a fast pace, clawing their way back up the scoreboard to their eventual seventh-place overall finish.
While the final finishing position was less than the team had hoped for, Dyson said he was far from disappointed with the result. “Given the problems we had, I’m quite pleased with our finish. Jan and his team did a great job. It was fun to drive my first race at this classic track with such an excellent and enthusiastic group of guys. And I have to say that the team’s fans – and there were a lot of them there at the track – were incredibly supportive. Their enthusiasm was amazing.”
On to Portland
This coming weekend represents a very different set of circumstances for Dyson, as an ocean and a continent away, he makes his professional open-wheel racing debut in the Portland, Oregon round of the Toyota Atlantic Championship. “This is a whole different deal,” Dyson noted. “The pace is quite fast at Le Mans, faster actually than it will be at Portland. But in an endurance race you don’t spend that much time racing wheel-to-wheel for position. My expectation is that in the Toyota Atlantic car, I’m going to be racing hard for every corner. I don’t underestimate the caliber of competition I’ll be facing, but at the same time I’m looking forward to it. I expect that it will be like it was earlier in my career when I raced Formula Fords and Spec Racers, just faster cars and tougher competition.”