For Frédéric Sausset, competing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2016 was much more than just a race. It’s was his Race for Life.
Frédéric Sausset is a remarkable man. In 2012, after contracting a deadly form of septicemia while on holiday just a few weeks after attending the 24 Hours of LeMans, the 46-year old businessman and motorsport enthusiast was to have his four limbs amputated.
He recalls while recovering in hospital, that he knew a key part of his rehabilitation would be to refocus his life not just to make sense of his disability but more important, to challenge his abilities.
It was here that with the support of family and friends, his dream of competing at Le Mans as only the second disabled driver to take part in a major FIA endurance race began to take shape; a dream he dubbed his ‘race for life’.
Fred has always had a passion for motor racing and wanted his entry into the sport to be at a high level, where he would push not only his limits but those of engineering and technology.
When he set up the SRT 41 (Sausset Racing Team) project, he was delighted by the encouragement he received from the highest echelons of motorsport, including the backing of the FIA, with its President Jean Todt sharing his personal support, Onroak Automotive, the renowned and successful endurance racing constructer and its Oak Racing subsidiary, Michelin, AXA and Audi and not least from Christophe Tinseau and Sébastien Loeb, both highly experienced race drivers.
Jacques Nicolet, CEO of Onroak commented: “It’s a magnificent project from both a human and technological point of view. My meeting with Frédéric was the trigger. If, at first glance, his project may seem a bit crazy, the passion, enthusiasm and determination that drive Fred very quickly won me over and I decided I wanted to back him and join him in his adventure. In addition to the lesson about life that he’s giving us all, his project will allow us to work on new techniques and come up with modifications that may prove useful in the future in other contexts”.
The dream starts to become a reality
Buoyed by this support and to prepare for his challenge, Frédéric undertook an intensive fitness regime that would test the most able-bodied to give him the physical strength to cope with the extreme acceleration, cornering and braking forces the body is subjected to in motor racing and the stamina to maintain concentration under extreme conditions. He also needed to learn the skills and racecraft that would transform a ‘good’ road driver into a competitive racing driver.
On 6 and 7 March 2015 at the circuit of Nevers Magny- Cours he tested his Audi powered Ligier JS 53 EVO development prototype which was modified and prepared by Onroak Automotive. Fred was reassured by the results, so much so that he entered the VdeV Endurance Series Endurance Proto Challenge to gain valuable experience, from his mentor Christophe Tinseau, in different racing conditions as a further step towards his Le Mans goal.
The SRT 41 by OAK Racing team took to the grid in time for the first round of the championship VdeV Endurance Series on 20th- 22nd March 2015 on the famous Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
The preparation paid off and in June 2015 during Le Mans week, Vincent Beaumesnil, Sporting Director of the race organisers the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), formally announced that Frédéric and his SRT 41 by OAK Racing team would be offered ‘Garage 56’ (reserved for ‘Innovative Machinery’) at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2016.
Further testing at VdeV endurance events in Aragon and Paul Ricard showed improved driver performance, culminating in October atMagny-Cours with Frédéric completing over 74 laps and dramatically reducing his lap times as he became more familiar with the car and race conditions.
The final round of the 2015 VdeV Endurance Series took place in Estoril in November where the car and team delivered a faultless race.
By the end of 2015, informed by input from the V de V Series, Onroak Automotive completed the development work on the raft of modifications required to meet with CDNT (Car Displaying New Technologies) homologation regulations and allow Frédéric to not only participate at the 24 hours of Le Mans, but to feel confident to race competitively and safely in their Morgan LM P2 (Le Mans Prototype 2), the very car that won its class at Le Mans in 2013.
• Fully automatic transmission
• A ‘steering lever’ in place of a wheel with quick release mechanism to allow Frédéric to use a single prosthetic arm to steer the car
• Thigh operated throttle and brake pedals
• ABS power braking and electric power steering
• A specific roll bar complying with the CN homologation criteria
• An ‘ejector seat’ which will lift the seat and Frédéric clear of the car in the event of an accident
• A fully voice activated Kenwood NEXEDGE® digital radio system from MRTC for communication between team and driver
In addition to the modifications to the car, the Oak Racing support team have undergone a thorough training programme to be able to quickly switch between the driver modes of the car to suit the specific needs of Frédéric and the other two drivers, Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet.
Well-drilled technicians are naturally skilled in all aspects of running a car under race conditions, but in this case, they also had to learn how to lift Frédéric from his wheelchair and lower him into the cockpit and connect all controls quickly and safely.
15th April, practice day for the first European LeMans Series (ELMS) endurance race of the 2016 season at the Silverstone Circuit in the UK.
The 44 competing cars in three classes (LMP2, LMP3 and GTE) battled in rain, sun, even snow to learn the track and post their times for the 4-hour race.
It was an opportunity for the SRT 41 by OAK Racing team to shake-down their specially adapted Morgan LMP2 car in a variety of race conditions and for quadriplegic Frédéric Sausset, it was the next stage in his mission to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ultimate test of man and machine, just two months away.
We caught up with Frédéric and Sébastien Metz, a director of Onroak Automotive, Oak Racing and team manager for the SRT 41 by OAK Racing team’s Le Mans campaign at the opening race of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) at Silverstone.
Sébastien commented: “Fred has been on an extraordinary journey – he has had to learn so much in a short period – and he’s proven to be a very fast learner. Our focus however has been on delivering the technology and engineering solutions and support team which would give him the confidence to compete safely in perhaps the most demanding race in motorsport.” He continued: “Unlike able bodied drivers who use their arms and legs to counteract the forces generated in motor racing, we had to adapt the car and its controls to match Fred’s physical abilities without restricting the movement he needs to be efficient and effective in competitive racing. With Fred’s limited mobility, we also had to engineer a robust safety system and process which would allow circuit marshals and safety personnel to extract him from the car quickly in the event of an incident or accident. Alongside the quick release steering mechanism and ‘ejector seat’, one of the most important safety adaptations was in the work carried out by motorsport communications specialists MRTC. I’ve known and used MRTC for many years and despite being the number one choice in motorsports communications, they have always proven to be responsive and flexible in meeting a race team’s requirements.When we posed the challenge for a fully voice-activated system to allow hands-free radio communications between Fred, the support team and track safety officials, they immediately set their technical team to the task.”
MRTC – World leaders in motorsport communication solutions
MRTC provide most of the radio communications systems for the teams as well as the organisers in theWorld Endurance Championship (WEC) and European Le Mans Series (ELMS). Andy Covell, MRTC’s Technical Director explains: “Voice activated radios have been around for a while and are used extensively in leisure motorcycling applications. However, there’s a world of difference between a system designed for road use and one that can operate in the noisy, harsh environment of an open cockpit race car and provide critical communication between the driver and team from every part of a circuit in a 24-hour endurance race. We developed a noise suppressor and filter system which could effectively tune-out engine, wind and road noise and activate only when the driver spoke into the helmet-mounted microphone. The system for SRT 41 by OAK Racing, as with all our race communications systems is based on Kenwood NEXEDGE equipment and infrastructure which has proven to be reliable and effective in motorsport use over many years”.
MRTC has supplied the Kenwood radios for all ten of the SRT41 team’s drivers, engineers and support crew including the more conventional steering wheel mounted push-to-talk system for the other two drivers.
Frédéric Sausset reports: "The result of the work undertaken by Onroak Automotive, the Oak Racing team and the input and support from Christophe Tinseau my mentor and teammate during the past couple of years are beyond my expectations, as preparing to race at this level in such a short timespan even without my disability would be an extremely ambitious project.
I am happy to have proven the validity of my participation at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016 to all those involved in this, my ‘Race for Life’, including my sponsors, the FIA, ACO and not least my family and friends. The fourhour ELMS race on a difficult to learn Silverstone circuit and in changeable weather conditions provides the ideal conditions to finalise our preparation ahead of Le Mans. The Kenwood based MRTC radio system has made a significant contribution in giving me the confidence to race to the best of my ability”.
Sébastien Metz summarised: “Without the MRTC modified Kenwood radio system the process of getting the car developed would have taken considerably longer – Fred was able to provide us with important feedback in real-time while testing on car set-up, the operation of the adapted controls and so on. So far as Le Mans is concerned, our job is simply to ensure the car, team and race strategy is right – it’s down to Fred, Christophe and Jean-Bernard to show us if we have got it right”.
SRT 41 by OAK Racing acquitted themselves well at this final test before the 24 Hours of Le Mans and went on to finish the race in 33rd place.
18-19th June 2016. The 24 Hours of LeMans. And the ultimate test for the SRT 41 by OAK Racing Team’s ‘Race for Life’
The team pushed themselves hard throughout practice to secure a creditable 27th position on the grid at the start of the race.
As usual, the conditions at Le Mans proved challenging, with the first 54 laps run behind the safety car due to wet and treacherous conditions. There followed the thrills, spills, highs and lows of motor racing at its most competitive.
Finally, after 24 gruelling hours, with just 44 of the original 60 starters classified, SRT 41 by OAK Racing brought car 84 home safely in 38th position. This was nothing short of remarkable given the list of innovations and adaptations carried out to the car to allow Fred to compete.
Apart from an issue with the centrifugal clutch which was anticipated and prepared for, the team ran a textbook race from start to finish, free from spins, crashes or breakdowns.
The team celebrated the achievement of Fred’s Race for Life at a special presentation on the podium where and elated Frédéric Sausset commented: “I feel great now because there was lots of pressure on us. Our goal was to finish the race; we didn’t have any targets in terms of classification. It is thanks to the experience of my team mates Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet and everyone at SRT 41 by OAK Racing that we finished without any major incident.”
But is this the end of the story for SRT41?
Perhaps not, as Fred concludes: “The people involved in SRT41 have grown to become a close-knit family.We’re not going to want to go our separate ways. Personally, I feel at home in motorsport. I’ve met some incredible people.
As I’ve said before, I’m able to forget my handicap when I’m racing and I’m not about to give up that joy.
We’ll be back for more and perhaps the next time I compete at Le Mans; it will be on equal terms with the other teams rather than from ‘Garage56’.
Association Sausset Racing Team 41(SRT41)
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