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Team Africa Le Mans

Henry Sands, motoring contributor for Elite Traveler, battles the bends of Misano.

It has just turned 0230am, and five-time Le Mans champion, Emanuelle Pirro, is back in the driving seat for his latest 100-lap shift. We are Team Africa making our debut at the Hakook Endurance 24hr series race at the world circuit in Misano.

We have been racing for 16.5hrs in our Ginetta G55 GT4, and we have still got 7.5hrs to go.

Despite being weighed down by some mechanical difficulties early in the race, we are still in with a chance of a place on the podium. And Pirro is doing his best to get us there having just registered the fastest lap of the race with 1.44.69.

Around our garage other drivers and mechanics try to grab a few minutes of precious sleep, knowing they could be called upon at any moment. It is the drivers who so often get the glory, but it is the mechanics who determine whether you are successful or not in these events. It is about survival, as much as it is about speed. This is endurance racing at its rawest and at its best.

Our car, the Ginetta G55, is recognised for being one of the most reliable high performance cars on the international racing circuit, not to mention the most stylish. Founded in 1958 in Suffolk, UK, by the four Walklett brothers, it was sold to LNT Automotive in 2007. Whilst the name may not mean much to non-motor sport enthusiasts, the Ginetta is a true racing man’s car and is regularly seen on tracks across the world for both endurance and sprint racing series.

24-hours is a long time, and we knew it would not just be us who would experience mechanical issues. They may not have arisen as early as our problems did, but then, around the 12hr mark, they began to strike our competitors.

The race leader, Red Camel-Jordans team, lost their front left wheel and then its gearbox before being forced to retire. Then the Swiss team, driving a Honda Civic TCR, malfunctioned and had to pull out. The NKPP racing team from the Netherlands, in a moment of over-zealousness, hit the sidewall of the track, and lost the right hand side of the car, before creaking itself into the pits for emergency surgery. Somehow, their team of mechanics managed to patch the car back together with tape, and get it back on the track, but they had lost almost an hour of time. We were creeping up.

As the sun came up and the temperature began to rise, our team captain, South African Greg Mills, took to the track to bring us home. We crossed the line in 3rd in our GT4 Class. It was a phenomenal achievement.

After the race, F1 driver Jans Lammers, summed up the experience: “Emanuele, Sarel and I have been privileged enough to drive for some of the best teams in the world, but that is like a business environment. This was a true sports environment and we all enjoyed the battle against the gremlins that constantly attacked us, ultimately we beat them to the flag.”

It was a true test of survival, and Team Africa Le Mans proved themselves to compete against the best.

Look out for Henry’s first drive of the new 2018 Maserati GranTurismo in the September/October issue of Elite Traveler.