We’ve done a lot of talking and not much driving since the test so I am looking forward to getting back in the car now. Hopefully the car has got the same feeling that we had at the test, which was good so lets get the first session done with and then we will have something to talk about.
I wouldn’t say the car is a step up from last year because of the regulations changes. It would have been but the only thing we can feel improved is the power train, which was good last year obviously, but slightly under developed with a brand new concept. This year you can definitely tell its in year two of its life cycle so we’ve found a bit of speed from that. But with the knock we’ve taken from the regulations in terms of aero, its pretty much kept it status quo. We didn’t lose from it but we certainly didn’t gain.
I think the test day we had here was very good conditions. The track usually takes a while to clean up and rubber in but it was in a surprisingly clean state. They had resurfaced some of the track which certainly helped a bit but i think we were just really lucky with the conditions. We’re not really expecting them to be that good again in a way. With the hotter conditions we’re going to have this week you’ll see its harder on the cars and the heat will normally slow you down slightly.
Michelin have done a great job with the tyres this year. Not only are they faster, they last longer as well so it makes our life a bit easier behind the wheel. We were quite concerned with the new regulations and having to double stint a set of tyres but now we seem to be able to do that a lot more comfortably than last year, and go half a second a lap quicker. Its amazing, so a great evolution from them. I think thats another thing that has helped to improve the lap times and bring it below last years pole time.
At this stage, from the last test, we are ahead of Porsche. The car feels good to drive, it has done all year. So Im looking forward to getting back in the car later today and hopefully it has the same feel as it did last week. I cant tell myself we’ve seen the best from Porsche yet because you’ve always got to expect them to improve like they did at Silverstone. We had the pace in the early sessions but when it came to the race, I think all things being fair, they had the pace to win that race with car #2 which was a big surprise. I’m expecting them to raise their game, particularly for race day. So if we don’t see anything in qualifying, I wouldn’t be surprised to seem them on pace for the race. Based on Silverstone, I’m fully expecting them to be on point for the race.
You’ve seen how much bad luck can affect a team, you need a faultless race in terms of driving, in terms of reliability. I watched a documentary recently on climbing Everest, and the locals they interviewed said you need luck and I could really emphasise with that, because it is true. You can plan this race as good as you can, but at the end of the day, you do need luck to win. Le Mans is my Everest, I may never get to the top, but so long as I can do the best I can, I’ll be happy.
"Le Mans is my Everest, I may never get to the top, but so long as I can do the best I can, I’ll be happy."
I’ve seen the same passion from Mercedes in Brackley as we have at Toyota. Ive been doing some sim work there and I’ve seen the comments from Valtteri (Bottas) saying how he has been amazed how fired up the team are, to come back after their set back in Monaco. This team is certainly right there with the hunger and motivation to win this one once and for all. After 32 years, its about time surely.
Obviously you want to win Le Mans by being the fastest. We should have had that last year, but looking at this race, I haven’t changed my mentality from last year, treating it like a 24 hour charity go kart race. I drove brilliantly last year, probably my best sports car race. If we finish last, we finish last. If we don’t finish, we don’t finish. If we win, we win. This one just seems to be written in the stars. Im just going to go along for the ride and see what happens. The team have changed the intercooler pipe design but they haven’t changed their approach. Its the same approach and mentality we had last year and we were in line to win that so lets not go changing things.
Back to the power train gains, we feel more power in the car and that equates to less fuel cuts on the lap and therefore more lap time. Its from the combustion unit side so theres no magic to it, its just the year two evolution of the engine. The naturally aspirated V8 went and was replaced by a turbo charged V6 and so you are always going to see improvements in the second year of the life cycle. Especially with the limited time frame we had which was a kind of fast tracked evolution from the v8 to v6. it wasn’t meant to be rushed through so quickly but after the disastrous 2015 season, that fast forwarded everything which is why last years engine wasn’t where it should be and this years engine is exactly where it should be. We haven’t really done more testing than last year, we’re taking the same approach. We’ve done enough hours of testing but I can’t go in to specific numbers. I feel like were really prepared and with three cars here, we’ve done the best we can. Ive never seen the team so prepared to win and hopefully it pays of this year.
With warmer conditions the track might be slower, and then you have to factor in traffic as well. On Kamui’s (Kobayashi) lap, he had traffic so you know, should have been faster. Thats at least half a second he lost in traffic. And then the track continued to improve. Qualifying at this event is; well I've said it before and my feelings on that are known. It doesn’t mean a lot any way, but it always comes back to what lap time are we going to get? Well there are so many variables on a lap time that we might not see it. So if qualifying should be pure and about lap times then lets do it without traffic. If they get the chance and the time is right then we will do some laps but the emphasis wont be on qualifying. We might be able to do a 3:15 but we probably wont! (Laughing)
If Porsche feel they haven’t got the car to beat us in qualifying then i don’t think they will put the effort in and i don’t think we will either. I honestly don’t care where I start, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, you know, the rightful winner will win no matter where they start on the grid.
"I haven’t changed my mentality from last year, treating it like a 24 hour charity go kart race. I drove brilliantly last year, probably my best sports car race. If we finish last, we finish last. If we don’t finish, we don’t finish. If we win, we win."
With tyres being better this year, they have quite a fine cross over point. We did a lot of work on that at the test and its one of the main things we have to get right. At night, in the cooler conditions it will be interesting; conditions we’ve not experienced before and when the sun goes down, theres less heat on the track and things react differently. We’ve seen in Formula 1 at Singapore, you can get some strange results where track temperature is colder than the ambient and with the length of the straights here the tyre surface cools down so you may get some strange results. We’re yet to experience running in those conditions and i think that is what got Audi in to trouble last year. They had a great test, they were sitting here this time last year all “cock-a-hoop” and then they were no where in the race and it can really be like that. I think there was a 10 degree temperature change between testing and the race last year or maybe more and that can just take your tyres into or out of the window and then your race is ruined so we really need to make sure we play it right. Usually we are very good at understanding tyres but we still have some work to do.
As long as theres a championship for me to be there, I will race in it. It is strange being down to just two manufacturers. Its a shame. Three is obviously better than two, for the show I guess, but for me it doesn’t change anything. As a driver, you only focus on the car directly in front of you or the one directly behind you and so that doesn’t change if its a Porsche, Audi or Toyota your job is the same. If you’re fighting for third, then you don’t really care who is in the lead. But if you are in the lead, you care very much about who is in second and suddenly it doesn’t really matter how many teams you have out there. Its all about the car in front, or the car behind so it doesn’t really change much. It actually simplifies things quite a bit because you know who your competitor is going to be. Its Porsche. And it might just have been Porsche, even if Audi were here. When I was with Peugeot, it was just Audi so I’m used to having just one competitor. Its just the same.
I’ve raced at Le Mans nine times now but as the years go by, it means the pressure gets a little bit less, as I get older. Peoples perceptions of me may change, but at the end of the day, I don’t really care what people think about my ability as a driver. Im hard on myself. I know how to win this race as a driver and I proved that last year. Ive proved it to myself and I don’t need to prove it to anyone else. I don’t need it on my CV or a trophy on my fire place at home. And in a way, thats how I get the best out of myself for this race because people get too het up about it and put too much weight on one race. You cant control it. It either comes your way or it doesn’t and I think that after what happened last year, it just makes you a bit more care free about it all. And I know it only comes around once a year, and people are desperate to win it, and don’t get me wrong, i am desperate to win it. But, I'm not going to lose sleep if i don't.
We are in a really strong position, much stronger than we were back in 2014. The car was good in the race back then but I've driven more dominant cars. Think back to the Peugeot days when all three engines blew up and the fourth had a suspension failure. If you look at that race before hand and people will say that Peugeot were guaranteed to win that one. Competition is going to be good this year, its going to be strong. I refuse to believe we will dominate and really hope there will be competition throughout the race. As a driver you want to have a bit of a fight. You don’t want just a team mate to fight, you want to make a race of it, a 24 hour go kart race, you want to have fun.
With LMP2 cars increasing in speed, it has made traffic easier to negotiate in the WEC, we can boost up to top speeds quite quickly and then just sail past the P2 cars on much shorter straights as they never reach their top speed I guess, unlike they do here. So here, we’re boosting past them at the start of the straight and then as we get towards the end of the straight, they are reeling us in almost and at that moment, we are just down to pure power and drag from the combustion side of things and they have two or three, maybe five k on us by the end of the straight so it has been hard on us. But I think we’re learning our way so maybe by the race it wont be a problem. Its certainly different from last year and a different approach. It may make things better in qualifying, we may see some more clear laps for once.
When you actually get up to them, it is harder to over take and they are the same speed as us through the high speed corners. As soon as we get that boost though, we’re gone and out of trouble. Its more when you’re catching a GT car you notice a big difference. In the old days, they would be pretty much the same speed as the GT cars down the straight, you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to duck out and have a look, they would always sit there getting a nice tow and we would just sail by, but now, you know they are approaching the GT at almost the same speed you are and at some point they are going to dive out. You’re going to see three or more wide a lot more often. And with the Am drivers in the P2 cars, we can no longer tell who is who with the closed cock pits so that adds another element to it all. Some times they brake early so that can really catch you out. You really need to have your wits about you. There is a big difference between the pros and ams at this track. Especially on the run down to Indianapolis. You don’t want to lose the moment from the boost out of Mulsanne, especially in those kinks but equally you don’t want them to turn in on you and have a Rockenfeller moment. You’ve really got to judge you’re moves now.
With the changes at Porsche Curves, whenever you take away a grass run off or gravel trap, it changes your psychology and how you approach the corner. One of the corners that springs to mind, that used to be so daunting was turn 8 at spa as you run down the hill. There used to be a bump there which meant you were at risk of locking up and could end up in the gravel; but as soon as they re-tarmaced that area, you just treat it like a video game. If you go wide, you go wide and it completely changes you’re mentality. Its like if they cut down all the trees on Rally Finland and put tarmac down each side and told the drivers to stick between the white lines, I would go and bloody do it! Id give it a go yeah, it would be great but Im not going to do it with all the trees there!
Its not so much about corner cutting, its just your perception of risk and how you approach the corner. They put that Safer Barrier thing in around the outside and that actually made it more daunting. The first left you come to at Porsche feels a lot narrower and now feels more scary, although in theory it should be safer. You have no leeway and really don’t want to make a mistake. But when you go around the next left and see this sea of tarmac in front of you, where Duval had his accident in the past and suddenly all your fear goes, anything could happen now, you could spin, over take and run wide and you just feel more at ease going through that corner. I know the changes have made it safer but it takes way the challenge and like I said, anyone could do it now, that part of the track.