Stephen Errity, Le Mans Correspondent
Davidson shares his views on upcoming Le Mans 24 Hour race in an exclusive interview
Former Peugeot works driver Anthony Davidson has found a new home with Toyota for Le Mans 2012, sharing the #8 car with Sebastien Buemi and Stephane Sarrazin. He spoke with Motorsport.com shortly after test day to give his views on the big race ahead...
Q: There seems to be good camaraderie among the Audi and Toyota works LMP1 drivers, particularly the more experienced guys. How does this affect things when you go wheel-to-wheel on track?
AD: “I can only speak personally and say that I always respect the guys I'm fighting with. We fight hard but fair. It's a different environment to F1 – you need to get along with at least the two other drivers in your car, so perhaps this breeds a different kind of driver. Also, endurance racing is a different discipline to F1, particularly at Le Mans where it makes no sense to risk everything in a wheel-to-wheel battle if you have another 23 hours of racing ahead of you. I don't think the respect we have for each other off track means we fight any less hard on it, but we are all professionals and we know the limits.”
From what I've seen there is a great team spirit and the guys are working together really well.
Q: What are the main things you learned from the test day and private test on the Bugatti circuit?
AD: “For me it was great to get some time in this car in wet conditions because I hadn't driven the TS030 Hybrid in the rain before. It's not ideal to go into Le Mans without that experience, as you never know exactly what to expect. So that was a big plus from my side from the shakedown on the Bugatti circuit. I think the test day showed us that we have plenty of potential, but we still have a lot of work to do if we are to compete with the Audis. It's always a bit like a poker game on test day, with the teams taking strategic decisions about how hard to push, so I doubt we have seen the best of Audi yet.”
Q: What do you feel are the main strengths and weaknesses of the Audi and Toyota cars?
AD: “For Toyota Racing, the hybrid system is a big, big strength – the power we get on corner exit is really helping us get up to speed on the straights. We still have some work to do to improve the balance and the overall set-up, but this is to be expected after only a day of testing at Le Mans. It's difficult to judge other teams from outside, but you can see the diesel engines have a lot of performance, that's definitely a strength compared to the petrol engines.”
Q: Are you satisfied the Toyota team have got to know each other well enough?
AD: “The programme came together quite late – more so for me – but from what I've seen there is a great team spirit and the guys are working together really well. Don't forget, most of the guys came from the Toyota F1 team where they worked together in a similar environment, so they're just picking up from where they left off, albeit in a different discipline. I don't have any doubt that they can perform at their best in race conditions.”
Q: What are the main things you have to do differently and think about when driving a hybrid like the Toyota as opposed to a pure petrol or diesel car?
AD: “There's not much you need to do differently as such – the fundamentals are still the same regardless of the powertrain. There are small differences such as making sure you make the most of your hybrid boost; it's not ideal if you have to lift off a bit directly after you've had the boost, because you lose all that momentum. So I'm careful to avoid that in order to get maximum performance and optimum lap times. The difference is more in terms of the sensation, particularly when we are harvesting energy, as this gives a different feel to the driver compared to a traditional system. It takes a bit of getting used to.”
Q: In recent years, Le Mans has become a flat-out sprint as car reliability has become almost perfect. With the arrival of hybrid technology, do you anticipate reliability becoming a factor again, along with tactical use of the different hybrid technologies' characteristics?
AD: “From my perspective, reliability has always been a deciding factor at Le Mans; you only need to look how things went for Peugeot in 2010 to see how reliability has changed the race result in recent years. It's massively impressive to see how the manufacturers have turned Le Mans into a very long sprint race, but we shouldn't underestimate the difficulty of running flat-out for 24 hours; it's a phenomenally difficult task. We're still learning and developing the car, so we expect to face a few challenges during the week – that's natural for a new technology like this. In terms of the tactical use of hybrid, I would say we are at the beginning of a new era and it would be naïve to think we already know all the potential applications and strategies available with a hybrid system. This is also part of the team's learning process, and we will be looking for ways to maximize our technology.”