Benoit Treluyer prepares for the Le Mans 24 Hours
Frenchman Benoit Treluyer spends most of his year in Japan, racing in the Formula Nippon and Super GT series, but is now back on home ground and ready to drive the Pescarolo Sport Peugeot 908 HDi FAP at the Le Mans 24 Hours next week. He tested the car recently at Magny-Cours with his team-mates Jean-Christophe Boullion and Simon Pagenaud and the Normandy-based driver is now making his final preparations ahead of a race which has a very special place in his heart.
"I grew up near Le Mans and just to take part in this race is fantastic," says Benoit. "To actually be driving a car which has the chance to win is massive. This is my childhood dream ever since my dad took me in the pits with a step ladder to help me see better!"
Living in Tokyo and racing in Japan for much of the year means Le Mans is a rare opportunity for Treluyer to race on home soil. "I get to see a lot of familiar faces as well as all my friends from my childhood," he says. "I don't have time to get stressed because I'm so busy. For me, it is a bit of holiday!"
It's a busy holiday though, with Benoit having been selected to drive the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP of the legendary Henri Pescarolo's eponymous team.
"I'm driving for Pesca, but racing a Peugeot does open up a whole load of possibilities. For me, driving a works car run by a private team is the best compromise. It's exactly what I'm looking for and it's a fantastic car run by a fantastic team."
At Magny-Cours for the recent test, Benoit had the pleasure to renew acquaintances with Henri and the team and was immediately eager to sample the 908.
"We used the first day to learn the car and shake down a few parts," explains Benoit. "The Peugeot is a closed coupe with a very narrow range of vision. We drove quite reservedly as we weren't allowed to really attack and use the kerbs. On day two I was told to go for it and it was great. I realised the potential of the car, which is very stable and allows you to push hard. In fact the hardest bit of all is to remember what all the buttons are for!"
While he would have liked even more time in the cockpit of the Peugeot in what was the only test before the classic event at La Sarthe, he now knows more about the 908 and the challenges of driving such a unique car.
"Visibility is difficult as you can't see anything on either side and it's not easy to see anything in the mirrors either! This means we'll have to be cautious in traffic. Last year, when I saw the Peugeot drivers racing, I thought that they must have been under enormous pressure to have made so many mistakes. Now though I'm starting to see the real reasons. If a competitor overtakes you under braking, you simply can't see them. Saying that though, when you're driving a 908 there's not much chance of anyone passing you under braking! The other big surprise is the diesel engine. You can't hear it revving and you get to very high speed without really noticing. It's a little disorientating at the beginning, but at the same time you get so much power!"
Nevertheless, Benoit is convinced that, with such machinery at his disposal, he has the chance to fight for an overall victory.
"We hold all the cards to achieve a great result. Henri has the ability to view Le Mans in a way which might be a little different from the Peugeot team and this can work in our favour. When you look at what he's achieved in the past with such small resources, you can only have confidence. Such an opportunity doesn't come around very often and so we need to take our chance."
Benoit is currently the reigning Super GT champion and leads the Formula Nippon championship in Japan and comes to Le Mans in race-winning form. "Everything is going well this year and I hope that continues. I just need a bit more sleep as my timetable is crazy!"
Treluyer hopes that timetable is filled with a few more European events in 2010 as, after ten years in Japan, he would like to return more regularly to his home continent. "The ideal solution would be to continue to race in Japan, but find a category which also lets me race in Europe and allows me to undergo a gradual transition to coming back here full time. I don't want to leave suddenly as this would not be fair to all the Japanese fans who have supported me. What would be perfect is one or two more seasons in Japan combined with a Le Mans Series programme. I really enjoy driving prototypes and endurance racing and would love to work on a complete programme, doing some development work as well as racing. In Japan, I am pampered. I'm amongst the most respected racing drivers over there, which is very rewarding. In Europe, I will have to prove myself all over again, but that isn't something which scares me. I think I have a solid career and background in this sport."
The Frenchman also has a cartoon character dedicated to him. 'Benoit-Poy' is much loved by Japanese fans and he now makes his European debut at Le Mans alongside another much-loved character, Mr Pescarolo!