Last weekend Marcel F?ssler raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time and it proved to be an enjoyable, if ultimately disappointing, debut for the Swiss driver. F?ssler, along with Swiss Spirit teammates Harold Primat and Philipp Peter, ran as high as fourth in the early stages of the famous endurance event at the Circuit La Sarthe but during the night the team was forced to retire with a gearbox failure.
"It was a really good experience," F?ssler told Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview. "I loved it and I really hope we can do it again next year. The track is really exciting, it's so enjoyable to drive -- you cannot compare it to other tracks, the ambience is really something special."
Swiss Spirit qualified ninth on the grid but had been hoping for a little higher up. "We had a problem in the second day of qualifying," F?ssler recalled. "We tried to qualify on tyres we had not used before. Philipp drove the car but he crashed; the front locked up and it's really difficult to stop once that happens."
In the Le Mans Series (LMS), Swiss Spirit retired from the first race but at the last round in Spa the team finished with a podium place in third. So for F?ssler, who was behind the wheel for the opening stages at Le Mans, the long periods behind the wheel were not a new experience.
"I did the start and a double stint," he said. "Spa was a six hour race so this was not so different, just longer! You just do what you have to do; you're not really fighting for position early on, you're just looking to keeping going. Other cars might be faster on new tyres but you have to focus on your own thing and not worry about it."
F?ssler was back in the driver's seat for a triple stint in the night time, which changes things slightly. "I enjoyed driving in the dark," he commented. "It's interesting; your braking points are perhaps a little harder to find because you can't always see them the same as before. So maybe that's a little different but mostly it's okay."
Unfortunately, when F?ssler then handed the car over to Primat, the problems with the gearbox started. "It was maybe the gearbox cooling pump," the Swiss explained. "The whole thing overheated; the differential and everything. We didn't have enough spare parts to fix it all but even if we could, we wouldn't have been allowed to change the gearbox casing, which was also damaged."
So with no option but to retire, it was a disappointing end to the race for the team. "It was disappointing, of course, because until then everything was going well," F?ssler said. "We were not really fast enough on the straights but we already knew that. After a while we were up to fifth, then fourth, then back to fifth, so it was very consistent. It was encouraging and hopefully we will try again next year."
Next on the agenda for Swiss Spirit is the third round of the LMS at the N?rburgring on July 16th. It's a circuit F?ssler is familiar with and he's hoping for another good result. "I know the track quite well and if we can improve the car a little bit I think we can be back on the podium again," he remarked. "It will be a tough challenge but we will do our best."