Benoît and his Audi Sport crew-mates Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer are aiming to whip up a sandstorm this weekend when the FIA World Endurance Championship visits the desert Kingdom of Bahrain for its final round of the season.
As the WEC camel train reaches the Bahrain International Circuit, situated near the country’s capital, Manama, the outgoing world champion and his nomadic partners in crime arrive with only one objective in mind: to score their fourth victory of the year. At least that would provide a positive end to what’s been a largely frustrating campaign.
“There are some great moments that I will treasure from this year,” reveals Benoît. “The second place in the opening round at Silverstone after a great battle, our victory at Spa in Belgium where André spent his childhood, wins at Interlagos in Brazil and Shanghai in China… But we’ve also had some bad luck along the way, especially at Le Mans! Ending this season with a victory allows us to approach the winter break in the best frame of mind possible, and eases some of the bad luck. The mechanics, engineers, drivers and team: everyone has done an excellent job and shouldn’t be blamed for anything. I never used to believe in the luck factor but changed my opinion this season. The puncture at the start of the Shanghai race could have condemned us, but we did not give up. All three of us were so, so motivated.”
Now the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro crew is ready to go down fighting in Sakhir. With the Ingolstadt firm having secured both world titles, Bahrain offers an opportunity to have fun and celebrate the team’s success, although the will to win still burns brightly.
“I raced there for the first time last year and was positively surprised,” says Benoît. “It’s an interesting design. The layout suits our car better than Shanghai where we were still competitive, but tyre choice will be important as the temperatures play a key role. We’ll need to make the right decisions in terms of tyres and aerodynamic set-up in order to optimise and exploit their ultimate performance. Toyota has made good progress over the last few months and once again the battle will be tight.”
Returning home to his own oasis in Gordes, France, after the final race will provide a first opportunity in some time for Benoît to catch his breath after a very busy end to the season.
“Straight after the Shanghai race Paul Miller Racing had asked if I’d like to help them set up their new Audi R8 LMS, which they’ll be racing in next year’s United SportsCar Championship,” he confirmed. “Straight away I agreed, but then questioned how much use I’d be having never driven a proper GT car before. After all, Japan’s Super GTs are closer to sports-prototypes. But I adapted quite quickly and had a lot of fun. It was also the first time that I’d worked with an American outfit, and was not disappointed! Despite constantly telling me that they were only a small, private team, they really did do an excellent job. They were very professional and there was a good atmosphere, so I was delighted with the experience. We tested at Sebring and then Daytona, the first time I’d driven there. It was a bit strange going around the banking for the first time!”
So is there a chance we’ll see Benoît making selected USCC appearances in 2014?
“Bryce Miller and the team seemed happy with my work and I would be delighted if they called to discuss some appearances,” adds Benoît with a glint in his eye. “But there’s also a lot of work to develop Audi’s new LMP1 car. Originally I stopped racing in Japan so that I had more time, so if this is going to happen it can’t affect my regular schedule.”
After returning from the US Benoît allowed himself a short stop over in Paris where the launch of the new Xbox One and Forza Motorsport 5 was taking place. As the game’s French ambassador it’s a title that means a lot to him.
“The game took my breath away so obviously I’m delighted to be an ambassador,” he added. “I haven’t been able to test the final version with a steering wheel yet but am already impressed. I’d only just returned from Sebring but the game took me straight back there! It’s unbelievable how realistic the graphics are. In fact, I’d say that it’s now the reference point for racing games, and I’m proud to represent it. We’re now getting to a level of accuracy that is quite incredible.”
Back in the real world, storm clouds continue to gather ahead of the #1 crew’s final outing of the year…