Any thoughts of his violent Le Mans shunt are long gone for Loïc Duval.
The rested and incredibly determined Frenchman is raring to tackle the remaining five FIA World Endurance Championship rounds and help Audi Sport team-mates Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi seal the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles.
Loïc has waited three long months to get back behind the wheel of his Audi R18 e-tron quattro. The reigning FIA WEC champion used the unplanned downtime to ensure he properly recovered from a heavy free practice crash at Le Mans, the cause of which remains under investigation.
“The overriding problem I suffered was with my sight,” explains Duval. “It’s not surprising considering the severity of the impact. Only plenty of rest and relaxation allowed it to return to normal, which obviously required a lot of patience! However, this gave me the opportunity to spend time with my family, most notably my sons Martin – who was born nine days before my accident – and Hugo.”
Perhaps I wasn’t quite 100%, but I generally felt OK behind the wheel.
Although the 31-year-old from Chartres, France, was temporarily sidelined, he’s enjoyed incredible support not only from Audi and his loyal fans, but also on-track rivals.
“We’re all driven by our passion for racing, so when things get tough we all stick together,” stresses Loïc. “Romain [Dumas] – who previously raced with me at Audi – and fellow friends of mine at Toyota all asked about my wellbeing, which was nice. I was also incredibly moved by the support from Audi. As a huge manufacturer, it would be easy to assume that everyone there is a faceless employee working within a massive corporation. But this is simply not true; they are an amazing racing team.
“I’m relatively new to Audi – this is only my third year with them – yet everyone, including the mechanics, engineers, racing and company directors, and my team-mates all cared for me. That’s when I truly realised that I belong to an exceptional group of people; they’re more like a family. We’re all very close, and that certainly helped in the psychological aspect of my recovery.”
Loïc rejoined Audi a few days ago when they inaugurated their new motorsport headquarters in Neuburg, just 15 miles from Ingolstadt. The 47-hectare base includes a private test track and will oversee every aspect of racing activity for Germany’s brand with the four rings: “Our facilities are astonishing and really boost the entire team,” admits Duval. “It’s incredibly stimulating to compete for a manufacturer so heavily involved in motorsport.”
After recently testing in Germany, the 2013 Le Mans winner is looking forward to the fourth FIA WEC round of 2014: the 6 Hours of COTA in Austin, Texas. And there’ll be no second thoughts from Loïc about whether he’s ready to reappear in the series, after all doubts were dismissed following his Super Formula return in Japan last month. Duval used the championship’s fourth round to ensure he was race sharp before returning to the #1 R18 e-tron quattro’s cockpit.
“I felt fine in Motegi,” declares Loïc. “Perhaps I wasn’t quite 100%, but I generally felt OK behind the wheel. Fourth place wasn’t ideal but, personally, it felt like I’d won the race! The smooth weekend also helped me to relax and cleared any doubts that might have existed before travelling to Japan. My target was always to be fully fit for Austin, and I’m now feeling better with every day that passes.
“I visited the hospital last Tuesday where the FIA doctors wanted to check me over again after racing in Japan, and it looks like I’ve fully recovered. Physically and mentally I feel exactly as I did before the crash. Perhaps I’m even hungrier to succeed than I was before!
“As always, we will approach the final five races in exactly the same way as usual: aiming to win. Although I’m no longer in contention for the Drivers’ Championship after missing Le Mans, the sister Audi and leading Toyota are only six and 26 points ahead, respectively, so I’ll be giving it my all to help Lucas [di Grassi] and Tom [Kristensen] clinch the title, while ensuring that Audi defends their Manufacturers’ crown.”
That plan relies on a strong showing at a circuit where Loïc scored pole position and victory alongside Kristensen and former co-driver Allan McNish in 2013. “I really like both downtown Austin and the track,” reminisces Duval. “For a new circuit, COTA is very fun to drive. There are plenty of quick corners – not to mention a severe gradient – and multiple overtaking opportunities.
“Our excellent race there 12 months ago really set us up for the title. However, there’s no guarantee of success this year and, with our rivals demonstrating superb form in 2014’s first three races, we’ll need to perform at our absolute best to ensure Audi carries its Le Mans-winning momentum into this event. Anyway, it’s about time we returned to racing.”
6 Hours of COTA schedule*
Thursday 18 September
Free Practice 1: 14:45 – 16:15
Free Practice 2: 19:30 – 21:00
Friday 19 September
Free Practice 3: 10:20 – 11:20
Qualifying: 18:35 – 19:00
Saturday 20 September
*All times local
WEC Manufacturers’ Championship
1. Toyota 115 pts
2. Audi 114 pts
3. Porsche 60 pts
WEC Drivers’ Championship
1. Buemi/Davidson/Lapierre 80 pts
2. Fässler/Lotterer/Tréluyer 60 pts
3. Di Grassi/Kristensen 54 pts
9. Loïc Duval 18 pts