An amazing experience at La Sarthe! My sixth participation at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the first driving for Audi, will be remembered as an amazing experience. In my head and heart will forever remain so many little details, the images of which...
An amazing experience at La Sarthe!
My sixth participation at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and the first driving for Audi, will be remembered as an amazing experience. In my head and heart will forever remain so many little details, the images of which I would like to share with you now, simply but passionately.
I arrived in the pits on the first day with an incredible feeling. Nothing had been left to chance and even the floor was raised to prevent any possible flooding. I have never experienced this level of professionalism before in my career. Only when I saw all the spare parts sorted, numbered and stored did I really begin to appreciate the scale of the challenge.
My first meeting with the public at Jacobins Square during scrutineering was a shock! Even though Peugeot was attracting a lot of interest, Romain Dumas and I, Audi's two Frenchmen, had not been forgotten. Both of us felt incredibly well supported. We were very touched by the cheers of the Pescarolo Sport fans. Having both previously driven for the team, it was like we were being relied upon to uphold Henri's name in his absence.
I thought about Henri a lot during this year's Le Mans. The words of Dr Ullrich, who said he was sad for his absence and prepared to help him, brought me a lot of joy. It was at that moment that I realised Audi Sport is another formidable family of motor racing.
We were told that there was a plan and no matter what happened, the team would stick to it. Following the lap times set by Peugeot in qualifying, you could see some quizzical looks on the drivers' faces. Personally, I was expecting to see nervousness so was quite amazed by the team's stoicism. There were some surprises but not enough to shake the beliefs of the team. This quiet strength really cheered me up. There was no arrogance in having that attitude, only the knowledge that we'd done all that was possible in order to win.
I remain really impressed by the communication between the engineers and nine drivers. The briefings included everybody which helped our crew of Marcel Fassler and Andre Lotterer a great deal. All the comments were taken into consideration, whether they were made by a long-term team member such as Kristensen or McNish, or from a new one like me.
Behind the computer screens, there was the population of a town! When the number 7 car had a small problem, I was gob smacked by the speed of the intervention in the pits thanks to the excellent communication between the drivers. Such unity, which is entrenched in the team's philosophy, is one of the keys to Audi's continued success.
I was happy with the job I'd done at the end of my first stint and I started to believe that we could achieve something special and that we held all the aces. When I started my stint we were P5 and then I suddenly found myself in P3. It was incredible because it only took me three laps and I didn't know what was going on with the Peugeots.
The last three hours seemed to take forever. When I got in the car to finish the race, I knew that there were two cars on the same lap; one Peugeot and one Audi. I couldn't afford to take any risks because I couldn't catch the other Audi but I didn't want to get caught by the Peugeot. It wasn't an easy situation. The retirement of the latter didn't bring me any pleasure, as I am never happy when a competitor has to retire, but it did take the pressure off me.
It is true to say that we were very close to winning, but to finish on the podium at Le Mans in my first time there with Audi shows that we have done a good job. Personally I have always dreamed of a podium at Le Mans and now I have got one so I can concentrate on reaching the top step. For sure I am a little envious of Romain Dumas, as it has been a long time since a Frenchman has won Le Mans and I would have liked to be the man to end that run, but I still have plenty of time to do it. To win Le Mans is now my main objective in the coming years. This is the first time I have had the equipment to win and I finished second, so I am happy with my performance.
I have reached the podium before in the GTS class, but that doesn't compare to this year. To be up there as an Audi driver was a different dimension. Audi had just completed a historical hat-trick and there I was in the middle of it, a part of this amazing feat. It was huge. The crowd, the flags, my family and friends somewhere below on the ground, you see nothing but know they are there. The experience is something that I want to taste again. I desperately want it to happen again.
After the podium celebration the whole Audi Sport team went to the Red Bull hospitality area to celebrate the hat-trick with many members of the Peugeot Sport team, who sportingly joined us after being invited by Dr Ullrich. For me, it was mainly an opportunity to thank all the mechanics, engineers and members of the Audi management, without whom this great adventure could never have happened. I owe them a lot, as well as my team-mates Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler. In conclusion I would simply say that I loved working with all of them and I wait impatiently for the moment we can do so again. A big thank you to all of them from the bottom of my heart!