Nancy Knapp Schilke
Stephane Sarrazin has landed the available seat in the #8 TS030 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans contest in his home country. The Frenchman accepted the drive with Toyota Racing after Hiroaki Ishiura had to bow out due to severe pain in his back.
“I am really happy and proud to get this chance to participate at Le Mans for TOYOTA Racing. I have good memories of working with TMG; they work very hard and it is a real pleasure to be back,” Sarrazin said.
Toyota makes their return to the prestigious endurance race this year with the Hybrid. The TS030 will also take on the rest of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC); after missing the first two events. Their goal is, of course, to show the reliability and the endurance of the Hybrid.
It’s a new and exciting challenge for me.
Sarrazin will take on the challenge with his teammates in the #8 Hybrid, Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Buemi, in the June classic. He made his debut in in the 24 hour race in 2001 while he was the third driver for Prost GP in Formula One. Besides his years as a test/third driver for F1 teams, and his rallying efforts including the World Rally Championship racing for Subaru, the 36 year old driver has contested Formula 3 and other single-seater events. Sarrazin knows what it feels like to be a champion racer, and how to fit into a new team.
The Frenchman recently tested with Toyota at the Paul Richard circuit in France and with his experience proved without a doubt that he has the consistency and the speed. Sarrazin also is well known as a team player, and he is also a known commodity with Toyota when he was a test driver for their 2002 Formula One team.
Sarrazin commented, “It has been quite intense this week to become familiar with the team and the car, but I have received great support and I feel we have made good progress. It is a steep learning curve with a completely new technology and we will no doubt learn a lot this season. It’s a new and exciting challenge for me.”
Sarrazin has competed in the American Le Mans, the FIA GT1 series and the (European) Le Mans Series; he has notched pole positions and race victories as a sports car driver. Over the years, the Frenchman has competed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans ten times with his best overall finish twice in second place; both with the Peugeot LM P1 team. He also finished 2nd in the LM GT1 class with Aston Martin. While with the Peugeot team, Sarrazin landed three consecutive poles on the La Sarthe circuit.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “We are very pleased to recruit a driver of Stephane’s quality and experience to TOYOTA Racing. He has a great knowledge of Le Mans and a proven track record. We are confident he will be a strong addition to our driver line-up.”
Not only is it important to Toyota to finish the demanding event in France, they are also aiming for the overall victory. The experience of Sarrazin on the circuit and shaking down a new prototype is a plus for the Japanese manufacturer. The extra element for Toyota is that Le Mans is the third round of the 2012 WEC, and Toyota has missed them both. While they had planned to sit out the first round in Sebring, Florida, the team was forced to miss next round at Spa when the accident occurred in testing to their only chassis. Thus they have been up against the clock to prepare for Le Mans.
Pascal Vasselon, Technical Director: “Clearly, due to the accident we had in April, our preparations have not been ideal but the time for regrets is over. We have made the best of the situation we faced. Le Mans is undoubtedly a great challenge for TOYOTA Racing in its first year but we can be satisfied with our preparations and we are certainly looking forward to the task ahead.”
Earning a possible victory against the mighty Audis will be tricky but they have been preparing for this showdown since late last year. They will be at the famous French circuit for the one day test on June 3rd.
For all sports car drivers, teams and manufacturers, the dream of winning at Le Mans can come true.
Sarrazin was originally named by the Starworks Motorsport LM P2 team for the WEC season, which would include Le Mans. However he nor the team have made a comment at this time.