“You’ll be replacing a legend!” That’s a phrase I’ve heard on many occasions since it was announced that I would replace Tom Kristensen – ‘Mr Le Mans’ himself – in 2015, and join forces with Loïc Duval and Lucas di Grassi for a full FIA World Endurance Championship campaign that begins at Silverstone in April.
I was so excited when I found out that I had been given the seat that I hadn’t thought too much about who I was actually replacing and what it meant. However, it wasn’t long before my new team-mates took it upon themselves to remind me that I was taking over from the ‘greatest sports car driver in the world’. No pressure then, guys!
For me to step up to a full-time Audi Sport Team Joest drive is a dream that has finally come true, something I have been working on since I joined Audi in 2008. It’s been a long time coming, but that only adds to the sense of fulfilment and satisfaction at finally being given this incredible opportunity.
It’s now that the hard work really starts. I am more than aware that my results on the track will be the only justification for my place among Audi Sport’s other full-time WEC drivers. But results should come easily in an R18 e-tron quattro, right? Wrong! That might have been the case in the past, but we’re now entering the greatest and most competitive era in sports car racing since the Group C days.
The 2015 campaign will be tough. Toyota will push to improve an already extremely competitive package. In a very short period, Toyota has proven to be a formidable opponent. It showed as much by taking the WEC title last year, after Audi’s successes in 2012 and 2013, but I suspect that there was still a sense of disappointment as the team failed to add that coveted Le Mans victory. We can definitely expect a hard time from the Japanese manufacturer.
Porsche’s competitiveness in its first year back came as no surprise – and a winning end to the WEC season is a warning to all of us.
Our family rival has a new car for 2015, so will undoubtedly be a championship contender. I often get asked what it’s like to compete against our ‘sister’ brand. In truth it doesn’t matter who our competition is, our objective is to win races and we will fight them just as hard as we would any other manufacturer.
And then we have to add the eagerly anticipated Nissan LMP1 to this mix. From what I’ve read and seen on various websites, it’s clear the front-engined, front-wheel-drive route is an interesting one to take and only time will tell if they’ve come up with something special. I love the fact that Nissan has gone with a completely different concept and it’s testament to the current FIA regulations that engineers and designers have the technical freedom to think outside the box: four manufacturers, four completely different philosophies.
Despite the strength of our competition, and the current regulations not being particularly favourable to our diesel engine, we enter the season positive that we can fight to regain the WEC title and, indeed, fight for our 14th Le Mans 24 Hours victory.
It’s incredible to think that Audi only made its debut at Le Mans in 1999 – when, as a 15-year-old, I was still karting.
Hopefully our strength will once again be underlined at Le Mans. With Audi’s experience and incredible ability to deliver results under pressure, only a fool would write us off ahead of the season. Plus, of course, ‘Mr Le Mans’ will be cheering us on from the pits.