The battle to stay on terms with Porsche
If there’s one country on the FIA World Endurance Championship calendar that most people look forward to visiting, it’s Japan. For me and several team-mates it’s like a home away from home, but you don’t need to have lived or raced there previously to feel that way. There really is something very special about the country, not least its knowledgeable and enthusiastic motor sport fans.
Where else in the world do drivers arrive at the track on a sodden morning to find fans standing in the open, full of passion and sometimes offering gifts, their mood not dampened by having slept overnight in their cars? They really are the craziest fans in the world, in the nicest possible sense. I’m pleased they got to see some great racing.
For Audi it was disappointing to leave Fuji with third and fourth places in the race and Porsche now leading the championships for both manufacturers and drivers, but that’s testament to the impressive job our rival has done this year. While the result might not show it, Audi took a big step forward in Fuji with the introduction of a new aero kit. It was the closest we had been to the Porsches in qualifying and, at the start of the race, it looked as though things might go our way. The Audi was the quicker car in the initial stages when the track was at its wettest, but as it began to dry the Porsches gained an advantage. It was in the next few hours that the damage was done. They were not only quicker on wet tyres on a drying – yet slippery and slower – track, but also in the next two stints as all cars switched to intermediates.
By the time the track dried, Porsche’s lead was comfortable enough that we were not able to put them under any pressure. The only consolation was that Audi achieved the quickest stint in the dry. This hints at what might have been possible had it not rained and gives us some optimism as we head into the final two races of the year.
The wheel-to-wheel battles have been really impressive this season and the fight between Mark Webber and Marcel Fässler was extremely entertaining. While quite often it’s LMP1 that grabs the media headlines, close racing exists throughout the field and sometimes even more so in the LMP2 and GTE classes. What’s most important to me is the respect shown between drivers. That allows you to fight hard and fair.
At Fuji it was the LMP2 class that attracted attention – unfortunately for the wrong reasons. It’s difficult for me to comment without knowing all the facts, but it’s clear that the same respect does not exist between some LMP2 drivers. To see so much contact and the championship lead change as a consequence is a real shame, and I really hope it doesn’t detract from the eventual outcome. I don’t buy into the fact that contact was intentional or that there was any malice, but it is fair to suggest that more caution should be taken when you’re a lap down.
As we near the final couple of WEC rounds, it’s a good time to look back and reflect on the year as a whole. For me it’s been incredible to step up and become part of the full WEC programme. Good results have been more difficult to achieve than I had ever imagined, but I’m continuing to develop as a driver – much more so than I’d have thought possible.
Every race weekend presents a continuous learning curve and I feel Loïc [Duval], Lucas [di Grassi] and I are getting stronger as a team. It’s been positive to see us take the fight to our sister car since Le Mans and our goal has to be a podium finish in each of the two remaining races.