I can’t believe that the Le Mans 24 Hours is nearly here! It seems like yesterday I was in Ofterschwang, at the Audi Sport winter fitness camp, preparing for the season ahead. Even back in February, there was talk of this year being one of the greatest and closest fought championships in sports car history. But just ask any boxing fan who stayed up to watch the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight last month: there’s a big difference between expectation and reality. But if Silverstone and Spa are anything to go by, then Le Mans could be an absolute classic and I for one can’t wait.
By looking at the points table and the race results from the first two races, it would be easy to assume Audi (and car no7 in particular) has been utterly dominant. Anyone who watched closely will know that’s not the case.
My team-mates Benoît Tréluyer, André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler have done an exceptional job to come away with two wins thanks, in part, to the Audi R18 e-tron quattro’s ability to look after its tyres.
It remains to be seen if this trend will continue at Le Mans, but it could be key.
At Spa we saw the advantage Porsche has with its 8MJ hybrid system. It is clearly an advantage in pure lap time but it also makes racing them, and more importantly overtaking and staying ahead, extremely difficult. On several occasions I was behind a Porsche as it caught traffic in Eau Rouge and I was able to carry much more speed up the hill through Raidillon, but just as I was thinking of pulling out to make a pass the Porsche was able to pull clear. It doesn’t make our lives easy, but it has led to some incredible on-track battles.
For Loïc Duval, Lucas di Grassi and myself in the no8 Audi, Spa was a frustrating weekend. An ECU problem cost us time and we slipped from third to seventh. When leaving the track on Sunday morning, however, it wasn’t the result that was playing on my mind but the practice accident that left Toyota driver Kazuki Nakajima in hospital.
I had just jumped in the car and was on my out lap heading to Les Combes. As I stayed left to let the no7 car pass, I felt a huge impact from behind.
It turns out that Kazuki was following the no7 Audi closely and was blinded by the spray from both our cars. He didn’t see me until a split second before the impact and therefore had no time to react, crashing directly into the rear of my Audi and causing huge damage to both cars in the process. I would love to see him back in a car for Le Mans and I wish him a speedy recovery.
The accident does highlight a current issue, namely the level of visibility when racing in the wet – especially at tracks such as Spa, where the spray seems to linger in the air forever.
It’s not the first time that such an incident has happened – think back to the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix, when Michael Schumacher crashed into the back of David Coulthard as David tried to let him past.
We shouldn’t wait until it happens again, potentially with a more serious outcome, before considering what can be done to avoid such a scenario. Do we need better flashing lights on the rear of our cars in wet conditions, or do we need stricter rules governing how much spray is considered dangerous? I don’t have the answer, but I hope that it is given consideration for the future.
Two races in and this hasn’t been the start to the championship that my team-mates and I had wanted. But with Le Mans approaching and double points on offer, the 24 Hours would be a great time for all the pieces to fall into place.