Chasing the LMP1 dream with Richie Stanaway



By Sam Smith

Richie Stanaway isn’t one for displaying an inordinate amount of emotion in or out of the cockpit, but the steely, committed Kiwi racer’s face displayed significant satisfaction a few moments after he had vacated the Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1 car last weekend.

Selected by the promoters of the WEC as one of three special rookies to be given the chance of sampling one of these ‘spaceships on the ground’ LMP1 cars, the current GP2 and Aston Martin racer made a very favourable impression last Sunday in Bahrain.

Stanaway endured a tough finale to the 2015 WEC season after his #99 Aston Martin’s race was severely compromised by a three-minute stop-and-go penalty for the team going over its tyre allocation during practice.

Twelve hours after completing the final race of the year, Stanway was flicking through his schedule to tick off the next milestone in a busy 2015 season.

Straight after the Audi test the 24-year-old jetted off to Japan for his maiden Super Formula test. After a season of GP2 with Status GP, in which he took two victories – at Monaco and Sochi – Stanaway has far from given up on single-seaters and neither should he.

But it was his next sports car adventure that he was channelling his thoughts towards as he conferred with three time Le Mans-winner Benoît Tréluyer just prior to his first laps before the lunch break. A slight issue with the radio delayed matters but a few laps were at least achieved in the morning session.

Much more noteworthy were the 55 laps he got under his belt in the afternoon.

“I did some new tyre runs so I couldn’t ask for much more,” said Stanaway as the sun ducked down below the Arabian sun. “I’m really grateful to the WEC organisation and Audi Sport of course – I enjoyed every lap.”

“I started to figure the car out quite quickly. It’s obviously very, very different to anything that I’ve driven previously. It’s not easy to adapt and it would take a few more days to get the best out of it, but for a first go I managed to get to a reasonable level and got some good long runs in and I really enjoyed it.

“It always comes into the equation how well the driver adapts to what’s going on in the car. It is not easy to give proper diagnostics when it is your first time in the car because you don’t have any previous references and you are focusing more on learning.”

Also out on the track last Sunday were a pair of Astons that Stanaway had to negotiate several times – it must have felt surreal.

“It was funny to know how it is for guys in LMP1 on the other side of the fence, as I’m usually the one watching the mirrors and seeing them flying by,” he said. “It was a bit strange overtaking the car that I was sat in and racing yesterday.

“One of the coolest things about driving the Audi was the cockpit. The seating position makes it feel like you’re in a space ship really. The vision’s pretty good, almost as good as the GT car, and we have the rear-facing camera in there. The mirrors are positioned nicely and you get a great view out of them.”

Everything was clear in Tréluyer’s view too. The French ace, who has raced with Audi since 2011, was overseeing the test from a driver’s perspective, setting the car up and being on hand for advice.

“The main thing to say to guys like Richie, who are in the car for the first time, is to not overdrive,” said Tréluyer, who along with Marcel Fässler and André Lotterer finished second in both the Bahrain race and the championship the day before. “I over-drove the car when I was a rookie, for sure I did. I wanted to show off, but the best way is to listen to the engineers and be gradual in the approach to driving these cars.

“Richie did a really good job, he was very cool. I gave advice, recommendation and also set the car up. I didn’t know him before to speak to but he’s a nice guy and seems very talented.

Tréluyer emphasised the importance of the relationship between driver and engineer in the modern LMP1 cars.

“You have to have a really good partnership with the engineer because these cars are very complex,” he said. “There are a lot of procedures you need to learn. You have to concentrate on the driving style, but also the way he talks to the team and especially listens to the team. He did that, and that was the main reason it was a good test for him. He approached it exactly the way he needed to approach it.”

Overseeing the test was Justin Taylor. The Denver native engineered Loïc Duval, Lucas di Grassi and Oliver Jarvis in the #8 Audi this season. He liked what he saw and heard from the Kiwi.

“We were interested in seeing what Richie could do and how his comments compared to the guys we’re used to,” said Taylor. “It was clear that his feedback was pretty much just in line with our regular guys. I could tell he was very sensitive and could pick things up straight away.”

“One of the things we noticed and actually appreciated was that when he didn’t feel anything or there wasn’t a big chance, he didn’t say anything. It keeps it simple and we appreciate little things like that.”

This was no glory run for Stanaway – there was genuine evaluation to be done on the car in preparation for Audi’s fightback against Porsche in 2016.

“We had some interesting tyres that we wanted to test and some new suspension components,” said Taylor, “so we just wanted to run through and get some initial impressions. There wasn’t anything new that we hadn’t tested with one of our factory drivers, but it was good to get the impression and opinions of someone new to us. I thought he did a really good job. He wasn’t overwhelmed and for his age he was very impressive.”

Stanaway scooped up his helmet and the rest of the kit as he hurried to the airport and his flight to Japan for the Super Formula test. As he did so, he glanced back at the Audi being readied for freighting back to Neuberg. Was it a glance in to his future? Or just a tantalising last glimpse of an unforgettable experience in which he could star one day in the future.

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