Le Mans: it’s been six years since I was last here and I’m really looking forward to getting back out on the track in a race situation. It’s an amazing place with an incredible atmosphere. Around 250,000 motorsport fans travel to watch the 24-hour race, with tens of thousands of those coming from the UK and cheering on the British contingent. On Monday we had technical scrutineering in the city centre and that’s an awesome experience, with so many fans turning up.
When I was last here in 2012 I was in an LMP2 car, a Judd-powered Lola B12/80 with Status GP, but unfortunately we had to retire from the race. This year I’m competing with BMW in the GTE-Pro class, racing the #82 BMW M8 GTE alongside team-mates Augusto Farfus and António Félix da Costa.
We had testing earlier this month, which has helped me reacclimatise to the circuit and get a good feel for how the BMW M8 GTE performs here. Going through the Porsche Curves again was a fantastic feeling. We did around 1,200km combined in the #82 BMW M8 GTE and the #81 sister car during the test day, putting in long runs to try and understand the car’s performance and how to get more out of it.
This year is quite different to when I was last at the track. One of the main differences is that I will have both LMP1 and LMP2 class cars lapping faster than us, so I will have to be looking in my mirrors more to make sure I’m overtaken safely at the same time as driving flat out. Another key difference is that the BMW entry is a factory effort: the level of preparation and support personnel is on a different level – the scale is huge.
The Le Mans track, Circuit de la Sarthe, is quite unique in its high-speed straights, which should make for some good action come the race. As a temporary circuit with a mix of public roads and race track, the surface is an inconsistent mix and proves to be an interesting challenge. Its length is one thing – it’s 13.6km or 8.4 miles and has 38 turns – but its combination of corners is the main reason that it is such a fun track to drive. The highlight for me has to be the Porsche Curves: they require real commitment and precision.
So far, the M8 has felt good and balanced around the circuit. We were a little off the pace in testing and since then we’ve had a Balance of Performance (BoP) change that’s given us more power but also more weight. There are 17 cars in the GTE-Pro category and the BoP aims to level out the field and make the racing close and interesting. Currently, the BoP is unfortunately not working in our favour.
We’ve now completed the three qualifying sessions to decide the grid and know we will start 12th in the GTE-Pro class thanks to António’s fastest lap of 3:50.579. It’s a highly-competitive class and we know that 24-hour races are not decided in qualifying. It will be a challenging race situation, especially with the BoP, but we need to keep looking at ourselves and ways we can improve our package regardless of that situation and hopefully come the race we will be in the mix with a slick strategy and strong reliability that will see us where we want to be at the end.