During the early stages of the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours, Anthony Davidson was well in contention for victory, and in the closing stages he and his team-mates looked to be on the verge of pulling off the fightback to end all fightbacks – but whilst he admitted it was 'heart-wrenching' to ultimately be forced out with engine failure as the end of the race neared, the ex-F1 star reflected that he 'might have raised a few eyebrows' with his performance along the way and asserted that he will one day win the race dubbed the toughest in the world 'if it kills me'.
Four hours into the 78th edition of the legendary round-the-clock La Sarthe classic, the #1 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP crewed by Davidson and defending race-winners and fellow former grand prix aces Alex Wurz and Marc Gené was atop the timing screens and spearheading the Lion's challenge. It would remain there until the eighth hour – and then disaster struck.
Alternator issues saw the diesel-powered contender drop well down the order – and set the stage for a stirring charge back through the field to close to within a lap of the two leading Audis. When the engine blew, the #8 machine was within striking distance and would surely have soon fallen victim, meaning all that effectively remained to separate the prowling Peugeot and the flying Davidson, Wurz and Gené from the coveted top step of the podium was the #9.
It will never be known whether the home favourite could have ultimately caught and overhauled its German rival, but the car's three drivers would certainly have had fun trying – and afterwards, Davidson reflected that as ever at Le Mans, the race had been a veritable rollercoaster ride of emotion.
“Never has the word been more appropriate,” the Englishman acknowledged, when asked by Crash.net Radio
if 'gutting' adequately summed up the #1 machine's 22nd-hour retirement. “You can't really put into words the emotion of going through all the tired stints during the night and feeling like a zombie afterwards and all for nothing – it really is heart-wrenching.”
“[Fighting back] was some of the hardest driving I've ever had to do. We were told by the team to drive at 110 per cent, take risks and go flat-out because there was nothing to lose – so that's exactly how I approached it. I loved it at times – driving flat-out, unleashed and showing the world what I'm made of – I really, really enjoyed that, with no holding back, just wringing its neck for everything it was worth. I think I might have raised a few eyebrows through my stints, and I'm proud of what I did.
“I think I impressed especially the Michelin guys, too; they were stunned at the quadruple stint on their tyre at such high speed, with an average of something crazy like a 3m21.5s from all four of my stints, which was quicker than pole position last year. That's something I feel particularly proud of, and it was groundbreaking for Michelin as well. I think they're going to put their tyres in a museum, if I'm led to believe correctly, which is quite touching for me – I'm proud to be a Michelin guinea pig any day of the week!
“I kind of wondered at the time how long it was going to last, though, to do that to a car for such a long time. I was impressed actually by how long it did last! The thing I was most concerned about was the gearbox, because when you're pushing that hard you start locking up the rears under downshifts and you can hear that the transmission isn't happy – but that was strong. That's been one of the things that has been a little bit of an Achilles' heel in the long tests we've done, but the team was on top of it and had done its homework regarding that aspect of the car.
“What happened was just incredible. If someone had made a bet that even one of the Peugeots' engines was going to let go in that race, I would have said it was a stupid bet to make because I've never seen a problem like that in all the testing that we've done. It's strange; a few engines went during the race, in different classes and different cars. I think the track was quick which means you spend more time open-throttle, and it never really helps an engine when you're full-throttle for longer. It was just one of those things.
“[To have to retire] was emotional – the car is your baby out there, she's your girl and your life's in her hands. You're rowing her along, wishing her well the whole way through; you know you're being hard on her, but to see her sitting there in the garage leaking and dripping oil out and looking like a complete sorry state does pull a chord that only a driver would know about, going through a race like this. We all had a bit of a lump in our throats when we finally had to throw in the towel.
“I'm never one to give up and I really enjoyed not giving up, but when you finally have to admit defeat it's hard, when your mind has been totally focussed on clawing back the victory, which we were in with a shout of. I saw the telemetry with my own eyes and I saw the strategy unfolding, and we were knocking on the door of getting back the victory – the fight was on. We put pressure on Audi, they started to make a few errors and they were only going to do so more as we continued to close the gap.
“As far as I'm concerned as a driver, I'm going to win this race one day. I don't care how long it takes – I'm going to be there standing on top of that damn top step of the podium if it kills me.”TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE