13 June 2014
Le Mans 24 Hours: Anthony Davidson - Q&A
Crash.net chats with Anthony Davidson ahead of his bid to claim a maiden Le Mans 24 Hours victory for himself and Toyota.
This is your third Le Mans with Toyota when you look back at the previous two, and your other starts here, what have you learned for this year compared to previous years?
Well actually, to be brutally honest, I've hardly done any training at all because I'm still recovering from a six week cough and chest infection. It's been awful so I'm not as fit as I should be or could have been but I feel ok in the car, for what it's worth, and I felt that it was better to be healthy rather than fit and sick. My general fitness is good enough so it's not really been a concern for me but it's been a battle to get myself healthy for this one.
During the race you've got two years of experience with the car and since your crash two years ago [when lapping at GT car] how have you changed with that?
I've got a bit more fear now! I've got my pilots wings now and I don't want to get any more, it's as simple as that. I'm more trepidatious in the traffic and I don't trust them as much as I used to and I'm not quite as bullish as I was, especially at this track. At other tracks yes [I'm a little more aggressive] but you don't mess around here and I learned that the hard way. I said at the time that I thought that maybe it would be the crash that would help me to win Le Mans because I don't think that my style was perhaps right for this race before. You can be aggressive when you need to be but it was too much in the past. Even though I still claim it wasn't my fault now I don't leave any room for luck and I want to know that I'm fully in control. We're the experienced ones out there, we've got the fast cars and doing the overtaking. It's in our control where we choose to overtake and even though I was definitely turned in on in 2012 I now back out of those situations. They come along pretty rarely but this is a scary track and a dangerous track, and we saw that last year, so I don't want it to happen again.
How difficult is it to adapt from in F1 and single seater racing you can put almost complete trust in the cars around you that your rivals won't do anything silly and then you come here and with so many amateur drivers that you do see some crazy things happen over the 24 hours?
We even saw it in the practice session, that people were having Le Mans withdrawal symptoms and were a little bit desperate out there. It's a track that's high speed and the room for error is limited. I feel much more in control now though as a driver and much more prepared. I'm looking forward to the race and I know that I feel that I know the risks around the track and with traffic so that's as much as you can do be prepared. We see fully experienced drivers make mistakes around here and be caught out and that's what makes this race exciting in many ways.
Do you still learn when you go out on track, especially around here?
With the new regulations you still learn. Especially with the new regulations this year it's been a learning curve for the team, drivers and engineers. There's a lot going on with these cars now and it's a bit like in F1. These are complex machines and it takes a switched on driver to get the most from them and extract the speed and consistency. That's been the biggest change to get your head around and for sure you're always learning. I don't think that as a driver you ever stop learning.
With that in mind when you're out there do you find that it's a distraction to have to learn so much?
It starts to become a rhythm at the end and it's only in the beginning that you're thinking on your feet to try and find the best solution. When you come back to the engineers' truck some of the things that you felt start to make more sense to you and you start to put that into practice. This is what we go through now and in the past we did that with some different aspects of the car but there's more to it now than ever before. These are complicated cars so it's important that you understand all the systems as a driver.
Still fun to drive though?
Yeah, they're really fun to drive and they're twitchier than they were before because of the reduced downforce and drag, skinnier tyres and despite focussing on fuel saving it doesn't take any of the adrenaline of being out there. It's more than ever before and the chances of making a mistake feel even higher so it's certainly fun and the car has more power through the hybrid system than last year. 1000 PS of four wheel drive boost as you exit the corners is a big difference! This car feels pretty cool for the driver and for me they're easily one of the best cars in the world to drive.
The preparation for this race has been fantastic and Toyota is coming in as the favourite, what would it mean to you to win the race?
It's funny because we keep hearing the word favourite but we can't forget that Audi maybe had a proper chance to win at Silverstone, if it didn't rain so we have to factor in that we had a bit of luck to win that race. At Spa the Audi's didn't have the speed for some reason but you can't count them out for this race. What we've seen in testing is that they're right there with us. Porsche set the pole time at Spa so I think that it's going to be the closest Le Mans that I've ever been involved in and you're only the favourite once you've crossed the line and taken the victory. Until that point so many things can go wrong because this is a race full of surprises. Look at what we've seen already before proper qualifying has even started and I never would have expected to see the types of crashes from yesterday so early on. It's because all the teams are feeling pressured because it's going to be so tight. It's going to be a good race to be watching.
Do you find it hard from being the centre of attention when you go from being the centre of attention in a single-seater, even taking into account your test driver roles, to suddenly having to look at what's best for the car overall?
No, not at all because I think that it takes a specific type of driver to deal with the demands of endurance racing. The complete, selfless feeling of handing the car over to someone for four hours. Having to compromise on things like car setup, seating position and controls...how you play it is a genuine relationship and there's no room for an ego there. You can look at many F1 drivers that would be bloody fast over a single lap but that they'd upset their teammates in the blink of an eye. The whole eco system wouldn't work and would fall apart [with that attitude].
Do you think that it's more than a co-incidence that at Toyota yourself, Buemi, Wurz and Sarrazin were all test drivers?
You have to be a real team player to be a test driver and you dedicate all your time to set the car up essentially for someone else to race. You wanted to show your speed and step into an F1 and show your skills to one day be a fully-fledged driver but you had to play the game when you're a test driver and it really beats you into being a more open person, a more respectful person and a team player because otherwise you wouldn't have a job. It's through those, what I'd call, tough years of doing the heavy groundwork that put you into a really good position to get along. We all still want to beat each other, we're as highly motivated as any F1 driver, but we're also wise enough to know that you have to get along with the people that you're working and that you have to make compromises in this game.
By Stephen English and Ollie Barstow
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