For a driver with just three previous starts behind him in the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours, two triumphs heading into the 2010 edition of the race frequently referred to as 'the hardest in the world' was a pretty solid record for Peugeot's Alex Wurz – and the ex-F1 star has admitted that it 'hurt' not to be able to build on that tally after making 'a strong statement' throughout.
Wurz was one third of the crew occupying the #1 defending race-winning machine alongside fellow former grand prix drivers Marc Gené and Anthony Davidson, and four hours into the 78th running of the round-the-clock French classic, it was indeed their car at the front of the field. Fast forward another two hours, and the trio held an advantage of more than two minutes – or two-thirds of a lap – over the pursuing #2 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP. And then, as night began to fall, disaster struck.
“All three Peugeots set off in the lead, and then it was the #1 car with Marc, Anthony and myself which actually had the fastest pace,” Wurz recounted, speaking to Crash.net Radio
. “We overtook the others, pulled out a lead over car #2 and then had an alternator problem. That cost us 13 minutes, and then we were almost close to catching back up and the safety car cost us another one-and-a-half minutes.
“The safety car rule is new. Maybe it works from the safety aspect, but the problem with it is that it can only penalise you. With the old safety car rule, if you were clever you could gain an advantage, and it was a much better system when it could only help you. Now, you can never win in that situation. That is not to my taste.
“Then a puncture cost us another minute, but we were still calculating that we could win. After having the puncture and the bad luck with the safety car, it would have been very close – we calculated about 20 seconds behind the leader by the end of the race, but ahead of the second-placed Audi – but that was all theoretical, because the engine went and we didn't finish.”
The fightback through the night – particularly when the car was being piloted by either Wurz or Davidson – was quite something to behold, as the #1 entry scythed its way up the order. The Austrian was back into third place behind the two leading Audis – and lapping considerably quicker – when the end came 'very, very suddenly' in the 22nd hour.
Preferring to take away the positives from his fourth experience at La Sarthe, however, the erstwhile Benetton, Williams and McLaren ace admitted that the focus had already switched immediately to next year's race, to revenge – and to re-establishing his superb record.
“I just felt tired and a bit empty, but that's normal,” the 36-year-old reflected of the end of the event. “Directly after the race, of course everyone was tired, but what is good is that our CEO said we will definitely have a future and will attack again next year, so that's of course a very positive and reassuring statement.
“[Driving to the limit] is what we are employed for and that's what we enjoy. It was a nice week with finding a good set-up and being the fastest of the three Peugeots. We dominated that [internecine battle]; we were better on fuel consumption, better on tyre wear and faster on lap time – and I think that was quite a strong statement for our car.
“[My winning record] is down to 50 per cent now – and that hurts. You dream of victory, you think of victory, you work 365 days for that victory – and at Le Mans, only victory counts. Yes, it's nice that we put in a good performance, but that's forgotten. For a good performance you get a handshake, but for a win you get a handprint
in the city of Le Mans – and that's a big difference.”
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