Romain Dumas has thrown down the gauntlet to Audi's arch-rivals Peugeot ahead of this weekend's 79th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours, by stating that 'we know how to pull off the perfect race [at La Sarthe], which is something that so far they have never done'.
In company with Audi Sport Team Joest team-mates Mike 'Rocky' Rockenfeller and Timo Bernhard, Dumas delighted his partisan supporters in last year's Le Mans 24 Hours by surviving the vicissitudes of the race dubbed the toughest in the world, maintaining a strong pace throughout and staying out-of-trouble to triumph – each of the trio's maiden victory there.
Their preparations for the 2011 edition, however, were hampered by contact in the Spa-Francorchamps 1,000Kms last month, as well as an incident in qualifying on Wednesday night, when an unsighted Dumas came upon the Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin V8 Vantage of Roald Goethe broadside in the middle of the track on the exit of Mulsanne Corner at the end of the Mulsanne Straight. The Frenchman insists neither was a major setback.
“It's better to have a small mistake before the big race,” he told Crash.net, recalling Spa. “Each car had small mistakes, but the problem is that the level is so high that in a six-hour race, you cannot have any mistake, even a small one. We made a small mistake and we had to pay the price – that's it – but after Spa, we tested a lot and I think we are in good shape now. We've improved the car a lot, our crew [in the #1 car] are a lot better than at Spa – they've practised very hard – so I'm not afraid.
“[In qualifying at Le Mans] I came around the corner, and unfortunately the other car was in the middle of the road. When I came upon it, the driver was trying to go backwards and the marshals were just around the car and not putting out yellow flags anywhere. I came into the corner at the kind of angle where I couldn't see [the Aston] and I couldn't do anything – it was a just a bad moment, and bad luck.
“I didn't see any warning. They said [a yellow flag] was on the left-hand side, but the problem is it's a right-hand corner, so your eyes are on the right-hand side – you would never look on the left there. We know now that for the race there, we will have to take care!
“Luckily, the damage to the car was nothing really, and five minutes later, it was already ready to go again – we just didn't have the time to try it! We can say the R18 is very strong, though, because we only had to change the crash box and the front nose; if it had been during the race, we would have lost, I don't know, maybe three minutes, so the car did a very good job [of withstanding the impact]. The reliability of the car was already very strong, and now we know that the front of the car is also very strong!
“It's obviously better that it happened during practice than in the race, and it wasn't such a big problem. We have two other cars with very good team-mates also working hard, so we are not alone. We are in good shape in terms of performance, so I think it's not a disaster.”
Indeed, in outright performance terms, there seems to be little in truth to choose between the new Audi R18 TDi and Peugeot's 908, with barely half-a-second blanketing the six factory cars at the end of qualifying at La Sarthe. Shrugging off the notion of having pressure upon his shoulders as one of the three defending race-winners, Dumas insists that with all Audi's know-how, expertise and sheer experience of triumphing at Le Mans, the pressure is very much upon fans' favourites Peugeot.
“It's very, very close, I think, and difficult to know what will happen in the race,” the 33-year-old confessed, “but what we are sure of is that it will be a very hard race with a lot of competition. We will have to have the perfect race without mistakes. The reliability of the car is very good – we are convinced of that – so I think we have a good chance. We have to just stay on-track, and hope the bad luck is not on our side!
“It's so close that it's very difficult to predict anything. We know how to pull off the perfect race [at Le Mans], which is something that so far they (Peugeot) have never done – and we have to do it again. At the end, what we want is an Audi win – and if it's the #1, it would be even better...”