Stéphane Sarrazin has admitted that he does not allow himself to even contemplate victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours anymore, after coming so close on three previous occasions only to see the glory snatched away from his grasp.
Widely-regarded as the toughest race in the world to win and often the very cruellest of mistresses, Le Mans is the Holy Grail for all sportscar drivers, and for a Frenchman even more so. Sarrazin has been Peugeot's qualifying star around the 13.6km La Sarthe circuit in recent years, and in 2011, it looked like he was set to strike again, but that lightning-quick turn-of-speed never ultimately materialised on the timesheets.
As a result, the 908 that he is sharing with countrymen Nicolas Minassian and Franck Montagny will begin the race from third on the grid, best-placed of the Peugeots and behind two of the new Audi R18 TDis. Confessing that he had been going all-out to snare the top spot again, the former F1 test-driver – with one grand prix start to his name, with Minardi in Brazil in 1999 – reflects that although pole is clearly not the be-all-and-end-all in a race like Le Mans, it is nonetheless always nice.
“It was a good qualifying, because we have six cars covered by just five tenths, which is very close,” he mused, speaking to Crash.net. “From my point-of-view, I had a slow Aston Martin in the way in the last chicane and I lost a second, which cost me pole. It's like that, though – everybody had traffic at some point – and after that, we stopped looking for qualifying times and worked on the race.
“It's good to start at the front all the time, and we tried to do it. It's true that it's nothing over 24 hours – after the start, you forget about the pole position – but it's a good game, and it's important sometimes to show we can be at the front. We have a good car for the race, though, which is the main target.”
Peugeot may have a good car for the race, but so too, palpably, does arch-rival Audi, whose pace with the new R18 TDi, Sarrazin admits, has come as no surprise. Acknowledging that six or maybe even seven cars could feasibly triumph this weekend, the 35-year-old concludes that although he would dearly love to win the race he has looked set to tame more than once, at Le Mans, you can never take anything for granted.
“On the test day here, Audi were very quick,” he muses, “and at Spa, it was also very close between us, but in the race the pace was different, so we'll see. I don't think too much about victory, because three times I have come very close and lost it, so I prefer to just concentrate on my race and if it happens, it's a dream.”