Le Mans and sportscar ace Stéphane Sarrazin has been summoned by Toyota Racing to complete the line-up in its #8 TS030 Hybrid at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The 36-year old Frenchman replaces Hiroaki Ishiura, who withdrew from the race earlier this month due to a back complaint, and completes a front-line line-up for the #8 car, which already includes Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi. Toyota completed an evaluation of former Peugeot works driver Sarrazin in testing at Paul Ricard earlier this week where, as expected of an experienced endurance campaigner, he showed the speed, consistency and team work that the German-based squad was hoping for.
“We are very pleased to recruit a driver of Stéphane's quality and experience to Toyota Racing," team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita noted, "He has a great knowledge of Le Mans and a proven track record, including two second-place finishes, so we are confident he will be a strong addition to our driver line-up. Several team members remember Stéphane very well from his previous time at TMG and we are all looking forward to working with him again.”
The announcement brings Sarrazin full circle with Toyota Motorsport GmbH as, after ten years, he returns to the operation that previously employed him as a test driver for its F1 programme in 2002. Since then, the Frenchman, who contested a single grand prix with Minardi before becoming an accomplished sportscar driver, has finished on the podium three times at Le Mans.
“I am really happy and proud to get this chance to participate at Le Mans for Toyota Racing," the Frenchman admitted, having earlier this week appeared on the Le Mans entry with regular employer Starworks Motorsport, "I have good memories of working with TMG; they work very hard and it is a real pleasure to be back. It has been quite intense this week to become familiar with the team and the car, but I have received great support and I feel we have made good progress. It is a steep learning curve with a completely new technology and we will no doubt learn a lot this season. It's a new and exciting challenge for me.”
Sarrazin drove the TS030 Hybrid for the first time this week at Paul Ricard, joining his new team-mates in the #8 car, as well as the #7 line-up of Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima. The four-day session began on Tuesday with an evaluation of performance items and set-ups before the team's third successful endurance test.
“This test marked the end of our pre-Le Mans programme so our next chance to drive the TS030 Hybrid will be at La Sarthe itself next month," technical director Pascal Vasselon confirmed, referring to the official pre-race test on 3 June, "Clearly, due to the accident we had in April, our preparations have not been ideal, but the time for regrets is over. We have made the best of the situation we faced. Le Mans is undoubtedly a great challenge for Toyota Racing in its first year, but we can be satisfied with our preparations and we are certainly looking forward to the task ahead.”