Mat Fernandez sent this interview a day or so again, a catch up with Frederic Sausset, the 2016 selection by the ACO for the Garage 56 slot. French business owner Frederic is a quadruple amputee after a devastating infection and has motivated himself through motorsport, the Garage 56 effort is designed to take forward the technology to assist those with disabilities.
This somehow seems an ideal day to publish a story of true bravery and resilience from a Frenchman, Vive La France! Ed
Last June, the ACO announced that quadruple amputee Frederic Sausset would be driving an LMP2 car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2016 as a Garage 56 entry. Before participating in the event, the Frenchman and his team are making significant preparations. DSC’s Mat Fernandez recently talked to Sausset and assessed the project’s progress.
Frederic, how are you performing in the VdeV Championship?
It’s been very positive. I have discovered pretty much everything about racing this year. I feel well integrated now. On the track, the other VdeV competitors consider me as a “normal” driver, so I guess I have done a good job. On our last race in Magny-Cours, I was able to cover a total of 74 laps in excellent conditions. My lap times are improving with each race weekend too. It is really encouraging.
Your project started almost two years ago. You have improved your pace on the track significantly. Have you surpassed your objectives as a driver?
When Vincent Beausmenil and Pierre Fillon granted us Garage 56 for the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2016, they made it clear that I would need to show speed and train a lot. Last week, they attended the unveiling of the car that we will race in Le Mans [an LMP2 Morgan powered by Audi], so I asked them if what I had demonstrated so far had met their expectations. It had, but, don’t get me wrong, I need more driving time. As I said, my lap times keep on improving but no longer in giant leaps like they used to. The laws of physics keep reminding me that I only have part of an arm to do the same job as other drivers with two full arms and hands. What is really improving now is my physical condition. At the beginning of the season, I was subject to painful tendinitis. I have since strengthened my muscles with the help of people who understand how endurance racing places a strain on the human body. I have two to three workout sessions each week, to which I add some swimming or cycling. In that respect, it is definitely paying off.
Last time we talked, you told us that one of the areas you were working on with your team was the driver changes, as you thought you could gain some precious time in that area. How have things evolved since?
We have seen a dramatic change in that area. At the beginning of the season, a driver change would take us about five minutes, as mechanics had to remove parts of the bodywork in order to detach extensions going from my body to the pedals. This is no longer the case. We only need 2 min to 2 min 30s to do this now.
The hunt has been encouraging so far. We need another half a million euros to reach the 3 million target that I have set. I definitely think we can make it. I will revert to a paying driver only as last resort. I actually hope I will have the luxury of choosing our third driver, someone who would really embrace the philosophy of this adventure. [The second driver is his friend and coach Christophe Tinseau.]
You presented your car to the public a few weeks ago. What are your development plans for this winter?
I hope we can test our car before the end of the year, but it won’t be easy. We have a lot of work ahead of us before that can happen. First, there is the engine: we are lodging an Audi block in this chassis, and that in itself is a real challenge, which has never been done before. Second, I need to fit into that car. I have to admit, we were taken by surprise here. Put a JS53 next to a Morgan: the latter is definitely bigger… but that is not the case of the cockpit. In fact, I have less space than I imagined. Transposing whatever we developed on the JS53 onto the Morgan has therefore not been as easy as we thought. But we will get there.
How did you staff your team for this adventure?
Onroak currently provides the mechanics to support us in VdeV Championship. This solution comes at a significant cost, but we get the very best in return. They are extremely invested in this project. Naturally, they will also support our LMP2 effort throughout the 2016 season.
What are your racing plans for next year?
We will be racing in Silverstone for the start of the WEC/ELMS season. Then, if our budget is substantial enough, we will be at Imola before heading to Le Mans.
Along with the presentation of the car, you also launched your foundation. Can you tell us some more about what you are trying to achieve?
Almost a year ago now, I wrote a book called Ma course à la vie [Racing for life]. In it, I talked about my story and also addressed the issue of how society can improve the condition of people with a handicap by restoring their mobility. I simply created this foundation to support some of these ideas. I also wanted this adventure to be a little less personal and reach the general public.
Mat Fernandez (@matlemans)