For the past couple of seasons, any stint or session with Kevin Estre at the wheel of a McLaren GT3 car was worth watching. From his barnstorming pole-position lap for Dorr Motorsport at the 2014 Nurburgring 24 Hours to a fighting, tail-out pursuit in the Attempto Racing 650S in the Brands Hatch Blancpain Sprint race last year, Estre always entertained. He also won twice in Blancpain Endurance last season, sharing a Von Ryan Racing McLaren with fellow factory aces Rob Bell and Shane van Gisbergen.
This year, however, Estre has departed for the ranks of Porsche’s factory IMSA squad, but McLaren has been able to plug the gap with another fast Frenchman, also with a successful background in one-make Porsche racing. Come Ledogar, 24, from Annecy in the east of the country is coming in right at the top level, contesting the full Blancpain GT Endurance Cup.
Professional drivers frequently baulk at suggestions that they’re ‘following in the footsteps’ of anyone, but Ledogar is happy to acknowledge Estre’s status, particularly within his homeland. “He’s a model for any young French driver to emulate, so I hope to do the same, not only when it comes to pure performance but also out of the car, his relationship with the team and so on.”
Ledogar entered the world of one-make Porsche racing in 2012, following several years of Formula Renault and Formula BMW apprenticeship. He immediately made an impression by finishing second overall in Carrera Cup France, driving for Pro GT by Almeras, notching up four wins, two pole positions and five fastest laps.
In 2013, alongside another Carrera Cup France campaign (this time with Sebastien Loeb Racing), Ledogar made his GT endurance racing debut on one of the biggest stages possible, that year’s Spa 24 Hours. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, his debut came in a McLaren 12C (below) run by Hexis Racing. “That was the only time since 2012 I’d raced anything other than a Porsche, until this season,” he says. “It was nice to be able to get a feel for things in the Pro-Am class without big pressure. Unfortunately our car had a problem and retired, but I got to drive for four hours, which was a good introduction to that world.”
The 2014 season brought more endurance experience, this time in the VdeV series, back with the Almeras Porsche squad. But it also saw Ledogar take on more Porsche sprint racing than ever before: Two F1-supporting Supercup races (Catalunya and Spa) and four rounds of the German series, as well as his main programme. The latter saw him lift the French Carrera Cup title in dominant style, with six wins and six pole positions. 2015 was more mixed, with successful outings in Carrera Cup Italy set against a tough Supercup campaign that netted a best result of second at the Hungaroring.
This year’s Endurance Cup campaign represents a fresh challenge, then, but it’s one Ledogar is enjoying so far, “It’s good, the car feels great and I have a good feeling with the team, which also helps when you’re in the car. Compared to the 12C, the 650S is more stable at the rear. The weight distribution is perfect and it’s very reliable, too. It’s a beautiful car to look at and to drive.”
Like any driver coming into the GT3 endurance arena from sprint racing, Ledogar has had a transition to make. “Carrera Cup cars obviously have no ABS or traction control and they’re pure, flat-out sprint races,” he explains. “But my team-mates have helped me hugely, taught me everything I need to know, which gives me great confidence for the future. I’m really lucky to be working with guys like Bas [Leinders, team manager, above], Rob and Shane. There’s no big fight between the drivers with each trying to be quickest, we’re all working in the same direction. I can’t wait to get the racing started!”