Nicolas Lapierre was announced as returning to Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Le Mans line-up just days ago alongside his already confirmed ELMS programme with 10Star DragonSpeed and FIA WEC season with Signatech Alpine.
He topped off his dream week with a lap around Monza in the final track session for the 2017 FIA WEC Prologue in the #8 Toyota TS050 of 1:30.547, the fastest of the test after 14 hours of running.
The DSC Editor caught up with him earlier in the week and asked first how long he’d known that he was set to return to Toyota for the first time since a torrid 2014 season?
“It all happened very late, we started talking in February and the decision was made pretty late.
“I was, of course, always looking to get back into LMP1. At Le Mans I have won a couple of times now in LMP2 and obviously the target is to win it in LMP1.
“I was delighted with the call from Toyota and we know that the car is very good too with a very good line-up in our car. For Le Mans in particular, they wanted somebody that knew Le Mans well as well as being quick.
“They want a real chance to win Le Mans – they haven’t put the third car together to make up the numbers, they’ve done it to get a real chance to take the win if things go the way we hope they will.
“With Stephane (Sarrazin and Yuji (Kunimoto) I think we have a real shot.”
And you’ll race in the third TS050 at Spa too?
“To do Spa as well as a preparation is another very good thing, we get to work together as a team before Le Mans and the big one.
“Even though the call did come late we have plenty of testing before June.”
Aside from Toyota you have a busy year ahead in LMP2, near full season with Signatech Alpine in the WEC and a full season of ELMS with 10Star DragonSpeed.
You know the Oreca 07 well of course (Lapierre was the lead development driver for Oreca on the project).
“DragonSpeed is pushing like hell. Elton Julian is a real competitor and he wanted the team to grow – two cars, some new people, it’s a big push from the team and it’s really great to be part of the challenge. After winning a race and taking three podiums for the team in their first season in the ELMS it was a great season. This year we want to at least equal that record and, I hope, push for more.
“The winter was a very busy one, developing and testing the 07. That was good for me of course because I got a very good knowledge of the car. Its always nice to be a part of the development because you learn a lot.
“We can see already that the pace is there, a real step up from last year’s car.”
The top speeds, in particular, have been impressive, there’s every chance that we might see you, in a Toyota at Le Mans, being overtaken by an LMP2 Oreca?
“The Toyota of course, reaches its top speed much quicker with the hybrid system, maybe there will be a bigger difference with the lower drag aero – we’ll see! Last year it was the LMP2s struggling to pass the GTs, there’s always a different challenge.”
Three top programmes then, a dream year ahead?
“It’s very cool, and even better it’s three programmes that all have a chance to win which is very important. I came back step by step, winning twice at Le Mans and the World Championship last year and now this year maybe having the opportunity to win Le Mans, it’s great to have such opportunities. I’m a very happy man.”