The Tuesday fan base at Le Mans this year seems bigger and keener than ever, and following a frenetic autograph session yesterday on pit lane DSC grabbed a few moments with a small sample of the growing number of endurance converts from Formula 1, including a distinguished Le Mans legend. Remarkably, all of them are racing at Le Mans this year, but between them, have F1 starts in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and 10s.
First up, Juan Pablo Montoya; a Le Mans debutant despite a growing attendance record in endurance racing ‘stateside’:
“It’s a great opportunity for me to learn the circuit and the car. I got some seat time on the Sunday of the test weekend and there were no surprises, so all good so far. It’s a great team and we hope for a good showing but it’s too early in the week to be able to say how we will approach the race. The Ligier is a good car, but it is what it is. We have to wait and see how we can work with the car over the next few days.”
On the other side of the United Autosport garage an upbeat Paul Di Resta similarly reflected on his arrival at La Sarthe and prospects for the week with the #22 Ligier-Gibson:
“Yes, it’s my first time – I am one of those Le Mans virgins! I’ve known Zak for a long time anyway and after Sebring Richard approached me to see how Le Mans fitted with my schedule, which meant I had to miss the test, but I’ll hopefully have enough time over the next few days to dial in.
“Though we’ve had experience with the car at Daytona and Sebring, how we can develop that here is part of the challenge. Hopefully, I’m professional enough to get up to speed and get myself and the car ready, but as a team we’re very open-minded: the car finished fourth last year and our approach is to expect the unexpected. We have a strong driver line up, a new package that went slightly better in the test, but there’s a whole load of things over the 24 hours that can make a difference.”
At the Spa 6 Hours, the Racing Team Nederland squad looked like they had the pace. They led early on in the race and showed great pace early on in the stints. Their Le Mans Test Day though showed some issues with the car.
F1 refugee Guido van der Garde considered the #29 Dallara’s prospects: “It’s hard to say how we will go here. At Spa, we were really fast and had great pace up to the time when we had the issue with the gearbox. We were working hard with the car after that, but after the test was not really happy with the package, we had a lot of problems with the whole front end of the car. But I think once we get the car in the window and get it working with the tyres we could do well.
“It’s the second year for the car here and also for me, so I’m looking forward to the race. The first target is to finish the race, and if we can be top eight I think we can be happy.”
Teammate and 1988 Le Mans winner Jan Lammers continued, “We expected that in the Le Mans Test we could carry on from where we were in Spa but we had a setback. We had an unexpected downforce change at the front where we had more downforce than we calculated for. We didn’t get the maximum from the test day but the guys have used their experience pretty well. I expect a balanced car and I expect all three of us can drive a good race.”
For Lammers, the fact that this is his 26th start and is a former winner never means he stops learning:
“With Guido, I have been really able to pull up my driving. I expect to do a good job this year and be on the pace.”
Given that this may be his last race, he is not worried about the weekend. Le Mans has been a long part of his career but the weekend is not concern: “It is the Monday after Le Mans that I am worried about. I am not worried about the weekend, but the day after.”