Anthony Davidson is a man with plenty of experience of Japan through his varied motorsport career; this week he enjoys a new chapter when he races at Fuji Speedway as a TOYOTA Racing driver for the first time. We took some time to catch up with Anthony and discuss his feelings on racing in Japan again, plus a look back over his life in endurance racing:
Have you ever raced at Fuji Speedway before?
“Yes, I raced in the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix with Super Aguri, another Japanese Team. It was a good experience to be there. There are so many fans who come along, it’s a very special atmosphere.”
What are your impressions about the track?
“The circuit is a typical modern track. But it’s got a lot of history, it is a very modern circuit and it’s built to a good quality and design. I think it is a very good challenge for the drivers and I really enjoyed driving there. I am looking forward to going back and driving a LMP1 car.”
How do you imagine it will be to be a TOYOTA Racing driver in Japan?
“I don’t know yet but from my experience and what I saw last year, I guess it is fantastic. The support from the local fans is just incredible and you feel very proud to be driving for a Japanese manufacturer when you are in a circuit like Fuji.”
How about the Japanese fans?
“In my days, when I was at Super Aguri with a Japanese team-mate, Takuma Sato, I really got to understand the Japanese culture and how passionate the fans are about motorsport. I’m really looking forward to going back there to feel that again. They really understand motorsport and it means a lot; you really feel that when you are a driver and racing there in Japan.”
Did you have any interesting experience in Japan?
“I have been to Tokyo quite a few times and it is definitely one of my favourite cities in the world. I had some very good experiences there just with the local culture. It is quite different to Europe but I really enjoyed it. I have been to the northern island, Hokkaido and also right to the south, to the Autopolis circuit. It was again a very different sort of scene. I think I have a good understanding of the culture and the country; even a few words as well from my days spent with the Japanese. I love their food too. The food is incredible! I am really a big fan of sushi and sashimi. I think that probably the single coolest thing I have done is go to the Tokyo fish market. That was an experience you never forget.”
Are you enjoying life in endurance racing?
“I am really comfortable here. Having been with Peugeot and now Toyota, two really top teams, it’s finally really given me the chance to get proper results on a world stage. That’s what I think I deserve from this sport. People are, of course, entitled to their opinion of how good or otherwise I am, that’s great, it’s part of the show and it’s something that I can see from that other side of the fence in my TV work. Seeing the two different worlds is really enlightening.”
At what point did you look at endurance as a good option?
“Basically after the very first test I did with an LMP1 car. I met the Peugeot team at the Silverstone race in 2008 and got chatting and we agreed to do a test. After Super Aguri had folded I felt a bit lost as a driver. You spend your whole life, your whole focus tunnel-visioned about getting to Formula One. It takes all of your focus and dedication to get there. And when the bubble bursts, as it did for me pretty suddenly when Super Aguri pulled out, you desperately try to hang on to what you know, an environment that you feel comfortable in. Then the first time I set foot in the car and drove the first couple of laps at Paul Ricard, everything just clicked again for me. I felt more comfortable in that car than I ever did in an F1 car; it suited my style. I loved the power and the balance of the thing, the whole camaraderie between the drivers, the atmosphere. I’m a real team player and I thrive on the whole atmosphere. That probably stems from my time as a test driver where you have to be a team player. At that first test, I knew instantly what I wanted to do for the rest of my career and it was sportscars.”
What was it about an LMP1 car that turned your head?
“When I first drove an LMP1 it was before the current trend in motorsport of reducing power and speed. I just feel fortunate that I got to drive Formula One cars with V10 power and sportscars when we still had the V12 and 800-plus horsepower. That power would put a smile on your face every time, and with heaps of torque, around four times more than in F1, it was almost ridiculous.”
To some it can look like these cars are easy to drive fast but that’s definitely not the case is it?
“Absolutely; this is a real tricky one and I explain this very often. It’s basically downforce that creates the illusion that they are easy to drive, that they are on rails. From the outside it’s very hard to see; you need a very trained eye to see a car that is out of shape and it’s a very critical thing. In our cars there is a huge amount of very subtle detail that you can feel inside the car by the seat of your pants. A spectator hasn’t got a hope of seeing that from the outside or even from an onboard shot and it’s a shame because it makes our job look easy. But then again anyone that’s good at their job makes it look easy! Going through the Porsche Curves, for instance, you are on a knife edge every time. You drive the car on the limit of adhesion and grip whether you are on the power, braking or cornering and that’s what I think a lot of people always see. I’ve seen top, top guys from GT try their hand at LMP1 and LMP2 and struggle like they are a novice in their first-ever race, and vice versa because it’s a completely different world. I’d be one of the first to put my hands up and say that I don’t feel comfortable in a GT car at all, they confuse me and I don’t fully understand how the guys get the speed out of them that they do. To push a car faster with a lot of aero and to trust the grip at high speed, you could call it bravery but you’re also relying on much faster reactions because time is your limitation and that’s what I fell in love with in LMP1. The trick is to get over that mental barrier; the faster you push this car the more chance I have of it sticking to the ground.”
Was the Toyota was the first hybrid LMP1 you’d driven?
“Yes, it was the first time with a hybrid and the boost, when it kicks in, brought back my smile I can tell you! It’s around about 300 horsepower and a phenomenal addition to the combustion engine’s power. Suddenly what we had lost through regulations we got back with technology. We have the advantage of a phenomenal hybrid system and a team that is working better and better together; hugely able, very professional. People ask me for comparisons between Peugeot and Toyota and the answer is that this has a very familiar feeling; two very professional teams with some fantastic technology and talent at their disposal, right at the sharp end of LMP1. It’s a real pleasure to be a part of as a driver. TMG is a top-class facility which they utilise perfectly, the budgets here are not on F1 scales, but it is still on a level where as a driver you can’t really see and feel the difference. It maybe boils down to time spent in the wind tunnel and TMG’s previous motorsport experience but when you look at the car from the outside, and when we look at it from the inside, all the details are there.”
What are your thoughts about your 2012 Le Mans accident now…
“The more you know about this race, and the more you embrace it, the more you need to accept that it is dangerous and these things can happen. I’ve put it behind me now and have tried to learn from it, as you should always do in these situations whether it’s your fault or not. I still don’t blame anyone for the incident, it was just an incident and it’s just Le Mans. It’s what happens every now and again, you need the pace and the momentum and there is traffic with drivers of varied experience involved. It’s difficult from all sides. It’s like driving through central London with learners on the road; incidents will happen. You can’t blame people in those instances, you can’t blame an amateur and equally I am just doing my job and trying to get by as fast and as safely as possible.”
You’re in the mix here at Toyota with the potential for shooting for a Le Mans win…
“I love hearing that, it’s just so cool. I know we have Bathurst, Monaco, Indy, and I don’t know whether I’m just biased but I agree wholeheartedly that Le Mans holds the status as a truly great race.”
So that will make the question easier to answer! If given the choice would you rather be Anthony Davidson Le Mans winner, or Anthony Davidson World Champion?
“Le Mans every time, of course.”