Nicolas Lapierre wrote a new page in the story of TOYOTA Racing when he won an epic battle to lead the Le Mans 24 Hours in the team’s very first race. Here he tells us about the mixed emotions felt during a challenging, but satisfying, race week.
Nicolas, looking back, what is your impression of the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours ?
“There’s the good and the not so good. I think you have to appreciate the team’s performance for what it’s worth. We stayed on the Audis’ pace for six hours, and even better since we took the lead. I don’t think that some people were expecting that. It shows that the car has good potential since this was only our first race, and it proves the strengths of the hybrid system developed by TOYOTA. On the other hand, we know that we must progress in several areas, such as reliability. We learned a lot.”
One of the more memorable moments in the race was the fight with Benoît Tréluyer. What was it like from your point of view ?
“I’m leaving the pits to start my fifth stint, the third on the same set of tyres. I know he’s ahead of me and I don’t have much time to ask questions. Honestly, I’m not thinking about where I’m going to overtake him. I attack and I see traffic ahead of him in the second chicane. I can take my chance at Mulsanne corner…”
Then, you pass him, and he passes you, then you pass him back…
“I’m able to pass him at the exit of Mulsanne. He passes me back at Arnage. I could have closed the door but I prefer not to take any chances and I retake him at the exit of the corner. I know at that point that it’s very important to pass at that spot. The Porsche curves follow, and I know that he won’t be able to pass me after that. And that’s what I’m able to do.”
Had you ever been in such a battle before?
“In single seaters certainly, and in endurance maybe in 2010 when I was fighting with Allan McNish at the start. But it was certainly less intense, and it wasn’t for first place. It was nice to fight over the course of several corners, to be neck and neck at high speeds. I think the fans must have liked it !”
At that moment, you’re in the lead of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Did you think about it ?
“Yes, I thought of it for an instant. To be in the lead, it’s something special! It was the first time that I led at Le Mans, and the first time for TOYOTA since 1999. It’s obviously special to be the leader of such an event, especially after a duel between two hybrid technologies. Afterwards you have to quickly put yourself back into the race to avoid losing focus.”
Does this change your perspective on things?
“No, not especially. The motivation stays the same, it’s not more or less. But I simply tell myself that my personal progression since my arrival in endurance racing , and that of the team in the last few months, is really coming on. To see the two TS030 HYBRIDs in the top three, and commanding the race… I think for an instant we let ourselves dream a little. This motivates us to be even stronger for the next race and to work hard to reach our goal : to win the Le Mans 24 Hours.”