After three seasons in Formula F1, and still third driver of Red Bull Racing, Sébastien Buemi will discover sportscar racing this year, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Swiss driver, who will be at the wheel of the second TS030 HYBRID with Anthony Davidson and Hiroaki Ishiura, already knows TOYOTA as he explains.
Do you have any previous relationship with TOYOTA?
My grandfather has been a TOYOTA dealer for over 40 years now so obviously I was always travelling in a TOYOTA when I was a small kid. In fact, when I started karting when I was five years old my first workshop or pit garage was in the TOYOTA dealership of my grandfather, so I’m coming full circle now as a TOYOTA Racing driver! Since I was a kid I’ve known the TOYOTA brand really well – I’ve basically grown up with it. I have driven a few Toyotas but my first car was a Daihatsu, which is anyway part of the TOYOTA family, when I was 16. It was a little 45kph car so things have changed a bit!
Is it fair to say racing is in your blood?
My grandfather was a racing driver and did a lot of hillclimb races; he was quite successful in Switzerland and around Europe. He was racing sometimes against Jo Siffert, Francois Cervert and guys like that who used to compete in the same events. Obviously it cost quite a lot of money to go racing on a proper circuit so it wasn’t easy but he still did the 1000km of Nürburgring and twice he raced at Le Mans in the 1960s. He had an accident late in the 1960s then started the Toyota dealership which he has built it up really well. It is quite a big garage in Switzerland.
So you are following in your grandfather’s footsteps by racing at Le Mans?
It was a long time ago but it’s good to see that I am going to do it now 50 years after – I’m keeping the family tradition going! He has showed me the photos and we talk a lot about those times so I know more or less what he did. At that time it was difficult to get a lot of pictures so it’s not as easy to get an complete impression of his time at Le Mans but we talk a lot and I have still seen quite a bit. When I told him I am going to race there with TOYOTA Racing he was really happy and proud. He is really looking forward to it and it’s already a date in his diary!
What are your impressions of Le Mans?
It is still a very big race and a huge event. You can really sense the atmosphere there. I think it is possibly the biggest event in motorsport, maybe the Indianapolis 500 is similar but there’s not much that comes close to Le Mans. I watched a lot of Le Mans races on TV so now I am looking forward to going myself.
How does it feel to be a Toyota driver?
I am really proud obviously. I know the TMG people since Formula 1 times, when I used to speak with them a bit and I was already impressed by the organization. I’ve already been to TMG and it is the best motorsport facility I have seen. There are all the tools there to build a really fast car. I am sure we can have a bright future so I am delighted to be part of the team; hopefully we will have a lot of good races.
What are your thoughts about racing a hybrid?
I have driven hybrid cars in the past; I drove the first and second generation of Prius. But the TOYOTA TS030 HYBRID is something else. I have seen the car leave the garage on electric mode, which is a bit similar in principle to the road car – just more extreme! It looks impressive and it’s quite surprising because there is no engine sound. I think hybrid racing is the future and its really nice to see Toyota is pushing a lot in that direction.
How well do you know your team-mates?
I raced against Nicolas and Kazuki in GP2, and also against Kazuki in F1 as well. I met Alex quite a few years ago already, because in F1 you know everyone. He is a really good guy. They are all nice people and very dedicated so it is really good to be working together. One of the really interesting aspects of endurance racing is that we are truly team-mates. Together you have to build a car and a relationship – you all pull in the same direction which sometimes is not the case in other forms of motorsport. It is a different feeling but I am sure I am going to enjoy it.
How does your TOYOTA Racing role combine with your position as third driver for Red Bull Racing?
Obviously I wanted to discover something new and I think having the experience of F1 is definitely going to help a lot. There are no clashes with the calendars so it is quite good because I want to be racing – being third driver you don’t race. Here I am going to race quite a bit – especially if you think about a 24-hour race which is a lot of grand prix! I am really happy to continue racing; LMP1 cars are really fast and it’s a professional environment so it is definitely going to be a very positive experience for me. It’s also interesting to be part of this new technology so I am looking forward to it!