Le Mans and Lohéac, a little more than 200 kilometers separate these two extremely popular cornerstone locations in motorsport. Endurance is king at the first in June, and Rallycross reigns at the second at the end of the summer. Two very different worlds, so close yet so far. Some have taken on both Le Mans and Lohéac, such as Sébastien Loeb, as a driver; Andreas Roos, as an engineer with Audi; Patrick Morisseau, as Race Director or marshals steward. Lap by lap, here Loeb shares his thoughts on these two legendary racing spots in France.
Second at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Pescarolo, the French driver claimed the second step on the podium this past Sunday at Lohéac (content in French) with his Peugeot 208 at the French round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship (WRX).
One thing never changes between Le Mans and Lohéac, Sébastien Loeb is always a draw! His arrival at the 24 Hours caused a sensation during Test Day in 2005, and he was once again the center of attention for the 75,000 spectators in attendance this past weekend.
Sébastien Loeb: "The effort in concentration is completely different. WRX is an absolute sprint, and Le Mans is all about endurance. For one, you take off for a little more than two minutes of racing, for the other two and a half hours. Right from the start in Rallycross, you need to take every risk you can. Your adrenaline and the intensity are at a fever pitch. You react within a tenth of a second, surrounded by the other competitors. It is very hot in the car, especially since the engine emits a great deal of heat, and there is no way to avoid the dust from getting into the cockpit. You sweat a lot, a whole lot!"
"In endurance, the concentration it takes can seem less intense but obviously it has to go on longer. The physical demands have nothing to do with it. You don't battle in the same way with the other competitors. For 24 hours, ideally, you do your race, avoid others and try to follow lap by lap an optimal pace. At certain spots on the circuit, like for example in the Mulsanne Straight, you know you need to hydrate and monitor your screens," before just a few moments later heading into the Porsche curves at 240 km/h.
From his apprenticeship in Endurance then in Rallycross, the nine-time World Rally Champion reveals two aspects from both types of racing that he had to learn to master: "The aerodynamic downforce of the prototypes impressed me. In the rain during my very first session with the Pescarolo, my blood ran cold. I said to myself, wow it's brutal when you lose control of the car."
In his Peugeot 208 WRX, the ferocity on the track, including contact with other competitors, surprised him. "[It's a] car quite similar to a WRC, with a few more horses (550 hp for the 208 WRX, Ed.). In Endurance, you have to maintain. In WRX, you just have to go and accept taking major risks, looking ahead and behind you, with all the dust, never slipping up, focusing on the accelerator. All that with rather soft tires given the mixed-surface nature of Rallycross, but they pleasantly surprised me. It's cutthroat during the race between the competitors, but we respect each other. We don't play dirty. If infractions occur, penalties can be imposed by the Race Director. The cars must be reliable, even though we do not cover a significant number of kilometers (approximately 60 km, Ed.), and especially solid in case of contact."
Alone in his car, whether in Endurance or WRX, Sébastien Loeb adopts his strategy differently. "Pit stops at Le Mans are more on the minds of the engineers than they are ours," laughs the French driver who admitted that he too failed to sleep the night before the 24 Hours. "It doesn't happen often. It was the stress of the 24 Hours!" In Rallycross, in radio contact with his spotter perched on a building overlooking the circuit (less than 2 km long in Rallycross as compared to more than 13 km at Le Mans), he lays out his plan then improvises and adapts significantly. In WRX, there are no pit stops but a "joker" lap to spice up the race. The question is, when do you do your joker lap? "It all depends if I'm one of the leaders, who is behind me, where I am on the circuit. It comes down to a lot of information I get from my spotter since the action is so intense in just a few minutes of the race. The spotter gives me a quick analysis of the situation and plays the role of my live rearview mirror. I'm sure it comes from doing Rally, but it bothers me a lot less to have someone speaking into my helmet to give me all the info I need than it does to have to look around everywhere. That's how I feel about it."
Le Mans for Endurance or Lohéac for Rallycross, which circuit and discipline required the most effort to reach the top level of performance? "Le Mans, I'd say. To go after the last possible tenths of a second for me on a circuit, up against single-seaters regulars, that's something else."
PHOTO (Copyright - Red Bull Content Pool and the ACO)