How is this year’s 24 Hours looking for you?
We had an excellent Test Day with a very efficient car. We were hoping to make a lot of progress after last year and we feel reassured now. The car is more stable, easier to drive and there is less wear on the tyres. The engine packs a lot of power and we’ve also made great progress in that respect. So yes, things are very promising. But everyone knows that at Le Mans, the drivers as well as the cars have to be reliable. You need to be capable, consistent and avoid mistakes. If all those conditions come together, we can make it to the podium.
Who are your rivals?
We’re competing against the private teams… Rebellion and Dragonspeed, not Toyota which is not only a “factory” team but also has huge experience at Le Mans. We know we can only hope for an overall win if something extraordinary happens.
Has the ART Grand Prix outfit that runs the SMP programme improved since last year?
Yes, they’ve come a long way! They had already made a lot of progress over their early WEC races but they’ve really moved up a gear now. They’re a great team operating at a high level and within just a short time, they’ve forged that essential “endurance” mindset. It’s amazing to be a in a team like this. Everyone is very competitive but everyone is well aware of how complex the race is.
If the conditions all come together, we can make it to the podium.
You are by far the most experienced driver on the team. Does your role go beyond that of driver?
I’m really pleased this year. The partnership with Sergey Sirotkin, who comes from Formula One and has a highly professional approach, is just perfect. He asks a lot of questions and we discuss things a lot. It’s different with Egor Orudzhev, who raced Le Mans last year. He needs to channel his skills because he has more of a ‘single-seater’ approach. I encourage him to keep some margin because, over 24 hours, it’s easy to make mistakes. Sharing my knowledge and experience is also part of my job on the team. You need to go fast at Le Mans but you shouldn’t focus on your teammates’ times if they’re better than yours. You need to keep a cool head. You need to take the race lap by lap, to pay attention to the traffic. Le Mans is not about clocking up qualifying times all race long!
Could tricky weather conditions cause an upset?
We’re not hoping for poor weather! Our downforce is very low to achieve optimal peak speed and if it’s rainy out there, things will be even more difficult in certain corners.
PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES DU MANS, 2019. SMP Racing spearhead Stéphane Sarrazin shares his experience with his teammates.