Léo Roussel was crowned ELMS champion this past weekend in Portugal along with Memo Rojas at the wheel of the #22 ORECA 07-Gibson entered by G-Drive Racing, supported by Ryo Hirakawa who was unable to participate in the full season. This is the 22-year-old Le Mans Karting instructor's first major title.
How did your season go?
"Very well even though we experienced some highs and lows. That's normal over such a long period of time, but the team knew to remain united through the good as well as the tough times. That's what keeps us strong and consistent throughout the year, from the first testing sessions at Motorland early in the year to now. Every member of the team did impeccable work. I admit it still hasn't sunk in yet that we are the ELMS champions (said with a great deal of emotion in his eyes and voice, Ed.). I want to thank the entire DragonSpeed team with, at its helm, Elton Julian who knew how to bring together all the right people. Thank you also to Roman (Rusinov, Ed.) who gave us the opportunity to enter a second car for DragonSpeed (entered under G-Drive Racing, Ed.) in the ELMS, and to my two teammates Ryo (Hirakawa, Ed.) and Memo (Rojas, Ed.). Lastly, special gratitude to my whole family who afforded me the opportunity to be here today, they've believed in me since my early days in Karting, as well as my friends who have supported me throughout my career."
What does this trophy mean to you?
"It's my biggest title. I simply hope I won't stop here and that this will be a step in my career. It's all symbolic for me. I've struggled so much, I've fought for opportunities and cars to drive, I never gave up which proves hard work always pays off."
At the finish, you fell into the arms of Nicolas Minassian (16 participations in the 24 Hours of Le Mans including second place in 2008 with a Peugeot HDi Fap). He seems very important to you! How so?
"He's everything! Nico Minassian (G-Drive Racing Sporting Director in the ELMS, Ed.) gave me the green light to assert myself and also the opportunity to join a team that battles at the forefront. He was the first to believe in me at the beginning of the year. I will never be able to thank him enough, he was always there for me during the hard times, when I was questioning myself. He was also present at the end of each of my stints to tell me I did a good job even when I was unhappy with myself. He always brings a positive and constructive attitude, and it's because of him that I am here today. He is an extraordinary person! By replacing Ryo (who competed in the Super GT this year in Japan, Ed.) for two races, he proved that at 44 years old, after not racing for six months, he still had something to say at the wheel. I would also like to highlight the contribution of Nicolas Lapierre. He helped me a great deal with my driving and integrating myself into the team."
There was however a low point this year when you did not participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans…
"Just after we had won at Monza, I learned a few days later that I would not be doing Le Mans. That's how it goes, in motorsport a budget is always a necessity. It was hard to swallow, but I focused on my ELMS season. I had a difficult time accepting it, but that's what happened and I kind of took on an advisory role. I was however on-site at this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, especially since I work at Le Mans (Léo is a driving instructor at Karting circuits, Ed.), but also to be a part of the team, to support them and to help with a discerning eye because, though I'm only 22, I have already participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times. I also showed that while I didn't have the budget, I wasn't going to miss a thing!"
In 2018, I certainly hope to be at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans!Léo Roussel, G-Drive Racing
How is your 2018 program shaping up?
"I have tracks and opportunities, and the dust should settle in the coming weeks. For now, it's still too early to discuss. I hope to remain in the LMP2 class, why not defend this ELMS title, stay with DragonSpeed or go into the FIA WEC? It will all depend on the various opportunities that I will have over the course of the winter, I'm keeping my options open. In 2018, I certainly hope to be at the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but in a car this time (laughs, Ed.)!"
PHOTO: ELMS - Jakob Ebrey Photography