Nicolas Lapierre is very busy man in high demand. Indeed, the French driver is representing the DragonSpeed team in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS), Signatech Alpine Matmut in the World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) and just competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in the LMP1 class. Here's a peak into his world.
How did the beginning of the ELMS season with DragonSpeed (#21 Oreca 07-Gibson) go for you?
"It went quite well. The driver line-up is consistent, which is a good thing because it allows us to work more easily. The ELMS has gone up a notch in terms of teams, drivers and also relative to quantity. You have to fight and it was quite important for us to reach a podium finish pretty quickly. That's what happened at Monza (second, Ed.). On the other hand, Silverstone was a bit complicated technically as was the Red Bull Ring when we ran out of fuel. We hope to be back on track as of the next round at the Circuit Paul Ricard (August 27th, Ed.). It's a positive early season for us."
Plus, the DragonSpeed team has grown…
"Definitely. The team is growing right in front of our eyes. Last year was our first season in the ELMS, this year two cars are entered and DragonSpeed competed in its very first 24 Hours of Le Mans. Everything is going well, it's true it's going super fast, but Elton Julian (team founder and owner, Ed.) leads and manages very well. He is able to keep the team cohesive all while expanding the outfit and the program. He has done truly great work recruiting good drivers for the second car (Ryo Hirakawa, Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel, Ed.). The DragonSpeed team is functioning on all cylinders and the game plan is being respected."
What is your primary goal for the remainder of the ELMS season?
"It would be great to claim a podium finish and even to win a race pretty soon."
Let's talk about the World Endurance Championship. You ran with Toyota at the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but you are also involved in Team Signatech Alpine's LMP2 program. How did Silverstone and Nürburgring go for you?
"At Silverstone, we were doing very well in terms of performance level, but had zero luck when it came to the safety car. After that, I didn't do the following two rounds, but I know they struggled with a loss of performance. The caliber of the World Endurance Championship is very high this year in LMP2 with the teams as well as the drivers. The battles are intense, the tiniest tenth of a second costs so much. At the Nürburgring, we just wanted to get back to a positive dynamic. We clocked the best time in-race in the LMP2 class and claimed a podium finish (third, Ed.). We're happy but again we do need to go after a win quite soon. André Negrão will join one of our driver line-ups in Mexico, that will be a plus, he should bring a bit more speed. We should have a driver line-up capable of fighting at the next round."
Does the fact there are only ORECA 07-Gibsons on the starting grid in the WEC complicate matters?
"Absolutely because the gaps are negligible. So the difference is made in the tiniest of tweaks. In the ELMS, we are lucky to have the fastest car of the field, that gives us a little breathing room but in the WEC, everyone has the same car and that means war."
What happened with your car, the #9 Toyota HYBRID, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
"Le Mans was a low point in my season. The entire week was complicated for our car. Already we failed to get an all-clear during qualifying. During the race, when ByKOLLES Racing Team's #4 ENSO CLM P1/01-Nismo had an incident in the third turn, we got hit with a cone that broke our front hood which lost us time during the pit stop. Then we had problems with the door that wouldn't stay closed and troubles with our headlights, costing us another two minutes. It was an accumulation of small problems that prevented us from finding a good rhythm, but we stayed with it, at less than a lap from the lead car with a car running well."
"Then, during the night I overtook CEFC Manor TRS Racing's #25 Oreca 07-Gibson in the pit straight. At that moment, a car emerged from pit lane so I stuck to it, leaving the bulk of the room to the left for the Manor. I think he was surprised by the lack of acceleration, which is strange because in LMP1 all the cars do it at the same spot, give or take a meter. It was nighttime, he made contact, a mistake on his part that cost us dearly because it happened in the first turn. The gearbox broke, at Arnage oil leaked from the engine starting a fire and I couldn't go back in on electric power alone, so I was forced to retire. We did everything we could to bring the car in, we knew other competitors had had problems but were still in the game. Unfortunately, we ended up 300 meters from the pits. It was cruel, disappointing and hard for the whole team. The other two cars had troubles, a conglomeration that made the week pretty dim."
How is 2018 shaping up for you?
"It's still a bit early yet! A lot of things still need to be worked out. Obviously I have good relationships with ORECA and Toyota, but also DragonSpeed and Alpine. There is plenty in the works, but nothing set in stone for now."