Pascal Vasselon, Technical Director of Toyota Gazoo Racing, was in attendance at the screening of the official film of the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans this past Thursday at the Méga CGR cinema in Saint Saturnin-Le Mans. He shared his thoughts on the team's 2017 World Endurance Championship (WEC) season, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and even 2018!
What takeaways did you garner from Toyota Gazoo Racing's 2017 season? Do you consider it successful with five wins in nine races or disappointing for lack of winning the title?
"Naturally, we're disappointed. We gave ourselves the objective of winning the World Manufacturers Champion title, a racing team has to set goals and also we wanted to prove something. We demonstrated what we can do performance-wise, we showed up, winning five races out of nine and even dominating six given that we did well at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for part of the race. But it wasn't enough to win the championship or Le Mans, so 2017 remains a huge frustration."
How do you reconcile a very positive early season (Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps) and end of season (Fuji, Shanghai, Bahrain) with a lackluster mid-season?
"If there's one race in which we weren't competitive it was Mexico. At the Nürburgring and Austin, we were only a tenth or a tenth and a half from the Porsche 919 Hybrids. Those two races were very competitive, we finished trailing by less than 20 seconds. In Mexico, we were dominated because the turbo of the cars was unable to make up for the altitude and we had a significant engine deficit. At the last three rounds, we got back in the game because we didn't want Porsche to rack up a series of wins. We reversed the trend, we're happy about that even though, again, it doesn't erase the detour our season took at the 24 Hours of Le Mans."
You just relived by watching this film what happened at the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans. How did it feel at the time?
"For me, it was painful. It's not the first time I've been invited to a screening of the film and every time it's difficult to watch. Given what happened to us, it's hard to swallow. I hope to be invited one day and have good feelings!"
You tested Thomas Laurent (Jackie Chan DC Racing driver in LMP2) at the WEC Rookie Test at Bahrain. How did it go for him?
"Very well! He showed up well-prepared because this type of car is extremely complex. If a driver arrives without having done his 'homework,' he's going to be perplexed by the number of actions and checks that have to be done behind the wheel. When you haven't done the work in advance, you waste too much mental energy managing those things and get nowhere. Thomas was very well-prepared and wasn't thrown by the instructions we gave him over the radio. That set the stage for him to take advantage of his 30 laps. We gave him three sets of new tires, and every time he made progress and improved his times."
Fernando Alonso also hit the track at the Rookie Test for Toyota Gazoo Racing…
He was very happy to have done more than 600 km and told us it would normally take him two Grand Prix to do as much (laughs, Ed.). He compared F1 to Endurance racing quite a bit. He was truly impressed by the acceleration, we have four times the electrical power than F1s. There were a lot of things that pleasantly surprised him. He too did his 'homework,' he made progress one step at a time and did really well."
How did he do adapting to a closed cockpit?
"It's true that a driver who comes from single-seaters has the added challenge of adapting to a close cockpit, like Thomas Laurent has had to do for example. But it has gone very well!"
What can you tell us about 2018 relative to Toyota Gazoo Racing?
"For the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it's highly probable we field two cars, it's 90% guaranteed. As for the drivers, for now nothing has been decided. We are going up against new competitors (the BR1 and the Ginetta, Ed.). I think every form of competition is a good thing and we welcome these new adversaries. We are in the process of making the final regulatory adjustments for it to have a certain competitive level because it cannot become unfair. We are working on it, and in any case the 24 Hours of Le Mans always makes for an exciting race (laughs, Ed.). I'm not too worried about the 2018 edition!"