Romain Dumas (age 41) is a multi-faceted driver, competing in rally, cross-country rally, and circuit, sprint, hillclimb and endurance races, as well as setting a string of records throughout his career. His most recent was established this past weekend at the Goodwood Festival of Speed at the wheel of a 100% electric prototype, the Volkswagen I.D. R. In qualifying, he covered 1.86 km in 39.9 seconds, destroying the 1999 performance of Nick Heidfeld driving a McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13 Formula 1 car.
"I love these quick efforts," explains the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner (with Audi in 2010 and Porsche in 2016) the day after the event. "When you're working with 40 seconds, you have to aim for flawlessness and maximum focus. The car is set up with no compromising, the grip is consistent over such a short distance, so it's up to the driver to ensure the driving. Being alone to clock your time, without other competitors or traffic, is very enjoyable. You have to perform optimally, turn after turn. And unlike a race start at a circuit, you can immediately check out how best to position the car. For example, at Goodwood, I could see if there was oil left by another competitor, if the spot wasn't clean. You have to keep an eye out for all those factors because the start is crucial. You can easily lose four-tenths of a second right away. For careful driving, I work a lot with video, I watch and revise my runs for improvement. Unlike qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans where before the session you've already done quite a few laps, to set a record you have few test attempts."
With his level of activity in competition, Romain Dumas has an outstanding track record: two overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2010 and 2016) and an LMGTE Pro class victory at the race (2013), wins at the 24 Hours of Spa and 24 Hours of Nürburgring (among others), as well as records at the famous "Race to the Clouds" a.k.a. the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the Nürburgring and more. His stats are impressive:
- This past June, he covered the 20.882 kilometers of the Nordschleife in 6:05.336 at an average 206.96 kph.
- At Pikes Peak, he covered the 19.96 km-lap and 156 turns in 7:57.148 at an average 150.3 kph in 2018.
- In June 2010, the year he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of an Audi R15 + TDI shared with Mike Rockenfeller and Timo Bernhard, the trio covered 397 laps, or 5,410.73 km, at an average 225.28 kph.
"If you think about Pikes Peak, Goodwood or other record attempts, the distances are significantly shorter than in a race, as compared for example with a stint at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it is possible to do the perfect lap, to seek constant improvement. In qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, you start with four new tyres but traffic and changes to the track can upset your efforts. During the race, over the 13 kilometers of the circuit on Sunday morning, you can experience a stint when lap after lap you continue to get better. For a driver, that's exciting. Obviously, overtaking and going faster than the others are the goals too, but when you're blocked and have to wait to overtake, that can be frustrating. That's why the exercise of being alone on the track with the machine is exhilarating," explains Dumas.
At Pikes Peak as at the Nürburgring, he plans out his performance by identifying tricky areas, spots where the set-up of his car will limit him, sections where he will need to take less risks. "At Pikes Peak, I know there are bumpy portions where I'll lose time, but I'm not going to change anything for that. At the Nürburgring, I tried once to go in the interior of the Little Carousel, I only did it one time, otherwise I'd have torn the car up."
Dumas is already looking to set another record in September on the winding 99-turn, 11-kilometer Tianmen Mountain road in China.