Tristan Vautier took the wheel of Panis-Barthez Compétition's #23 Ligier JS P217-Gibson at Test Day for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans. The French driver, a frequent participant in races in the U.S., was able to hit the famous track for the first time and hopes to return as a competitor in 2019.
You participated in Test Day for the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans. How did it go?
"Very well! I felt comfortable with the circuit and in the car right away. The track sets a great pace, it's very fluid, so you feel good quickly. But it can be tricky because the cars have very little aerodynamic downforce. There are sections with different rhythms like the Mulsanne Straight where you're going 330 km/h but don't feel like you're driving that fast, and it's immediately followed by a tight, slower chicane. You have to be careful not to get too cocky plus you have to watch out for the LMP1s, there are only a few but you have to keep an eye on your rearview mirror. Anyway, I felt at ease quickly and had a lot of fun. The Ligier JS P217 is different from the Cadillac (whose base is a Dallara chassis, Ed.) I drive in the U.S. But it's still an LMP2 so it wasn't hard to get used to."
You had already competed in this class with Morgan LMP2s in 2014 then a Ligier JS P2 for Panis-Barthez Compétition at the official ELMS testing sessions. What do you think of the new version LMP2s with 100 hp more since 2017?
"There has been a big leap forward in terms of power and grip compared to what I drove before. It's also different relative to driving style, these are real racing cars. I was inclined to think the LMP2s were under-powered. Now I think there's a good balance between grip and power. They're so much fun to drive."
You are quite familiar with American circuits and just did laps at Le Mans for the first time ever. What did you think of the circuit?
"It's fantastic, extraordinary, I love tracks with a lot of personality and uniqueness. It's a circuit where in certain places it's easy to make a mistake. In Europe, tracks can be kind of clinical. Of course, safety is a priority but there needs to be a good balance. Le Mans is not like that. You never get bored. I especially love Tertre Rouge and Indianapolis."
You spent Le Mans race week with the Panis-Barthez Compétition team. When will you return to the 24 Hours as a competitor?
"When I'm given the opportunity (laughs, Ed.)! I'm working hard toward that goal and am very grateful to Panis-Barthez Compétition for giving me the chance to hit the track. It was a huge step forward and another addition to my experience level. Now I want to take the start at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race every driver hopes to add to his or her CV."
The French driver has since participated in the Total 24 Hours of Spa with the Akka ASP team led by a man who knows Le Mans well: Jérôme Policand (13 participations in the 24 Hours). Tristan Vautier (along with Raffaele Marciello and Daniel Juncadella) finished sixth at the wheel of his Mercedes-AMG GT3. "It was a long and frustrating race. Our pace wasn't on point, but we never gave up. We had to deal with gearbox problems. Still, I'm pleased with the result and we scored points in the championship. Thank you to the entire team for excellent work and perfect strategy."
Tristan Vautier is now focused on the end of his Blancpain GT Series program and will take part in the last rounds of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Cadillac, including Petit Le Mans.
PHOTO (Copyright - Tristan Vautier Twitter)