Does it feel rather strange, having spent most of your career with Citroen, to be starting the season with two new manufacturers, McLaren and Peugeot?
“It feels…of course, my brand is Citroen, and I hope we can have still a nice future together with them. But to discover new teams and new cars is exciting. When I was with Citroen, racing in other championships was difficult, and of course I respected that decision. But it’s a nice opportunity I have this year, and they understand that.”
The opportunities this year include competing as a driver and also the behind the scenes work as Team Manager at Sebastien Loeb Racing. Is it quite difficult juggling the two roles during a race weekend?
“I think it’s two different things. When I’m at the race, like in Zolder, I’m here as a driver rather than a team manager. Here I have my colleague, Dominique Heintz, who plays a big role managing things. Plus if the team is well prepared, the team manager doesn’t have a lot to do because the engineer and everyone else knows what they are doing. For sure, when it’s an important decision to take I talk with Dominic also, but I’m more involved on my driving role at the races than I am with the manager role.”
While we’re on the subject of dual roles, what’s it like sharing the driving during a race weekend? After so many years at the top level with a co-driver, that must feel quite strange…
“Well I’ve done Le Mans in the past and a few other GT races, so it’s not completely new. But it’s a good experience. I have a teammate who has a lot of experience and is really fast, so that’s a good help for me. The driver change, we work on it and I think we are doing pretty well.
“What is interesting for me is that I can compare my data with the data of my teammate. Alvaro is one of the best in the series, so it’s really interesting to gain information – where I was fast; where he was fast, and why – and I can learn a lot through that.”
You’ve competed in a few GT races over the past few years, but are there any circuits on this year’s GT Series calendar that you’re already familiar with?
“Yes, the first circuit this season, Nogaro, I competed a few years ago with the Porsche Carrera Cup and in a couple of GT races, and…actually I think that’s it!” – at this point Sebastien starts running through the remaining races on the calendar in his head – “…Zolder I didn’t know…Zandvoort, no…[pause]…nope, Nogaro is the only one! [Laughs]”
Well you’re familiar with Le Mans certainly. You made your debut at La Sarthe with Pescarolo Sport in 2005 and then finished second overall the following year with Eric Hélary and Franck Montagny. Sébastien Loeb Racing was on the entry list for this year’s event but has since pulled out. What’s the reason behind that?
“We didn’t have the capability to do it, because we are doing the GT Series and we are doing the Porsche Carrera Cup in France. So these are two big campaigns for us, and we couldn’t get enough focus to do Le Mans. I didn’t want to share the race with another team or to try to do anything by halves. If we do it, then I want us to do it properly and we were not able to do it like that. So we had to take this decision unfortunately.”
Is the team likely to return for next year’s race?
“Yeah, why not? We are…in this sport, every year you have time to find the right sponsors and the drivers. So yeah, I think it’s a nice target for a team to try to compete at Le Mans, but there’s also a lot of interesting programmes we have. If we can go there, I would be happy. It’s a nice challenge for our team, but we would have to do it correctly. We will work on it again for next year, and we will see where we are.”
There’s been a couple of pretty severe high speed accidents at Le Mans during the past few years, with Allan McNish and Antony Davidson’s crashes becoming very high profile. Does it alarm you that this kind of thing could happen again?
“Well, we know that it’s a dangerous sport, especially for the LMP1 prototypes. They are so fast compared to the GTs, and the crash we saw between the GT and the prototype” – referring to Davidson’s flip – “show that it’s…it’s something we know. But after that, it’s a choice.
“Personally I didn’t plan to race at Le Mans this year. It was the team, not me. I prefer to drive the GT cars, because next year I also hope to compete in the World Touring Car Championship with Citroen, so this year I want to get a lot of experience in racing. I think the GT car is more appropriate for that than the Le Mans prototypes. So for me the plan is to drive GT cars this year, and Le Mans was for the team and the drivers, not me. But in the end we couldn’t pull everything together.”
Interesting that you bring up the WTCC move with Citroen. Are there any details about the move that you could share with crankandpiston?
“It’s not decided yet, but we have the plan with Citroen and I hope it works out. We are preparing it, we are working on it, but at the moment it’s not completely decided. I hope to have good news in the future, but at the moment we are still waiting for a decision.”
So, that’s the FIA GT Series, the French Carrera Cup, a potential return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and possibly a debut in the World Touring Car Championship next year with Citroen. Tell me, do you just love competing?
“Yeah. It’s what I…for sure, I love motorsport in general. I enjoy rallying a lot, but it’s something I’ve been doing for a long time now. Now to have this new experience is fun, and it’s always challenging to go into something new and try to reach the level of the most experienced drivers in the discipline. It makes it really exciting.
“The priority for me this year though is the GT racing, and Pikes Peak, and there’s no other plans at the moment. That’s enough for me to concentrate on!”