What was the biggest difference between single-seaters and sportcars? Jota’s LMP2 car was similar to the Formula 3 I’d been driving in terms of power-to-weight, but I had to learn the bigger picture of multi-class endurance racing – saving fuel, looking after tyres, dealing with traffic, and sharing a car with another driver. In single-seaters your team-mate is your number one enemy. In sportscars he’s your number one ally. But I really bought into that idea of working together as a team.
In 2014 – your first year of sportscar racing – you won the LMP2 class at the Le Mans 24 Hours. How important was that for your career? It was the catalyst for everything since. My team-mate Simon Dolan was one of the best silver-rated drivers, and Marc Gene – who I really admired – joined us for Le Mans. Unfortunately, Marc had to go to Audi’s LMP1 team after [regular Audi driver] Loic Duval had a big crash. As a result, the role of team leader went to me, even though it was my first Le Mans. It was a tricky build-up, but there was a confidence in the team, and the car was fantastically quick. We didn’t panic, we kept in the fight, and we went on to win.
For 2016, you joined the Ford GT assault on Le Mans and the FIA WEC. What was the biggest challenge in moving from lightweight prototypes to the production-based GTE class? GTE cars are heavier, with less downforce, so you rely more on mechanical grip. Tyre life is also important, as it’s easy to flat spot your tyres. With a lighter, more powerful prototype, it’s easier to get away with a mistake, but you need to be a lot more precise and consistent in a GTE. Plus, you’re the traffic. Driving a prototype, you can decide whether to lunge past a GTE car or wait for the next straight. When you’re the traffic, you have no choice about how you’re passed. Managing that without losing time is an art.
You narrowly missed out on this year’s FIA WEC GT title, but getting second place at Le Mans must have been a highlight… Our #67 car was fourth when I got in for the final stint, but I was adamant we’d make the podium after all the hard work from the team. I got past the Porsche for third, then my race engineer gave me the ‘maximum attack’ call on the last lap. The Corvette ahead had a puncture, so I nailed every corner and managed to catch him out of the Porsche Curves. As I got past, there was a huge cheer on the radio – I’d forgotten that we have a live camera in the car, and it felt like the team were in the passenger seat, celebrating with me.
How do the road-going Ford GT and your race-honed Ford GT compare? I had the chance to drive the road-going Ford GT at the Goodwood Festival, and at Ford Fair at Silverstone in front of 20,000 Ford-crazy fans. The race Ford GT and the road car were obviously developed side-by-side, but I was amazed at how close the road car feels to the race car – it’s as close as you’ll get to driving our GTE car round Le Mans.
What’s it like have the sort of loyal following you get from Ford fans? Ford fans are so loyal and passionate, and their knowledge of the sport is amazing. I’m so lucky to race for Ford. There’s a real sense of pride in the fact that you’re not just racing for the team, Ford’s employees and a few motorsport fanatics – you’re racing for all Ford’s customers and fans.
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