Of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which he will compete for the first time on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 June, Sébastien Ogier knows… almost nothing. “Other than the name and the myth, I didn’t know much. I had never come, even as a spectator, I had never followed too much, it is not something that attracted me early, it has rather come in recent years, when I was thinking about the continuation of my career after the rally”, says the driver, who started motor racing in the endurance category this season and will discover the legendary event of Le Mans with the Richard Mille Racing team.
At 38, the eight-time world rally champion landed in Sarthe with a rookie label to which he is not accustomed: “It makes you rejuvenate”, he laughs. At the wheel of an LMP2, the second category of car behind the hypercars, reserved for private teams independent of the manufacturers, the Gapençais has chained the laps of the circuit to immerse himself in the car and a driving very different from rally vehicles .
“It’s almost like starting from scratch, I have to try to find where the limits of this car are and how to best exploit them,” he explains. I’m not 100% comfortable yet and tend to overdo it a bit, so I still need to improve on tire management, which was something I was pretty good at in rallying . »
“I would like to do more laps”
Even though the first runs went “correctly”, the driver would like to spend more time behind the wheel: “At the point where I am in my circuit career, each run is very important. It allows me to get to know the route better and to find areas for improvement. I would like to do more laps but you have to share the car with three people”, with his two young teammates: Lilou Wadoux, also a rookie, and Charles Milesi, only 21 years old, but already a winner in the LMP2 category in 2021.
The latter can prove to be a good adviser for the former rally driver, even if their rather inexperienced team takes the time to observe the other crews: “He is eight times world champion so he knows what he does, and the most important thing is to manage to give him the right tools. He will have his own experience, and I myself still have to learn, notes Charles Milesi. We share our garage with Alpine [which competes in the hypercar category] and Nicolas Lapierre [quadruple winner in LMP2], so that also allows us to observe. »
To optimize his performance – and fit in the cockpit – Sébastien Ogier lost a few pounds ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And after fifteen years spent with a co-driver at his side, it is alone that he must apprehend the 13.626 kilometers of the Sarthe circuit to chain the laps, day and night, when he has not until then driven in nighttime conditions than in tests at the start of the season.
Sébastien Loeb also tried his luck at Le Mans
Like him a few years earlier, Sébastien Loeb, nine-time WRC world champion, had also tried the adventure at Le Mans and believes in the “natural adaptability” of rally drivers: “Rallying is a discipline that requires skill. improvisation in driving, while on the circuit, everything is calculated. That’s why I think rally drivers are capable of being pretty good circuit drivers, while the reverse is more complicated. »
If he had shone during his second participation, in 2006, with a second place in the general classification, Sébastien Loeb had had a more complicated start in 2005, when all the attention of the public was on him.
“What’s most embarrassing is being waited on,” he recalls. I was well aware that I was arriving as a rookie and that it would not be easy, but the general public perhaps does not understand all the tricks of motorsport and is not aware of all the differences there may be. have with the rally, so expect us to win. It is all this pressure that must be managed and which Sébastien Ogier will also have to face. »
Sébastien Ogier, who has already competed in two endurance races this season, at Sebring (United States) and Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium) and has not completely cut with rallies, wants on the contrary to relieve himself of this pressure: ” The objective this year is to discover, to get an idea of the discipline and my level of performance. And even if he does not find, for the moment, the same level of adrenaline as in rallying, “the very high speed and the fact of driving in a pack” appeal to Sébastien Ogier.
To the point of considering a hypercar promotion with Toyota? “Perhaps the opportunity will arise and it would be ideal to alternate with a few rounds in rallying,” replies the driver, not insensitive to the idea of continuing his career in endurance racing. But without forgetting his first love.