Anthony Davidson

  • "I know I want to race" - Anthony Davidson

    Anthony Davidson is a frustrated man at Le Mans this year. The Briton has been an integral part of Toyota's Le Mans campaign in recent years and is widely considered to be one of the finest sports car racers in the world. Nevertheless, this year he finds himself on the sidelines, having been forced to make way for Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso, who has taken his seat in the #8 TS050 HYBRID. Speed Chills caught up with Davidson at the circuit on Wednesday to hear how he feels about the situation.

    "I know that I want to race, and I know that when I drove the laps here in practice a couple of weeks ago, I clicked straight back into it. I was quick and sat top of the time sheets for 20 or 30 minutes. It all just felt natural.

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    "I’ve done a lot of miles in the car already this year. I took the new lap record at Aragon during winter testing, so I am still fast and still committed to the team, but I now find myself in this situation. It is a bit strange, however, it is not the first time in my career that I’ve been a reserve driver. It is however, strange finding myself here as a reserve driver, especially as I know this place so well. I’ve done 10 Le Mans. I should have won it at least once or twice, so it feels strange to not have the chance to win this time round. But, a lot can happen in sports cars. I might be back with the team, you never know. It’s a long way to go.

    "It was completely the team’s decision to move me in to the reserve driver role. It was not my decision not to race. I was told it was me that had to step aside for Fernando, so I have to respect the team. It is a shame, however – that’s the way motorsport is sometimes. It was a tough decision for the team, all six drivers were performing well so it was never going to be an easy decision to move one of their top driver’s asides. It’s a strange situation, I won five races last year in 2017. But basically, Fernando had to be here, and he had to take one of our drives. It’s as simple as that. Its unlucky that it was me but that’s just life. If you were going to step aside for anyone in the world, then Fernando is not a bad driver to step aside for so that makes it a bit easier. If it was Joe Bloggs, then I would be annoyed. It is like the world wants Fernando to win Le Mans this year. He’s on a quest for the triple crown and he finds himself here with the team. Fernando had limited options once Audi and Porsche both dropped out of the series so there was only one team to go for and it was this team. This is his best opportunity to win Le Mans.

    "I know I was performing at my best and I am proud of what I achieved last year. As I said, I won five races and in particular, the last two were very good for me. I couldn’t have given any more. My family are happy to see a bit more of me now and my wife is happy that I am not out on track risking my life. Obviously, Le Mans is not the safest race in the world. It is dangerous. I’ve ended up in hospital over the years. I broke my back in 2012. Le Mans is dangerous, and it can bite you. It’s probably the most challenging circuit we go to in terms of safety and the drivers respect that.

    "We have put a lot of work into testing and development over the winter. It is essentially the same car as last year but with a few small developments. Primarily, we have improved the usability for the drivers and the engineers. We have tested numerous scenarios and if anything goes wrong, we can get the car home. Winter testing has been hard work, it has been quite involved and it is the work that no one gets to see. That is the time when we, as drivers, really make our money. It’s bloody hard work. We do long tests, 36-hour sessions with five or six drivers and we don’t stop. That’s the stuff under the radar.

    "We’ve been testing at Portimao and Aragon primarily and the car has been performing really well, as it was last year. It’s the same package but it is nicer and easier to drive. We have been focusing on all the possibilities that could go wrong. We have been approaching it like Nasa would approach a space mission, looking at anything that could possibly go wrong, and we have developed a backup plan for each situation.

    "We have learnt a lot about the car, we know it inside out like never before. We have been given manuals on the steering system, the switches, the controls. We have learnt how to repair the car with the onboard kit we carry. We are completely ready to make sure that we are on top of any possible situation that could go wrong. Of course, there are things outside of our control, force majeure and all that and with this race, there is always a chance of that. But that said, we are in a much better place as a whole team than ever before.

    "Everything that you could think of that could possibly go wrong, we have tried our best to replicate in testing and simulation work to prepare for it. It has been quite good fun actually in many ways. Only a select few people within the team know what’s going to happen. The drivers and mechanics were not aware, and scenarios would be thrown in as a surprise to see how people would react and perform. You could never relax, you always had to have your wits about you and be focused. The issues were rarely announced and there were of course times when the team and drivers got it wrong and would have ended up in a situation where the car could not be recovered. We learnt the hard way and that’s the best way to learn. It has been absolutely fascinating as a driver to experience. I had some input into it all and fell down a few times!

    "What’s the saying team Sky use? Train hard, race easy. It takes time to learn and defeat only makes you stronger. By going through that defeat, we have realised how hard things are and how to recover from a situation. If you turned up and just won by luck and you don’t know how you win then that is sometimes more dangerous as you are unprepared for the event. In terms of development, we don’t necessarily need to make the car quicker. We know it has the pace to win, the main focus has been on reliability and understanding the trials and tribulations of Le Mans. All those defeats the team have suffered, they have been pretty cruel over the years, but it makes you stronger.

    "If we were to have the 2016 situation right now, in exactly the same way, we would have still won the race. Everyone would be able to recover it. And what happened to Nico last year, we would be able to recover that now. We would have got back to the pits. We are now set to make sure that we can get the car home. It’s that never give up attitude and you don’t see it in any other racing, certainly anything I’ve done and its incredible to see that if those two situations happen now then it is fully recoverable.

    "It’s a shame for me not to be out there, I feel readier than ever. Even if we had Porsche and Audi here now or any other quality brands, I feel that we are in the best position to win. I am here as a reserve driver, that’s it. I’m not going to polish it up, I am here as the back-up in case something goes wrong with one of the other drivers. I wouldn’t want any other roles or responsibilities. We’ve got Alex Wurz to be the team advisor/ambassador. I’m here to just hang around in case anything goes wrong. It may be my easiest Le Mans ever, you never know!

    "There was never an option to run a third car this year. I don’t know the exact reason, but you would say, if there was ever a year to run 3/4/5/6 cars, it would be this year, but it was never an option. You will have to ask some other people to get an answer for that question, it sure would have helped me if there was a third car.

    "All the other teams, with the exception of ByKolles are new. We are such a well-polished team now. We have learnt from our bad experiences and it has put us into this situation we are in today. I’m not saying that nothing will go wrong because you can never predict that. We are however in the best situation we could possibly be. We cannot prepare for a sudden downpour at one corner when you’re on slicks, or someone’s engine blowing and dropping oil all over the track and you go flying off into the barrier. You cannot foresee things like that, but we are trained as drivers in this team to report any oil or a slippery surface on track, we report that back to the team who will pass that on.

    "We have done some work on the clutch as well, we have burnt it to a crisp in testing and it is bullet proof. So, if some guy jumps out in front of us in the pitlane pretending to be a marshal, we can recover from that and it won’t be a problem.

    "I think the best and worst memories are from 2016, I drove my best Le Mans I ever have. Bringing the car back to the front and leading the race. You know when you have driven 100% and in terms of personal satisfaction, it was my best race. And I had that feeling of winning Le Mans, I could taste it. I was just waiting for Kazuki to pass the line before it was taken away. But that feeling, I would take physical pain over that any day."

  • Preparing for Le Mans

    With the 24 Hours of Le Mans getting underway later on this afternoon, the build up to one of the most important races of the year is almost over. Catching up with some of the drivers in their final preparation week for the prestigious event, Speed Chills got some exclusive quotes on the driver’s feelings before they embarked on the 24-hour endurance race.

    Neel Jani showed great excitement before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but remained respectfully realistic when discussing his prospects for the race weekend, openly stating Porsche was “definitely not the favourites” to win. Coming from the Le Mans test where Toyota Gazoo Racing were competitively faster than Porsche has put the German team on the back foot. But they are still hopeful that over the 24 hours of racing the luck can fall their way.

    “I think, for me, and it will be me and Timo doing the start, I think this will be the hardest point in the race probably for us.” Jani said, discussing what he believed would be the most trying part of the weekend. “I think we will also struggle more at the start than Toyota I think we will come when the evening comes. So yeah, Timo and I have the most difficult job at the start.”

    However, at Toyota, Anthony Davidson was confident that Porsche were yet to show their hand and believed there would be more to come from the German outlet. “I’m expecting them to raise their game this week.” Davidson said assertively. “Especially for the race. Even if we don’t see anything in qualifying, just like Silverstone they didn’t try, but they knew they had a good car for the race probably and they did.”

    Le Mans is one of the most important races in the World, a fact that is not lost on any of the drivers. Davidson added that Le Mans was his Mount Everest, stating that: “I may never get to the top but as long as I do the job I know I can do I’ll be happy.”

    Andy Priaulx echoed the thoughts of Davidson in the importance of Le Mans and the extra pressure that the drivers feel in this race weekend. “Le Mans is one of the biggest races on the planet and you’ve got to try and win that.” Priaulx commented to Speed Chills on Wednesday morning. “I think you have to learn to live with a lot more pressure at Le Mans, from the manufacturers. There is a lot more focus on the win here.”

    The Porsche #2 drivers Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley were equally as passionate about the importance and prestige of this race, with Hartley coining it as the “most important race of the year.”

    Having won Le Mans once in the past (2010 – Audi), Timo Bernhard reflected on the feeling a Le Mans victory can give a driver. “Le Mans, to be honest, is the highlight of our year.” Bernhard smiled. “It has the most prestige. If you win Le Mans your year is already incredible, magic, I mean, there cannot be more to ask for.”

    With so much riding on a win at Le Mans it is certain to be a spectacular race. With last year’s dramatic ending still clearly in people’s minds, it will be 24 hours of racing you will not want to miss a second of.

    Make sure to be following @SpeedChillsView for LIVE updates and the latest throughout the 24 hours of racing as the 85th 24 Hours of Le Mans unfolds.

  • Silverstone Qualy - Toyota on top

    Qualifying for the LMP1 class looked, in the end, to be fairly one sided. Porsche did not seem to be able to get close to the rapid pace of the Toyota TS050 Hybrids. Kamui Kobayashi setting the fastest lap of the weekend, a 1:36.793, that Porsche could not get any closer than 1.3 seconds slower than. With the battle of down force packages seeming to be the main talking point in the LMP1 field, it will be interesting to see just how far behind, if at all, Porsche are come race day tomorrow. Speed Chills got a chance to talk to some of the LMP1 drivers after their qualifying session.

    Being one of the drivers to qualify, Anthony Davidson was happy with the set up of the car and the performance of his #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. He stated that this year’s Toyota is the “Best the car has ever been in Silverstone,” with it “just doing pretty much everything I wanted.” Davidson explained that the impressive time set by Kobayashi was at the result of the two Toyotas running different options of down force in different set ups for the weekend. Even so, Davidson had nothing but praise for the 2017 challenger, claiming the #8 crew is “really confident with our car for the race,” and he is “Really happy to drive such a good car.”

    However, Toyota are under no illusion that tomorrow’s race will be an easy one to take the victory for. Although they have an advantage running the high down force package compared to the low down force aero kit Porsche elected for, Davidson is confident Porsche will be back and closer in the race. “They’re definitely going to be closer in the race than they were in qualifying,” Davidson admitted. “This has never been a strong circuit for us in terms of how we use our hybrid system. Our system is a kinetic system only whereas the Porsche system lends itself a bit better to this kind of track where you don’t get much kinetic recovery. They rely more on their turbo for the heat recovery than we can do round here.

    “We are expecting them to be closer but we’re still unsure about how it’s going to pan out in terms of the double stint. How we’re going to use the tyres compared to them. Normally, under the normal circumstances, you’d say we use the tyres better than them, we’d be able to eek out more life in our tyres than them because running more down force should keep the surface of the tyre in better condition, putting less friction through them, we don’t know. One thing is for sure, they’re going to be closer in the race.”

    Brendon Hartley was keen to echo this sentiment when discussing the benefits and downsides to running the low down force ‘Le Mans’ specification aero package at a track that prefers high down force. Although he stated that “Qualifying wasn’t very important with only four cars,” and that the #2 crew and Porsche were “really focused on the race.” in the free practice sessions, Hartley believes Porsche is not that far off the pace Toyota was setting in their long runs. “Toyota’s pace was awesome in qualifying but we didn’t see the same in free practice.

    “Honestly their time this morning [in qualifying] was really impressive but I think that also there’s a bigger gain for them in qualifying compared to us for a few reasons, with how you manage energies and what not. It was an impressive lap, but I don’t think you’re going to see such differences tomorrow.”

    Hartley revealed that the #2 car never ran any qualifying simulations in free practice, opting to use the 240 minutes of free practice time to fully focus on long runs and making sure the car was set up perfectly for the race whilst collecting as much data about tyre wear. This meant they never got the balance right when they put the qualifying set up on the car for the first time in the qualifying session which is what Hartley suggests is the reason they start at the back of the hybrid field. On average, the lap times the Porsches were setting on their long runs were fairly close to the pace of the Toyotas in the same circumstance.

    Although Neel Jani has been fairly avoidant that Silverstone will be Porsche’s “joker” race, one that he does not expect them to perform well at due to using the low down force aero kit on the Porsches, Hartley is optimistic about his expectations of tomorrow’s race. “I think we can win.” He claimed boldly. “There is gonna be a fight, everyone has to pull together; strategy, pit stops, there could be a bit of weather in play so there is always a challenge. We’re going for the win.”

    The low down force aero package appears to not be as much of a deficit to Porsche this weekend, something the team is pleasantly surprised about. However, qualifying third and fourth ahead of the six-hour race tomorrow was all Jani expected out of the cars today. “P1 and 2 definitely out of reach just due to strategy with the down force package over the season.” Jani explained, using a term he has used a lot this weekend by calling Silverstone Porsche’s ‘joker race’. “We know we give away performance but we hope to gain a lot in the second half [of the season].”

    In terms of the pace Porsche produced in qualifying with all things considered, Jani was ‘positively surprised’. “I think is important to mention. Last year, we did a 39.6 with a high down force package, or a higher down force. This year with the low down force package and we go one second quicker. Even though we lost down force and whatever we still went quicker. So I think that’s actually giving me a positive outlook for the future with that car.”

    Unlike his teammate, though, Jani does not think there is much they can do to catch the Toyotas in tomorrow’s race. “I think the only chance is if we pass them lap one.” He said when asked if there was any possibility they could challenge for a higher position. “2015 I had this big battle with Marcel, with the Audi. Audi was two seconds a lap quicker but because we were so much quicker on the straight they couldn’t overtake us. That worked out nearly until the end with a four second difference at the end. So I’m not sure that would work tomorrow but I would say that is our only big chance on track.

    “But on the other hand, just with racing, you need a bit of luck. Like last year, we won, we were not meant to win but we still won. You know, you never know how a race can turn out.”

    Jani may have written off the first round of the championship but he is nothing but positive about the prospect of round two at Spa-Francorchamps even with the low down force package on the car. Silverstone, in Jani’s opinion, should be the only race that sees Porsche losing performance to Toyota. “We think in Spa we could be not looking too bad. If we look really bad in Spa I think we should get a little worried.

    “I also think at Spa it could help us overall with traffic management because you can only do lap time on the straight line and over take on the straight line. In the middle sector you cannot overtake. So maybe in the race it will be helping us more than it will help us in qualifying. But I think we go with the positive outlook or view to spa after what we felt here.”