Anthony Davidson went through it all during his first Le Mans 24 Hours with Peugeot; leading the race, car failure, charging back toward the lead, clashing with GT cars and ultimately retiring short of the finish.
Q. Have you got any idea where the problems came from?
Anthony Davidson: No. I think we were running it hard, and obviously on our car there was no more to come from it. It's just one of those things. The lap times were quick throughout the weekend, I don't know why, but all of the cars seemed fast compared to last year and maybe that puts more pressure on the engine as well. You're spending more time on full throttle and so it all adds up. It's an interesting one.
We didn't see any engine failures at all until then, I've never seen one at Peugeot since I have been driving for them. Very, very rare. So for it to hit so hard today was quite a surprise for everyone.
Q. Did you really believe after the problems in the night that you would have a chance to win the race?
AD: It wasn't an alternator it was something in the electrics. My French wasn't good enough to understand exactly what it was, but it threw a lot of things on the car. It was a relatively quick change to fix but obviously it cost us critical time in the race.
We've got simulations like you would see in Formula 1 that tell us what to expect. It was fascinating watching our progress, and toward the end of my quadruple stint, the prediction showed that had we carried on going as it was then we were knocking on the door of the win. That really inspired me and everyone else.
Q. So when you got out of the car and Alex got in with just hours to go...
AD: It was game on. And then when we had the puncture with Alex, I think that threw it out of the question. You can't win this race even if you have one problem. You have to have a completely faultless car that is obviously fast enough. And that is exactly what our competitors had.
Q. What do you take away from it personally?
AD: Obviously Le Mans is one of the most prestigious races in the world – it's heavily viewed. I haven't been in a fastest car in the race since 2001 in the British Formula 3 Championship. This type of racing actually allows racing, it allows you to fight wheel to wheel, you don't get affected by a light front aerodynamically. I haven't raced like that since my Formula Ford days! People obviously didn't watch me a lot in those days. But anyone who watched the Ford Festival saw that same driver come back today.
So, at a high-profile level, I feel I have shown the world what I am made of, finally. People have judged me from Formula 1 results, because that is obviously where I made a name for myself in the big time, and this was a prestigious race where I was able to show what I am made of. I have shown everyone what I have always known within myself. That I am a bloody hard racer, don't give anything, and I never, ever gave up.
Q. So when you get over the disappointment of not winning will you look back at racing for Peugeot with some enjoyment?
AD: I still reckon it is one of the best races in the world to compete in. So then to come back and do it in a car like this – I still think it is the best looking – it just fills you with such emotion to drive it, because it really does everything you want. It suits my style really well and it gives a great feeling of aerodynamic power. And sheer power from the engine. It's the closest thing to an F1 car I have driven. And it is great to be able to race again – that's one thing that really turns me on with this category: you can actually race.
Peugeot were the race on Sunday. Everyone loves a good comeback story and we were that.
Q. Is there an argument to suggest that the pace was too hot for the Peugeots and that perhaps you should have set a slower one?
AD: Questionably, yes. I think when you are in the lead and you have a lap advantage, you can do things to consolidate. But would that have stopped the failures? I don't know. You can turn down the engines slightly, but I don't know that that would have been enough.
From the three factory cars, two of them had a similar problem and one had a something that I have never seen before, which was like a suspension failure.
Quite unbelievable. Don't get me wrong, you can consolidate, but we ran this very engine configuration of the car, that's why we spent so much time doing 30-hour tests – three times, to make damn sure the car doesn't break. And until now it hasn't broken, it had been bulletproof.
After my experience with Aston Martin, which doesn't have the luxury of doing that amount of testing, one of the things that astounded me when I joined Peugeot was the reliability. It just never stopped.
I guess the competition became stronger this year, we knew that and we reacted to that. No one ever knows how fast or slow your competitors are going to be so you always have to strive for the optimum. That's exactly what we did and we were relieved that we were fastest comfortably, but on such a big lap two or three seconds is not a lot and you are never safe.
Q. So when you came here you didn't imagine this kind of drama?
AD: No way. To be honest if someone told me before the race that even one of the cars would have an engine failure, I would have been blown away. Flabbergasted. Like I say that just doesn't happen with these cars. But you live and learn.
Q. But you must want to come back and do it again?
AD: I'm 31 years old, and you can keep doing this for a long time. I've definitely got another 10 years in me to win this bloody race if it's the last thing I do. I have focused 100 percent of my energy to do that. I've learned a lot from this race. It's very difficult to attack 100 percent of the time, and don't forget we were in a commanding position for quite a while in the race, out in front. The No. 1 car was the dominant car for a long time, we were driving well and controlling things, well within ourselves...
Q. Do you feel confident that the incident with the GT2-leading Corvette wasn't your fault?
AD: Did I make mistakes in the race? Yeah, of course I did, – you do when you're tired and it's four o'clock in the morning.
I'd like to talk about it because I hear the radio commentator here was a bit harsh on me. Maybe I said some things in the heat of the moment that I might regret. Obviously, I never want to be a part of, or the reason why, someone's race might have ended at Le Mans, so I feel sorry for the Corvette guys. I didn't know that at the time...and I'm sorry for that.
But at the end of the day there was no contact between us. And I did that maneuver on many, many cars throughout the race and not once got into trouble. I was completely cool and fine with the overtaking maneuver, it was a legitimate pass, I was on the racing line and took the corner. Crashes do happen at Le Mans, it's cut-throat. It's very close and you have to react and make reactions sometimes and I think what happened there was just a slight over-reaction and it caught the Corvette by surprise.
I was none the wiser, for me it was just a normal passing move in the Porsche Curves, like I'd done to 50 or 60 other cars throughout the event. So I was a bit shocked when I was being accused of ending someone's race because I was just completely oblivious. I didn't even know that he had gone off because of me. Anyway, I think I might have said something like, 'I don't care' at the time, but what I was trying to say was that it wasn't my race, I'm not racing them so my care was getting my car back into the lead where we belonged.
I was told by my team to drive at 100 percent and take risks because we knew we had to do that to have a chance. Also when you are in the lead of the race, like we were, you look in your mirrors more, you look at the blue flags more. Those guys know how to win a race and I'm sure someone else in a different situation wouldn't have been caught out by that.
Q. But are you happy with your own performance?
AD: Yeah. The Michelin boys tell me I set a record for their tires during that quadruple stint. All four average lap times for each stint were quicker than last year's pole time, and in the 3m21sec bracket. They had never done that many laps, that fast for such a long period of time. My last lap was a 3m20.4sec or something... They want me to sign the tires and they plan to put them in their museum. So, yes, I'm happy with my own performance.