After getting a foot-hold in LMP1 racing with Aston Martin last year, Anthony Davidson is now part of the crack Peugeot works squad.
He has already been part of its Sebring winning crew, and now joins the team's head to head with Audi in the Spa round of the Le Mans Series this weekend. Davidson spoke about his transition to Peugeot.
Q. How have you found driving for Peugeot compared to the Aston Martin petrol car?
Anthony Davidson: They are not so different. The ACO have done a good job with the regulations to make them feel of a similar power. The V12 in the Aston Martin is very powerful – like our engine is in the Peugeot. It is very similar. The power comes in in different ways, but generally it feels similar in terms of straightline speed.
If you had to choose which is harder to drive, I'd say the Peugeot because the torque is coming in a different way and the petrol car has a much more efficient traction control system because you can cut cylinders which you can't with our car. You have to rely more on the throttle alone. That's a disadvantage for the diesel cars. But while they might be slightly harder to drive they are also quicker. Basically the Peugeot is faster not because of the engine, but because of the aerodynamics. Peugeot has more money than Prodrive does and that's why it is ahead - it's not because of the regulations.
Q. How did it feel to drive the Peugeot for the first time?
AD: The first time I drove the car was in November 2008 and that was my first experience of an LMP1 car, that feeling was very nice. It was at Paul Ricard, which was a circuit I knew.
It is very strange, only on the downshift, I find that you can't hear the engine very well. It's a completely different experience to Formula 1 in that respect. The speed of the car is nice, it's very close to Formula 1 in that respect and the levels of downforce, but it's just a bit heavier. The engine is very, very quiet. It is a nice experience though, it is much more relaxing to drive for such a long time at Le Mans in the 24 Hours with a quiet engine, than to drive with an F1 engine.
Q. Do you think you have found your peak with Peugeot now, are you up to speed?
AD: I think so, I don't know. I think I am close to being at the maximum. In the tests I have really on top of the car, but that has always been at Paul Ricard in the dry. So there I don't feel that there is any more to come. But in terms of changeable conditions and throwing me into different scenarios, maybe there is more to come. I am getting close.
I really click with these cars, it is the one, in my whole career, that suits my style the best. I know different drivers have their fortes, but this category for me, just all makes sense. It's just something that happens with this type of car and it is not specific to the Peugeot because it happened with the Aston last year. It just clicked. And even more so with the Peugeot, the style of driving the diesel, keeping momentum going...
Maybe it is something I have carried on from when I was a kid in the cadet kart class - keeping momentum up in such a grippy machine with grippy tire. Keeping the engine buzzing - you have to keep the turbos spun up - I've always been good at driving a car when there is momentum involved and not pushing the tyre too much.
That's a key element to this style of racing, not overloading the tire, not sliding the car too much and that's my style. I don't like to force the car too much, I like to attack the apexes but not to really break adhesion with the tire too much. Looking after the tire pays you dividend at the end of stint. It's about really thinking about what you are doing out there and I have always been a 'thinking' driver and that pays in these cars, because you really have to look after your equipment. Everything about this style of racing suits my approach to racing.
Q. You seem really happy and settled.
AD: I'm massively happy. I just look forward to every single time I get in the car. Even when it's three o'clock in the morning at Paul Ricard, doing a night stint, when I haven't had any sleep at all – I still look forward to driving the car.
Q. What about the guys you are racing with? It's a pretty competitive crew, so is there a sense that you need to prove you are the top gun in the team?
AD: In any other team you have higher and lower egos out there. But we all get on really well together. We have just got back from a really good team-building week in Chamonix last week. We all got on so well. But I still feel I am not completely in bed with the whole team yet because of the whole language barrier.
Q. Are you learning French?
AD: I am trying to. But like any Brit, I'm finding it hard. The team all speak very good English, but you still feel that when all the other drivers are together, predominantly they are French and they all talk in French. You feel a bit, not distant, but a little bit alone sometimes so I like the bit in the car. When I am in the car I feel much more at home.
The only other guys that I can be so close with are my co-drivers Alex [Wurz] and Marc [Gene] luckily. Neither is French and their second language is English.
Q. What have you learned since being with Peugeot that you have not seen anywhere else?
AD: I wouldn't say anything I haven't seen anywhere else, but I was pleasantly surprised by how professional the team was when I first joined. It's right on par with the best I have seen in F1 in terms of preparation, professionalism, and their whole approach to racing. Even the aesthetics and the detail of the car is all second to none. I feel very much at home with that.
I was taken aback with how accommodating they are to welcome me into the team. They really went out of their way, the logistics, the press, the management, to make me feel part of the family. I didn't see that from the outside. Last year when I was with Prodrive, you looked at the top teams and they seemed a bit cold and clinical but I was really surprised at how open it was once you were inside. That was a really nice change for me.
Q. What about this weekend - it's the first time all of the Le Mans favorites have come together. Do you think Peugeot still has an advantage or is it closer than it looks?
AD: I think it's closer than it looked this morning. In the dry we are going to see it close up more and more. I wouldn't take anything into account from what happened in the first session really. It's all going to be about who makes the least mistakes in the traffic and who has the least reliability issues. As for who has the outright speed? I don't know, I really think it could be that close.
Q. Do you have any specific instructions that you have to work to this weekend?
AD: No. But you never know, because things can change during the race. But at the moment it is just going along with work as normal. Trying to find a nice balance, which I've never struggled for with this car anyway. It always feels nice to me.
I think both sides at the top are really looking over their shoulder to really see what is going on. I love it! I know you hear a lot of the time, in this series, that they don't need manufacturers but it definitely adds an element of excitement for the fans and the drivers and I think it is paramount that we keep that buzz in Le Mans-style racing.
It hasn't been this close for the last 20 years!
Q. And the gasoline-powered cars look closer this year than before?
AD: It looked that way this morning but they always should have an advantage in mixed conditions. They have a far superior traction control mechanism with a petrol car, it is always going to be that way. You can cut cylinders, and from my experience with the Aston Martin from last year, the TC is there for you much earlier and torque spikes are less of a problem. That area they have quite a big advantage.
Q. But you would still expect to beat them if it rains over six hours on Sunday?
AD: I should think so. If we didn't that means the regulations have gone way too much in favor of the petrol cars. Because the majority of the money is being spent with Peugeot and Audi. The others just don't have the budget. Our advantage comes from having a more efficient car. The advantage isn't engine, it's from the aero. Until we have a petrol car developed with the same level of investment and resources as the diesels then there should always be a bit of a gap to them.