Rinaldo Capello is gunning for a fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory this weekend as he shares one of Audi's new R15 TDI Plus LMP1 prototypes with fellow former winners Tom Kristensen and Allan McNish.
The 45-year-old Italian explained to AUTOSPORT prior to the opening practice session why he is so confident ahead of his 12th Le Mans, and why Audi's revamped R15 can be a match for the might of Peugeot this year.
Q. So could this be win number four for you this weekend at Le Mans?
Rinaldo Capello: I'm quite confident. Actually the feeling is quite good. I have raced in the past when the feeling was not really very good. I have participated in other races, like in 2003 when we won with Bentley, where the feeling unbelievably good before the race. This year I have more or less the same kind of feeling. I am confident. I know that we have worked hard and we have arrived here at Le Mans really prepared.
If we look back 12 months we cannot compare the atmosphere, because in 2009 we were running late. The latest details of the car had been fixed just before the race, and that is something which can not happen at Le Mans, because you do not win here if you are not 100 per cent prepared. This year I have the impression, I am sure, that we are 101 per cent prepared and I am looking forward to driving.
For sure, because we did the last test just a few days ago, from my side it would be nice to have a chance to drive a little bit in dry conditions like it should be in the race to make sure the car is how we think it should be. Tomorrow that seems impossible because the weather forecast is very, very bad. We should get quite bad weather to the end of the first four hours today as well. But we would like to have the chance to do some laps in the dry to have a confirmation of what we think is the best set-up for the race.
Q. How much progress has Audi made since Spa?
RC: After Spa I would say actually that I left with a lot of confidence, thinking about Le Mans. I knew exactly how big the gap was [to Peugeot] while we were running in low downforce at Spa, plus we had the bad fortune with the weather which was quite cold and drizzly. With such a low downforce, it was almost impossible to make the tires work.
We showed in qualifying that when the temperature increased a little bit our balance was quite OK and so was the lap time. Unfortunately in the race we had to fight with low downforce and those low temperatures, which really did not fit together. But when I see some of the fights we had with Peugeot in the warmer temperatures there, and some of the lap times we set, it gave me quite a lot of confidence.
Q. How did the test go at Le Castelet?
RC: We went there again to fine tune the setup and I think it worked quite well.
Q. How much of a critical factor will tire temperatures be in the race?
RC: For the first time in a while Michelin has given us and Peugeot a chance to follow our own directions developing the tires, so that we can choose the tire which is best for us. In the past we had one that was the same for everybody and sometimes you had the impression that it worked better on the Peugeots on some occasions and on the Audi at other times.
Now Michelin has given us the chance to develop the tire, which we think is the best and that is what we have done. I don't know what Peugeot have done, they may have followed a completely different compound and construction. But the tire choice will for sure be one of the key points of the race.
Q. How much more prepared is Audi for the 2010 race?
RC: Last year we had a big aerodynamic problem in the race, which to be honest was a little bit unexpected and unpredictable. The feeling we had with the car in the first two hours of the race was something I will never forget – the understeer was so much that we had to cross our arms through every chicane. This is something which never happened before and it was one of the causes of our lack of performance last year.
For sure we have worked an awful lot on this. We began immediately the week after last year's Le Mans to understand why such bad things happened and for sure I now think this problem is completely gone. The other problem we had was an increase of temperature during the race, which cost us a big drop in power. But the engine department made a big step over the winter so that with a smaller restrictor we have the same power as we had last year, and I really think the overheating issues are completely gone.