The biggest endurance race in the world. They will be 186 drivers to participate this year in the 90th edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which starts this Saturday at 4 p.m. And among them, eleven former Formula 1 drivers, considered the premier category of motorsport, just before Le Mans, the Holy Grail of Endurance. And if these two categories are the dream of any pilot, they are far apart in terms of piloting approach.
“The difference is already made by the title of the championship: in Formula 1 it is a world championship for drivers, while in Endurance it is a world championship for brands. That is to say that the F1 driver wins on his behalf before winning the mark, whereas in endurance, you win the mark. It’s a fundamental difference in approach,” explains Henri Pescarolo, former F1 driver and four-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I had to change my mind”
This completely changes the driver’s approach to racing, with the need to perform as a team more than individually. “In endurance, you have to be ready to sacrifice your image to make the brand win. Endurance drivers have to go as fast as F1 drivers, but have to think a little more to last and win the mark. To win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, you need a very complementary crew, capable of going as fast as F1 drivers, while being able to better adapt to the evolutions of the race: the atmospheric conditions, the intensity of the race , the ability of others to win. And even go from time to time faster than in F1”, lists the former driver and team manager.
Differences to which Robert Kubica, a former F1 and WRC driver, had to adapt during his first participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year. That he could even have won in the LMP2 category, without a mechanical problem in the last laps. “Endurance is very different from what I’ve done before, although the objective is always the same: to be as fast as possible. For example, you have to think of your teammates, you can’t be selfish. So I had to change my mindset, in particular to make life easier for my teammates. You have to compromise on the settings of the car, for example, because the goal is for it to go as fast as possible, not the individual drivers. And I like Endurance from that point of view. For the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the whole team spends ten days together, it necessarily creates links between us and it makes you see things differently”, confides to the team that continues with a second participation this year.
Adaptation and self-sacrifice
Endurance races are also more demanding than Formula 1 Grand Prix from a physical point of view, even if the preparation does not differ so much from one category to another. “Racing drivers are all top athletes and they always have to drive the car to the limit. In Endurance, you drive longer and the cars are closed so it’s very hot in the cabin, due to the lack of ventilation. They must also drive at night and adapt to wide variations in weather. With often rain at night, fog in the morning, showers, dry weather. It’s much more variable than during a Grand Prix, hence the great need to adapt,” explains Henri Pescarolo.
A great adaptation and constant concentration absolutely necessary to overtake the many competitors on the track, when a Formula 1 driver is “content” with 19 opponents. “This is also a fundamental difference. There are a lot more people on the track and there is a huge difference in performance between grand touring cars and prototypes. This is the specificity of endurance, the drivers must continue to fight at the limit, while overtaking slower cars. Endurance requires great self-sacrifice, the driver must forget about performance from time to time to slow down the pace and take care of the car by accepting less good lap times. It’s never good for the driver’s image, but sometimes you have to show off a little less to win,” warns the legend of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Because while race plans often vary in F1, they simply never go as planned in endurance racing.