The boss of France's Alpine Endurance knows his team is not the favourite to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the famous race that takes place in western France. And yet, Philippe Sinault has an air of quiet confidence. He spoke to RFI on the eve of the world’s greatest motorsport spectacle.
The favourites tag for the 89th edition of the event is attached to Toyota, who have been winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship for the past three years. For this year’s event, the French team’s solo entrant will start third on the grid behind the two Toyotas.
But the only 24 hour race in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) calendar, is known to spring surprises. “One of our advantages is that we have a strong knowledge of the track. Knowing the track well is a key factor here,” Philippe Sinault tells RFI.
The 55-year-old knows what it takes to master Le Mans' 13.6 km long racetrack. Before its debut in the top class ‘Hypercar’ category this year, Alpine Endurance, then called Signatech Alpine, had established itself as a top team in the ultra-competitive LMP2 category. Between 2016 to 2019, the team won three 24 Hours of Le Mans races and two world championships.
“Le Mans is the big race we have been focusing on since last September,” Sinault says. It was in September 2020 that Renault-owned Alpine announced the move from LMP2 to the premier ‘Hypercar’ category.
Starting this year, the top category of the WEC was renamed ‘Hypercar’ from LMP1. The change in name was a marker for the regulation changes which include cost-saving measures and a cap on performance outcome.
The rich history, magnitude, popularity and prestige of 24 Hours of Le Mans means it remains the top priority for all the teams. In fact, preparations for the next Le Mans race begin in earnest at the conclusion of the present-day event. This year, the build up to Le Mans has been encouraging for the Bourges-based team.
In its first race in the premier class at the 6 hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the team’s No. 36 car, driven by Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrão and Matthieu Vaxiviere, split the two Toyotas to finish second.
This was followed by a third place finish behind the two Toyotas in Portimao. In Monza, the team again finished second.
“After three races, the experience has been extremely positive. We have managed the new package well in terms of energy management,” Sinault enthuses.
Energy management is a key aspect when it comes to the ‘Hypercar’ category. In order to ensure a level playing field, a limit (of 500 kilo Watt) has been set on the power output of the cars.
Making optimum use of this energy over the corners and straights of a circuit is pivotal in determining the performance of the car. That’s what makes track knowledge so precious.
Having finished second twice in three races so far, can the ‘No.36’ upset the mighty Toyotas? “We are not the favourites. But we have the level to perform well and are in a position to fight for a win at this year's Le Mans,” he says.