Frederic Sausset says he’s “really proud” of his Association SRT41 outfit taking its place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans after withdrawing from the event last year.
The team overseen by Sausset, who became the first quadruple amputee to complete Le Mans in 2016, is bringing the first Innovative-class entry to the event in five years.
Takuma Aoki and Nigel Bailly, who have both been paralyzed from the waist down since motorcycle accidents, will use hand-controlled devices to apply the throttle and brake in the Graff-prepared No. 84 Oreca 07 Gibson which they are sharing with Matthieu Lahaye.
Off the back of his 2016 Le Mans participation, Sausset pushed ahead with a program designed to give disabled racing drivers a platform to take part in motor racing.
The project’s drive toward a 24 Hours of Le Mans berth included Aoki, Bailly and Snoussi Ben Moussa driving a Ligier LMP3 car in the 2019 Road to Le Mans support races.
Their 24-hour race appearance the following year was subsequently canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic, before attention shifted to a 2021 outing with Aoki and Bailly who ran this season’s European Le Mans Series races at Barcelona and Paul Ricard to prepare.
“We are proud because it’s been really difficult to have this team here, because of a lot of organizational and financial problems,” Sausset told Sportscar365.
“The last problem was that Francois Heriau had an accident, so now it’s Matthieu Lahaye [driving in his place].
“We are really proud to be here because we think it’s a great program: it’s really important for disabled people to be here and to prove that disabled racing drivers have a place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Some partners have come into the SRT41 organization. It’s really important, because the budget is higher because of specific layouts for the drivers. Today we are here and that’s the most important thing.”
Sausset noted that his team’s objective is to reach the end of next weekend’s race, repeating the feat that he achieved with Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet in 2016 aboard a specially-adapted OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan open cockpit LMP2.
He added that gaining some ground in the 25-car LMP2 field would be icing on the cake.
The rulebook for Le Mans states that any cars in the Innovative class “will not be classified for the race” but will appear in the timing charts throughout the event.
“The objective of this program is not to win: this program is only [about] crossing the checkered flag,” Sausset explained.
“The target for every racing driver is that you must race safely and you must cross the line. Today I think this target is good for us.
“Takuma and Nigel have made some progress, which is very good. Matthieu is a very good driver and, perhaps at the end of the race, my hope is not to finish last in LMP2.”
Future of LMP2 Project Undecided
Sausset confirmed that Association SRT41 will not take part in either of the remaining ELMS rounds this season, while the future of its LMP2 project after Le Mans is unclear.
He indicated that he is keen to see different disabled drivers get behind the wheel of the Oreca 07 Gibson, should the project continue beyond 2021.
“Our only focus this week is to finish the race with the team, and after that we will see,” said Sausset.
“But evidently I would like to continue with other drivers in the ORECA program.”