Formula 1 veteran Rubens Barrichello is treating his debut outing in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans as a one-off for now, but would be open to an increased sports car program in the future.
The 45-year-old Brazilian will make his first start at Le Mans on Saturday in the latest chapter of his illustrious racing career which shows no signs of slowing down.
Barrichello holds the record for the most F1 starts, appearing in 322 races between 1993 and 2011 before enjoying stints in IndyCar and Stock Car Brasil, remaining active in the latter.
He will feature for Racing Team Nederland in the No. 29 Dallara P217 Gibson at Le Mans, and remains as competitive as ever, despite the chassis disadvantage in LMP2 this weekend.
“This year I got invited to do this, and I like the idea even though I could say, ‘OK, I could have been in an LMP1 car and this and that…’, but I think the way Jan Lammers put it to me was nice,” Barrichello said.
“You know me a little bit as far as setups are concerned, and I’ve been talking to Dallara for the whole week about why we’re not competitive and why they choose certain things, so we’ve been running a different package [in practice] to see how it goes.
“My target is to make the car as competitive as possible. We’ll see how it goes. I want the other guys to feel nice as well – Frits [van Eerd] and Jan – and I’m sure they’ll do their best to keep us on the lead lap.
“If a situation comes up with 23 hours to go and we’re still there, we might be in with a chance if you keep the car going.
“I love being with my friends and being able to do something with them – it might not be the most competitive way – but I am still very competitive and I will be doing my best.”
Le Mans will be Barrichello’s fourth 24-hour race following entries to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2013, 2015 and 2016, which he believes acted as a good springboard towards this weekend’s event at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
“I think that everyone who does Daytona dreams of doing Le Mans,” he said.
“Daytona is a great experience and I really enjoy being there. I like racing in the U.S.. The IMSA championship, for me, is quite a nice championship.
“But Le Mans is Le Mans. I felt like a Formula 1 driver when I came out of the paddock and had a lot of people around me. It’s nice.
“It must be nice for the public as well, and there’s a lot of people coming here from Brazil to get a good feeling for the race.”
While Barrichello has no immediate plans to increase his sports car commitments given his packed schedule in Stock Car Brasil, he did hint that a move into the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship would be of interest in the future.
“This is a one-off for now, and I haven’t spoken to anybody else, but I would be interested in looking at the IMSA championship,” Barrichello said.
“The family is a little bit more towards the U.S., so it would be interesting to look into that.”
Barrichello also said his maiden experience at Le Mans would help decide if he were to return to the race in the future.
“You never come in for just one time. If you like the restaurant, you come back and eat again,” he said.
Racing Team Nederland team boss Mark Koense spoke warmly of what Barrichello has brought to the squad for Le Mans, citing his experience and character as two key strengths.
“Rubens just adds so much. He adds a lot of profile to the team, he adds a lot of friendliness to the team, he’s very supportive,” Koense told Sportscar365.
“He brings a whole third perspective to what we are doing. He’s been doing Daytona last year, Formula 1 for ages.
“As always at Le Mans, when you have three drivers, no matter what, their combined speed is what your speed is. He brings to that not only his own speed, but his own point of views.”