Following two lucky escapes in the last two races, Christophe Bouchut has called an early end to his 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship season, while speaking out on safety concerns that he’s been faced with in recent events. (En Français)
The latest incident for the Frenchman came during the Six Hours of Fuji, when a fire erupted in his Lotus CLM P1/01 AER.
While escaping serious injury, Bouchut sustained burns to his eyebrows in the blaze, which was sparked by a fuel pump malfunction that leaked gasoline into the cockpit of the LMP1-L car.
“I came close to a catastrophic situation,” Bouchut told Endurance-Info. “When I stopped the car, there already was a fire in the cockpit. Everything inside was in flames. My left glove has been burnt as if it had been thrown in a fireplace.
“I stayed [in the car] between 10 and 15 seconds. We can only thank the safety standards of drivers’ equipment. I also have to thank the Rebellion Racing team, who rushed to extinguish the fire. Without them, the car would have certainly been completely burned.”
The fire came only three weeks after Bouchut was nearly hit by a spinning car during the heavy downpour at Circuit of The Americas, which was eventually red-flagged due to the conditions.
Two laps prior to the red, his Lotus spun and stalled on track, leaving Bouchut with the option of abandoning the car. However, he managed to re-fire the AER-powered prototype at the last minute, just moments before a Porsche 919 Hybrid lost control in the same corner.
Bouchut addressed his safety concerns during the drivers’ briefing at Fuji, sharing his belief that the red flag should have been called earlier.
“I’ve recently spoke to Jean Todt, the FIA President,” he said. “I think the red flag came out too late at Austin. I also spoke with Alexander Wurz and other drivers. Everyone agrees [with me] on the subject. According to the race director, there was no problem. This is not my opinion.
“At Fuji, I could have stopped the car in a different location. I tried to do everything I could to pull it in safely and not go into pit lane. Here, we came too close to an accident because the people extinguishing the fire came close to being hit by an Audi [entering the pits].
“The entire paddock agrees with me on this, in the name of safety. We need to find solutions so these kind of situations don’t happen again. I was in the heart of a problem twice.”
With two near-misses, Bouchut has decided to sit out the remainder of the season and regroup for 2015, which could see him return to Lotus.
He’s also actively looking to return to a leadership role within a Pro-Am driver lineup, similar to his tenure with Level 5 Motorsports and Scott Tucker in the U.S.
But for now, Bouchut is happy to take a short break, given the recent circumstances.
“I know that a racing driver takes risks, but two [is enough for me],” he said. “I see this as a chance. So I prefer to end my season with Lotus… I have always followed my feeling. When you have no feeling, don’t do it.”
While having sustained significant damage in the fire, the Lotus is expected to rebuilt and ready for next weekend’s Six Hours of Shanghai with Pierre Kaffer and James Rossiter listed as drivers.