Emmanuel Collard says his return to prototype racing with Team Penske is a “brilliant opportunity” although he’s unconvinced that his new Silver-rated status will present him with new career opportunities in the future.
The 50-year-old Frenchman saw his FIA driver rating downgraded from Gold for this year because of his age.
This allowed him to be picked up by Penske for its debut season in WEC as the Silver driver alongside Dane Cameron and Felipe Nasr, who are Gold and Platinum, respectively.
Despite this, Collard remains in doubt if his new rating will lead to additional chances later down the line, pointing to the steady stream of talent climbing the junior single seater ranks.
Several teams in WEC’s LMP2 class have chosen young, Silver-rated drivers with single seater backgrounds to be part of their lineups.
Prema scooped up 21-year-old Formula 3 race-winner Lorenzo Colombo to partner Robert Kubica and Louis Deletraz, while United Autosports made headlines at Le Mans last year when it signed Josh Pierson, who will make his WEC debut at age 16.
“Team Penske was a really good opportunity for me. But for the future, I’m not sure,” Collard told Sportscar365. “There are so many young, silver guys coming from single seater series like Formula 2, for example.
“I’m nearly 51 years old. I’ve got the experience, but I’m not as fast as before. For now I’m really pleased with this program and it is a brilliant opportunity, but for the future: I don’t know. It is difficult to say.”
Despite seeing his age as a potential drawback, Collard does admit that his vast experience in endurance racing and previous tenure with the American powerhouse operation were important factors in getting the nod over a younger driver.
Collard completed three years in the American Le Mans Series with Penske, with his highlight being an overall victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2008 alongside Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard in a Porsche RS Spyder.
“In America, they really appreciate a driver’s experience,” Collard said. “I also raced for them for three years, so they know me well.
“They also know I’ve never stopped racing in all these years. I also had good results in GTE-Am two years ago. So overall, I think for them, this was a better choice.”
Penske’s debut season in the WEC is essentially a preparation year before the American squad moves back into a factory prototype program with Porsche’s LMDh project.
While Collard was part of Penske’s last joint effort with Porsche, he now shares the cockpit with two current factory drivers in Cameron and Nasr.
“It’s going very well,” he spoke of his fledgling relationship with the duo. “Those two guys are really cool, both of them. We have a good feeling together. We don’t know each other really well, because we only did two days of testing before coming here.
“At the moment, everything is positive. They are top guns and will drive more than me, for sure. We don’t have an exact plan yet, but I should race a bit less than them.”
Collard is no stranger to the Gibson-powered LMP2 car, having completed a full WEC campaign with the car in 2017 driving for TDS Racing.
Since then, the LMP2 formula has seen a number of performance reductions in order to accommodate the new-for-2021 Hypercar category.
“I have to say it is a bit easier because they’ve reduced the downforce on the car a lot compared to 2017,” Collard added. “They also reduced the engine power, which you can really feel. Physically, it’s easier to drive.”