Emmanuel Collard said he’s amazed how fast and challenging the new-look LMP2 cars are to drive, in the veteran Frenchman’s return to the category at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in seven years.
Collard, tied with Jan Lammers as the most experienced driver on the Le Mans grid, will be starting 7th in class tomorrow alongside Francois Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxiviere in the No. 28 Oreca 07 Gibson for TDS Racing.
The team is fifth in the FIA World Endurance Championship standings after turning in a solid drive to third in the season-opener at Silverstone, while a miscue in the second round at Spa relegated the team to a ninth-place result after fighting for a podium spot early in the race.
Back for a 23rd attempt at Le Mans, the 46-year-old comes armed with experience driving a wide variety of machinery from LMP1 to the GT ranks since his debut in 1995, and came away impressed by the jump in performance seen in the LMP2 class since his last season in the category in 2009.
“To be honest, I’m really surprised by the performance of the car actually,” Collard told Sportscar365. “It’s really fast.
“Can you imagine, I won the pole position in P1 in 2005 and I was doing 3:34s, and Wednesday we were already in 3:29s. It’s unbelievable the gain, the improvement of the car. The performance is really, really huge.
“I drove a lot in prototype, but it’s been seven years. I couldn’t believe it. I was really impressed.
“Physically it’s OK, but the speed into the high-speed corners, with this car it has so much downforce if you are lifting just a little bit you are losing a lot. You have to be 100 percent all the time. It’s not easy.”
The adjustment has been even bigger for his co-driver Perrodo, who along with Rui Aguas teamed with Collard to win the WEC GTE-Am class championship last season in an AF Corse-run Ferrari 458 Italia GT.
After several years away from LMP2 and with a co-driver new to prototype racing, Collard said it made sense to make the jump this year when the rest of the field would be learning the equipment as well.
“That’s why we decided to make the move now, everyone is learning a new car, new regulations,” he said. For Francois, it’s unbelievable. For him it’s a big step because he never had experience before.
“He only had the four years in a GT car, so when he said he wanted to do a prototype I said, ‘OK, it’s different!’ I knew it would not be a problem because he learns really quick. He is OK, he is improving all the time.”
While admitting that he had some concerns about reliability, Collard said he felt like the team has an opportunity to score a good result in the biggest race of the year if they take care of business.
“I think we have a good chance,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going on with the reliability with the car. If you see the first few races we did, we were not so bad at the end.
“We achieved a podium at Silverstone, and in Spa we were also not bad, third or fourth place before we made a mistake. I think we can do a good result.”