When Loic Duval was named as Rinaldo Capello’s replacement at Audi Sport Team Joest ahead of the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship season, it set in motion a three-year transformation and overhaul of what had been the manufacturer’s most recognizable and successful driver lineup.
In 2014, it was Lucas di Grassi’s turn, replacing Allan McNish in the car.
And in 2015, it became Oliver Jarvis’ turn, replacing nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen.
What was the iconic Capello/McNish/Kristensen Audi is now the Duval/di Grassi/Jarvis Audi, and as the senior member of this new combined trio, Duval noted the importance of finalizing a new group at relatively the same points in their Audi careers.
“It’s really good actually to be together, the three of us, and start working together,” Duval told Sportscar365. “It’s something which is difficult, because it’s important to glue the driver lineup.
“When you change every year, you bring always someone new and have to restart.
“For us and for Audi, it’s now on us to make a new driver lineup for this car. We can work together for a while now. We’ll try to make it work.”
They’ll have their first crack at Le Mans as teammates in the No. 8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro, all entering in different situations compared to where they were 12 months ago.
Di Grassi is actually the only holdover in this car, in what had been the No. 1 last year.
Kristensen has retired, while Marc Gene filled in once Duval was ruled out of competing following a heavy accident at the Porsche Curves.
Jarvis, meanwhile, was in the team’s third car, but didn’t get the chance to race at Le Mans either.
Marco Bonanomi’s crash in the third hour following an unexpected microburst of rain on the Mulsanne straight took Jarvis out of his second 24-hour race in six months before he got the chance to drive. The Englishman also didn’t get to race in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, as the Audi R8 LMS he was in crashed out in the first hour.
Duval’s crash meant he didn’t even get the chance to defend his first Le Mans win in 2013, which took on a different poignancy being that it was with Kristensen and McNish.
For Kristensen and McNish, it marked their ninth and third Le Mans wins, and the trio went on to win that year’s World Championship.
“It is super nice to be back. It’s the most important race of the year,” Duval said. “We are all working very hard to make it, and for sure it was a shame to miss it last year.
“It was the biggest problem of the season actually not to be able to race here. I am really happy to be back. We did the pre-test two weeks ago. This event is something really special. You can’t find it anywhere else.”
While Jarvis has the longest Audi relationship of the three, Duval and di Grassi have known each other going back to when both were promising open-wheel prospects. Each worked toward an opportunity with Renault’s Formula 1 program, although only di Grassi made it into the sport in 2010.
“We have been together since RRDD time with Renault Formula 1 a few years ago,” Duval said. “Now we are back together here. It’s great. We have had similar careers.
“We have known each other for a while. It is important to build something as a team. And now we have Oliver, who has known Audi for many years… longer than us.”
Duval turns 33 today and while a win in front of French president Francois Hollande would make headlines for the Chartres native, it’s not the sole reason he’d be going for it.
More likely, it’s to shake off a rough start to the season where the No. 8 Audi has finished only fifth and seventh in Silverstone and Spa.
“I’m not going to try to win just for the president, that’s for sure,” Duval laughed. “We always try for our team, for Audi first.
“He’s coming because there’s a lot of people, but that’s a good thing.
“It’s really nice to be on the podium. With Audi, there is only one target: to win. That’s why it would be really enjoyable to be on the top step of the podium on Sunday.”