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Kobayashi, Bourdais: Le Mans Slow Zones Need “Big Rethink”

Kamui Kobayashi, Sebastien Bourdais speak out on Le Mans slow zone procedures…

Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastien Bourdais believe slow zones need a “big rethink” after both drivers were caught up by incidents triggered from other cars in last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kobayashi’s No. 7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid was forced to retire with damage after the No. 66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE as well as LMP2 entries from Alpine Elf Team and Graff Racing tangled with the race-contending Hypercar class entry in the ninth hour while entering a slow zone prior to Tertre Rouge.

Bourdais, meanwhile, was collected in a similar incident when he was hit by the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari of Ulysse De Pauw at the Dunlop Bridge in the second hour that also involved multiple cars.

Both drivers have spoken out about the procedure, which sees cars reduced to 80 km/h in segmented portions of the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe for an incident, in lieu of a Full Course Yellow or safety car that would neutralize the entire field.

“They released us from slow zone 1, at the tail end,” Bourdais told Sportscar365. “So there was no next slow to say that slow zone 2 was still active. And the GT guys were nose-to-tail.

“I don’t know what he was doing, but he basically forgot that the next one was yellow again. He just plowed into us.

“As soon as I touched the brakes to slow down… and I didn’t do that very abruptly. I was dreading it a bit because the marshals were green, yellow, slow… there was no next slow.

“Even for us, I don’t know who was in the Porsche, but I could tell we were a little confused ourselves, and then the guy behind just absolutely plowed into me.”

While Bourdais’ No. 3 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-Series.R continued with only bodywork damage and ended up finishing fourth in the race, Kobayashi’s Toyota was knocked out of the running, which caused a big blow to the Japanese manufacturer’s bid for a sixth consecutive Le Mans win.

“What could I [have done]? I just want to know if I [could have done] something better,” Kobayashi told Sportscar365.

“In the night it’s very hard to see the light, because it’s so bright. It’s hard to judge if it’s a next slow or slow zone.

“At the end of the day, if I overtake, I get a penalty. So I tried to definitely avoid it, even if I knew I was going to lose the time. But I tried to respect the rules and I braked. The car behind was surprised and couldn’t stop.

“I just want to know how to operate in this situation.

“It’s so painful to end the race like this because we did the race pretty well and were running P3, catching up. It’s very tough.”

The Frenchman believes the entire system needs to be re-considered for Le Mans.

“I think it’s very accident-prone,” Bourdais said. “I think it’s very boring and the zones are too long.

“The first year it was perfect: they were corner by corner. The straights were detached from the corners. Now you have slow zones that last a minute and a half. What for?

“When you go from Tertre Rouge to entry of the first chicane… do you really need that?

“If you’re going to have an incident, you have it at Tertre Rouge, the straight or the chicane. Why do you need a slow zone for all three?

“I think it needs a big rethink, especially when they do multiple slow zones and start turning off some of them. It’s too complicated for everybody.”

Kobayashi, meanwhile, has suggested an increased use of FCYs in the future, which forces all cars, no matter the location on the track, to immediately slow.

“I think FCY is a way to be more safer, because it’s calmed down and the same for everybody,” he said.

“So whatever position, location, distance… you need to be 80 km/h. This situation is a difficult scenario if the radio is not working, but otherwise, we would not have these [incidents].

“We share the track with 61 cars, and there are a lot of new and experienced drivers all mixed.

“We knew exactly what I needed to do but imagine a guy whose first time at Le Mans, and he sees the lighting like this… it’s confusing, to be honest.”

Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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