Stoffel Vandoorne says that he has “always had an eye” for endurance racing ahead of his FIA World Endurance Championship debut in the Six Hours of Spa this weekend.
The ex-McLaren Formula 1 driver will be sharing the wheel of the No. 11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 AER with Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin for the first time.
Vandoorne, who also races for HWA Racelab in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, is replacing Jenson Button for the final two rounds of the 2018-19 ‘Super Season’ at Spa and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
“I’ve always had an eye on this type of racing. If you get a chance to do Le Mans with an LMP1 team, it’s not nothing,” he told Sportscar365 during a pre-event press conference.
“It’s quite a big deal. Le Mans is one of the biggest races in the world and when I was in junior series I was always watching the race or following it at home.
“To participate now is a huge challenge. It’s the ultimate test for a driver because you can have every condition, managing traffic. It will be something completely new but I’m looking forward to it.”
Vandoorne said he’s being helped by the fact that his debut comes in familiar surroundings at Spa, where he won the GP2 Series feature race in 2015 with the same ART Grand Prix team that runs the SMP Racing LMP1 program.
“It’s nice to be back at Spa because I’ve had a lot of success here in the past in other series that I’ve been racing in,” he said.
“Really this weekend will be a bit different because it will be a preparation race for Le Mans. [There are] a lot of things to learn for me.
“It will be the first time I step in the car, so it will take a little bit of time in the beginning to adjust. The biggest thing will be getting up to speed on how the regulations work, and I’m sharing the car with two teammates so it’s a different mindset and approach to the race.
“You can’t keep any secrets for yourself, you have to share it with your car. My teammates have been very welcoming with that.”
Further Sports Car Outings “Hard to Predict”
When asked about the possibility of having a long-term career in sports car racing, Vandoorne suggested that nothing has been decided yet.
The 27-year-old Belgian raced a Boutsen Ginion Racing McLaren MP4-12C GT3 in the Baku round of the 2013 FIA GT Series but has concentrated exclusively on single-seater competitions since.
“Before, I was always saying that maybe Le Mans is a race that I’m interested in doing. I was not expecting it to become reality so early,” said Vandoorne.
“I’m very pleased that I got the opportunity to do it. It’s a unique opportunity to do it in an LMP1 car [and] will be a great experience.
“We will see what the future will bring, it’s hard to predict.”