Pastor Maldonado says he’s relishing the chance to start a new chapter in his racing career as he prepares to make his FIA World Endurance Championship debut.
The former Williams and Lotus Formula 1 driver is switching to endurance racing after five years on the grand prix circuit.
Having signed on to a Pirelli development role in 2016 following his final F1 season, Maldonado took a year out in 2017, but is now back in full-time competition with the DragonSpeed squad in LMP2.
The Venezuelan will share the Elton Julian-run outfit’s Oreca 07 Gibson with Nathanael Berthon and Roberto Gonzalez, before 2014 world champion Anthony Davidson replaces Berthon in the crew after Le Mans.
“I haven’t stopped any of my training so physically it should be as if I never had the year out,” Maldonado told Sportscar365.
“I was close to a WEC drive with a few teams in the past, but I chose to be away from the races for a bit to spend time with my family and take some time out to think about the bigger picture.
“The team here at DragonSpeed is very professional and everyone is pushing extremely hard.
“It’s going to be difficult at the beginning because everything is completely new for me, but there is a great atmosphere in the team and that is making it even easier for me to approach things.
“I’m a rookie driver here, so I really want to learn and to relaunch my career. I’m really pleased to be back and feel ready.”
Maldonado is keeping reserved about his expectations for the season, considering his first laps behind the wheel of the Oreca will be turned on Friday at the Prologue.
The American team is one of seven entries competing in the WEC full-time, with an LMP1-class BR Engineering BR1 Gibson complementing its LMP2 challenge.
“It’s difficult to say where I will be,” said Maldonado.
“The last car I drove was a Formula 1 so it’s something to discover. I expect the LMP2 to be very powerful but at the same time it’s heavier than the cars I have driven before.
“I feel very motivated to discover this series – in the past I won in every category I had been in, so my target here is to come and continue that.”
Having raced almost exclusively in single-seaters, Maldonado is coming in with a different type of experience to Gonzalez and Berthon, both of whom have several years of endurance racing under their belts.
But as a long-time WEC follower, the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix winner wants to fully integrate himself into the championship to become a “better all-round” driver.
“I’ve been following the series for many years – all the essential rules and how to manage them,” he said.
“But as with everything, the practice is harder than the theory.
“The key will be to adapt myself to the car as quickly as possible and learn about how the team approaches things.
“I believe I’m a very good team player, and I think the team aspect makes you a bigger driver, so I’m confident we will manage to build a good atmosphere and go from there.”
Other Race Opportunities Possible
While his primary focus is on the WEC ‘Super Season’, Maldonado has not ruled out sampling other forms of motorsport in the future.
Prior to signing with DragonSpeed, the 33-year-old came close to finding a seat in the WTCR series and has also expressed interest in Formula E.
“I would prefer to focus on only one category, but we’ll see,” he said. “Formula E is very interesting and it’s growing nicely – I think they are doing an amazing job with it.
“I always keep in contact with [FE founder] Alejandro Agag, who is a good friend. So if an opportunity comes up there I might give it a try – why not?”
Maldonado hasn’t ruled out the likelihood of exploring other areas of sports cars racing either, and views LMP1 as his ultimate target.
His last sports car outing came during the 2008 International GT Open, when he co-drove a Dodge Viper Competition Coupe with then-GP2 rival Jerome d’Ambrosio at Valencia street circuit.
“For sure I would be open to approach any project that convinces me. If the project is looking good and I feel good, I will go for it.
“IMSA is also very interesting to me. It’s a very competitive championship: the level of the drivers and the teams makes it very similar to this series [WEC] I think.”
“Right now, I’m fully focused on this with DragonSpeed but I’d like to try something else, maybe GT, you never know.”