Following a seven-year absence from the famed enduro, Christophe Bouchut makes his return to the Total 24 Hours of Spa, as the Frenchman seeks continued success but in a much different environment. (En Français)
The two-time overall race winner has joined GT Russian Team for its Pro-Am Cup class Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 effort, which sees Bouchut lead the team’s attack in the Belgian Ardennes this weekend.
“I’m back in the 24 Hours of Spa after several years away to do other things,” Bouchut told Endurance-Info. “Now there’s only one class [GT3].
“GT Russian Team offered me several races this year, including Spa. It’s a real pleasure for me to return to this prestigious event.
“We consider the 24 Hours of Spa as the biggest GT race in the world that’s reserved for GT cars [only].”
Having claimed overall wins with Larbre Competition’s Dodge Viper GTS-R in 2001 and 2002, in the first years of the event under GT regulations, Bouchut realizes the times have changed quite dramatically.
“The GT1 years were different from what we know today because the cars [were not held back],” he said. “It was another time, with different regulations. I had a great time.
“GT3 cars have different driver aids. They’re underpowered and you push [to the maximum] almost everywhere. The cars are typically more for gentlemen drivers.
“With GT3, it’s harder to tell the difference. Before, the differences were more important, where you’d focus on the exit of the corners rather than the entrance.
“Professional drivers have to deal with the cars lack of power but they’ve become very reliable.”
Following his success with the Viper, Bouchut went on to drive a number of other storied GT1 machinery, including the Ferrari 550 Maranello, Aston Martin DBR9, Corvette C6.R, Saleen S7.R and Lamborghini Murcielago.
“I’ve run in many different cars,” he said. “All have given me a good feeing.
“If I had to remember one, it would be the Ferrari 550 Maranello, which was perfectly balanced along with a special sound. The Lamborghini Murcileago was also a special car.
“Today, endurance races are true sprint races. Everyone has to push from start to finish. The driver don’t get any rest in the car.
“It was different early on in the GT era because everything was new and mechanical failures were to be expected.
“I remember during a race at Spa, I [had] a crash driving a Porsche 911 GT1 and I had to wait until the end of the session to return to [the pits].
“Since I was at reduced speed, I didn’t put my helmet on and it was there I realized the power of the cars. We don’t realize that when you’re helmeted.”
This year, Bouchut is targeting class honors at Spa, serving as the team leader in the No. 70 Mercedes alongside co-drivers Alexey Karachev, Miguel Toril and Kenneth Heyer.
He’s set realistic expectations, having previous experience with the team in a handful of Blancpain Sprint Series races this year, while bringing the experience and success of 24-hour races with him.
“Winning this race was a great moment, especially twice,” Bouchut said. “Everyone knows how difficult it is to win a 24-hour race.
“This year, the ambitions are different even though anything can happen in the race. For us, the objective is the class win.
‘The 24 Hours of Spa is an important race. Many dream to participate. Winning at Spa is something special and prestigious on a resume.”