"I know I want to race" - Anthony Davidson

Anthony Davidson is a frustrated man at Le Mans this year. The Briton has been an integral part of Toyota's Le Mans campaign in recent years and is widely considered to be one of the finest sports car racers in the world. Nevertheless, this year he finds himself on the sidelines, having been forced to make way for Formula 1 superstar Fernando Alonso, who has taken his seat in the #8 TS050 HYBRID. Speed Chills caught up with Davidson at the circuit on Wednesday to hear how he feels about the situation.

"I know that I want to race, and I know that when I drove the laps here in practice a couple of weeks ago, I clicked straight back into it. I was quick and sat top of the time sheets for 20 or 30 minutes. It all just felt natural.

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"I’ve done a lot of miles in the car already this year. I took the new lap record at Aragon during winter testing, so I am still fast and still committed to the team, but I now find myself in this situation. It is a bit strange, however, it is not the first time in my career that I’ve been a reserve driver. It is however, strange finding myself here as a reserve driver, especially as I know this place so well. I’ve done 10 Le Mans. I should have won it at least once or twice, so it feels strange to not have the chance to win this time round. But, a lot can happen in sports cars. I might be back with the team, you never know. It’s a long way to go.

"It was completely the team’s decision to move me in to the reserve driver role. It was not my decision not to race. I was told it was me that had to step aside for Fernando, so I have to respect the team. It is a shame, however – that’s the way motorsport is sometimes. It was a tough decision for the team, all six drivers were performing well so it was never going to be an easy decision to move one of their top driver’s asides. It’s a strange situation, I won five races last year in 2017. But basically, Fernando had to be here, and he had to take one of our drives. It’s as simple as that. Its unlucky that it was me but that’s just life. If you were going to step aside for anyone in the world, then Fernando is not a bad driver to step aside for so that makes it a bit easier. If it was Joe Bloggs, then I would be annoyed. It is like the world wants Fernando to win Le Mans this year. He’s on a quest for the triple crown and he finds himself here with the team. Fernando had limited options once Audi and Porsche both dropped out of the series so there was only one team to go for and it was this team. This is his best opportunity to win Le Mans.

"I know I was performing at my best and I am proud of what I achieved last year. As I said, I won five races and in particular, the last two were very good for me. I couldn’t have given any more. My family are happy to see a bit more of me now and my wife is happy that I am not out on track risking my life. Obviously, Le Mans is not the safest race in the world. It is dangerous. I’ve ended up in hospital over the years. I broke my back in 2012. Le Mans is dangerous, and it can bite you. It’s probably the most challenging circuit we go to in terms of safety and the drivers respect that.

"We have put a lot of work into testing and development over the winter. It is essentially the same car as last year but with a few small developments. Primarily, we have improved the usability for the drivers and the engineers. We have tested numerous scenarios and if anything goes wrong, we can get the car home. Winter testing has been hard work, it has been quite involved and it is the work that no one gets to see. That is the time when we, as drivers, really make our money. It’s bloody hard work. We do long tests, 36-hour sessions with five or six drivers and we don’t stop. That’s the stuff under the radar.

"We’ve been testing at Portimao and Aragon primarily and the car has been performing really well, as it was last year. It’s the same package but it is nicer and easier to drive. We have been focusing on all the possibilities that could go wrong. We have been approaching it like Nasa would approach a space mission, looking at anything that could possibly go wrong, and we have developed a backup plan for each situation.

"We have learnt a lot about the car, we know it inside out like never before. We have been given manuals on the steering system, the switches, the controls. We have learnt how to repair the car with the onboard kit we carry. We are completely ready to make sure that we are on top of any possible situation that could go wrong. Of course, there are things outside of our control, force majeure and all that and with this race, there is always a chance of that. But that said, we are in a much better place as a whole team than ever before.

"Everything that you could think of that could possibly go wrong, we have tried our best to replicate in testing and simulation work to prepare for it. It has been quite good fun actually in many ways. Only a select few people within the team know what’s going to happen. The drivers and mechanics were not aware, and scenarios would be thrown in as a surprise to see how people would react and perform. You could never relax, you always had to have your wits about you and be focused. The issues were rarely announced and there were of course times when the team and drivers got it wrong and would have ended up in a situation where the car could not be recovered. We learnt the hard way and that’s the best way to learn. It has been absolutely fascinating as a driver to experience. I had some input into it all and fell down a few times!

"What’s the saying team Sky use? Train hard, race easy. It takes time to learn and defeat only makes you stronger. By going through that defeat, we have realised how hard things are and how to recover from a situation. If you turned up and just won by luck and you don’t know how you win then that is sometimes more dangerous as you are unprepared for the event. In terms of development, we don’t necessarily need to make the car quicker. We know it has the pace to win, the main focus has been on reliability and understanding the trials and tribulations of Le Mans. All those defeats the team have suffered, they have been pretty cruel over the years, but it makes you stronger.

"If we were to have the 2016 situation right now, in exactly the same way, we would have still won the race. Everyone would be able to recover it. And what happened to Nico last year, we would be able to recover that now. We would have got back to the pits. We are now set to make sure that we can get the car home. It’s that never give up attitude and you don’t see it in any other racing, certainly anything I’ve done and its incredible to see that if those two situations happen now then it is fully recoverable.

"It’s a shame for me not to be out there, I feel readier than ever. Even if we had Porsche and Audi here now or any other quality brands, I feel that we are in the best position to win. I am here as a reserve driver, that’s it. I’m not going to polish it up, I am here as the back-up in case something goes wrong with one of the other drivers. I wouldn’t want any other roles or responsibilities. We’ve got Alex Wurz to be the team advisor/ambassador. I’m here to just hang around in case anything goes wrong. It may be my easiest Le Mans ever, you never know!

"There was never an option to run a third car this year. I don’t know the exact reason, but you would say, if there was ever a year to run 3/4/5/6 cars, it would be this year, but it was never an option. You will have to ask some other people to get an answer for that question, it sure would have helped me if there was a third car.

"All the other teams, with the exception of ByKolles are new. We are such a well-polished team now. We have learnt from our bad experiences and it has put us into this situation we are in today. I’m not saying that nothing will go wrong because you can never predict that. We are however in the best situation we could possibly be. We cannot prepare for a sudden downpour at one corner when you’re on slicks, or someone’s engine blowing and dropping oil all over the track and you go flying off into the barrier. You cannot foresee things like that, but we are trained as drivers in this team to report any oil or a slippery surface on track, we report that back to the team who will pass that on.

"We have done some work on the clutch as well, we have burnt it to a crisp in testing and it is bullet proof. So, if some guy jumps out in front of us in the pitlane pretending to be a marshal, we can recover from that and it won’t be a problem.

"I think the best and worst memories are from 2016, I drove my best Le Mans I ever have. Bringing the car back to the front and leading the race. You know when you have driven 100% and in terms of personal satisfaction, it was my best race. And I had that feeling of winning Le Mans, I could taste it. I was just waiting for Kazuki to pass the line before it was taken away. But that feeling, I would take physical pain over that any day."