911 hero: Kévin Estre
Total 911 grabs some time with the French works driver to discuss his recent Le Mans class win and that lap round the ‘Ring in the 991.2 GT3 RS
Total 911 speaks with the French works driver on his record-breaking lap and owning classic Neunelfers
Total 911: Kévin, it’s been a spectacular year for you so far, hasn’t it?
Estre: It has! To be part of it all is incredible. As a Frenchman, to start at Le Mans in the car wearing the famous [Pink Pig] livery, alongside the others with the old-school look, it was very, very special. We had a lot of attention. Everyone was looking at us, particularly with the LMP programme stopping; a lot of people were concentrating on GT a lot more and we were, I think, the favourite with our colours. It’s funny because it reminds people who were old enough to remember the car in 1971. It’s pretty cool.
It’s a lovely story for the company’s legacy and its rich racing history. For a driver it must be a real privilege to race for Porsche because it has that history.
Yes, it is. I started with single seaters, then started my GT career in the Carrera Cup, so I entered the Porsche world early; I was 19 I think, and from that moment on I started not to hope about F1 or whatever – I thought this is the brand I have to stay with to get a contract. When you start to think about endurance and GT racing there’s only one brand that stands out, and it’s Porsche. They’ve been at Le Mans since 1951… they’ve never missed a year. Driving in a Le Mans with Porsche in a factory car is quite a pressure. On the 70th year, you know that you have a car that should be able to win. You know that you should drive fast and make no mistakes…
What was your strategy, the team strategy? To be honest, it was flat out from the beginning.
From the very first corner?
Yes, actually, especially the way Le Mans is with the three safety cars. We’ve seen it in the past, and we’ve seen it this year. That’s one of the reasons why we won with such a big gap, because after four hours the safety car came out, and it came out right behind us, so we caught the safety car which was 1.5km or 3km ahead, and then we had a gap of one minute ten because we were leading, and that’s where we wanted to be. In the end we pushed for that, because we knew we’d be in with a chance of having a safety car that would split the group. We wanted to be ahead, so that’s what we did. You have to take it as an endurance race: you have to survive and finish, but you also have to push at the same time.
You were using all of the kerbing…
Yeah, pretty much. When you look at the onboard we’re really on it for 24 hours. After four hours during the night we started to take care a little bit on the kerbs – not using as much as before on the Ford Chicane as it’s the hardest one, and the baguettes at the exit of Karting because also one of our sister cars got a suspension problem at the rear right, so we were not sure from where
it was coming – but normally you just push hard the whole time. The Rothmans car, the #91 car, they had pressure and they pushed for the whole 24 hours and nothing broke. It shows that Porsche do a good job on the development and reliability of the car.
Your win demonstrates you’re fast around Le Mans, but you’re also now famous for another lap. Tell us about that.
Ah, yes, the Nürburgring; that was a really cool experience. It was the first proper laps I’ve done in a street car – a fast street car on the Nordschleife. The street car is quite a lot different from my race car. We did two days of testing the week before, but it was raining for half of the second day. Then we were testing tyres, so I think I had about ten laps before, which was enough to feel good, but still not a crazy amount of laps. Yeah, only ten. We had one hour of booked track time alone, and then we did two laps. Lars Kern did two and we were really close. All our four laps were within three seconds, I think. The slowest was a 6:59, the first lap from Lars, and my fastest was the 6:56.4, so it was all quite close. The car was very good to drive. It was fantastic, but it was proper adrenaline doing two laps in a row with this car. I did one, I pulled up, changed tyres and went again. Doing so is as demanding as much as a stint on the Nordschleife in a race, or even a double stint. It’s crazy. Mentally it’s really trying and tiring – physically less so, but mentally it’s really tough.
It’s a crazy track in a road car. How does the 991.2 GT3 RS compare to your racer?
Where it’s difficult, especially with this car, is that the aero is really good; you start to really feel aero on a street car. In the fast corners we are not far from a GT3 car – at Schwedenkreuz, the first left after Flugplatz, the minimum speed on the GPS was 233km/h with the GT3 RS, and with the GT3 R it’s like 25km above, so in terms of percentage it’s not crazy. Then in slow corners there you feel that the slicks are missing. The mechanical grip, there you are further apart than a GT3 race car.
The point is that it’s difficult to find the difference between fast corners and slow corners where you have to adapt yourself for the extra grip expectation. There, for me, it was difficult, because I’m not used to driving street cars so much. When you combine the lap times from Lars, he was better than me for slow corners and me better in the fast corners.
So there’s a faster perfect lap?
It would have been, I think, 1.5 seconds faster, because in my lap I had some mistakes – one or two. At Adenauer Forst I came in completely sideways and was close to the grass, and also the jump at Pflanzgarten; the jump then the double right I came in too quick and I almost dropped a wheel in the gravel. I was committed.
So yes, it was not perfect, but then to have a perfect lap on the Nordschliefe is not possible. You also have your strengths. The track is so difficult that you have, every time, even in a race car, you have one corner where you will stand out as a driver because you feel good there, and on another one it will be your teammate. So
it’s pretty much the same, but in the GT3 RS it’s just crazy. This lap time with this amount of horsepower is amazing.
How did you have the electronic stability and traction systems set?
To be honest to do it again I’d disconnect everything, but on the lap I disconnected everything apart from the traction control. There was some cut that I didn’t really want, because the wheel was not in contact with the asphalt because of the elevation change and bumps, and there was some cut where I thought it would have been better without.
When I tested it I drove with it on, then one lap off, but I was used to it on so when it was off I exited the corners and got some big slides, so I put it on. From the wheelspin exiting the corners the system is fine, but on the Nordschliefe on the bumps and the kerbs there are some points when it cuts where I really didn’t want it to. I just went for it. When you’re alone on this track, heated tyres and just fuel for one lap and you now that you have no traffic, no oil, no leaves or whatever, no water, it also brings you on another level.
With your Le Mans success and that recordbreaking lap you’ll now inspire many young racers. Who was your inspiration when you were younger?
When I was a kid it was Ayrton Senna who all my family were big fans of. Although there was a Prost/senna thing everyone was Senna, but otherwise I don’t have idols. I respect a lot of drivers; for Porsche I think Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard are really good examples coming from the Carrera cup, with Timo from Junior and winning Le Mans overall with Audi, and with Porsche being a factory driver for so long… I think this is a very good example. I’m driving with him this year in ADAC Masters and I’m learning a lot from what he’s doing and how he manages things.
Racers don’t usually get too excited about road cars. What do you drive away from the track?
As a factory driver we have a company car; we are allowed to choose. I have a 911 Turbo S. It’s quite fast. I can have a GT3 or a GT3 RS, but I drive quite far. The S is perfect. It’s 354kph top speed.
How do you know that?
Erm… I did it on the autobahn. I live close to Germany so I drive on them a lot. Not yet, but I want to buy some, well, one to start, but I’m waiting. I want an old 3.0 and I like old Targas, also the 964. I like a lot of cars, though an old 911 would be great.
Not a GT3 RS in the Le Mans Pink Pig livery? Haha, there are some; I get sent lots of pictures. It’s lovely to be part of all that history.
BELOW Estre and Preuninger celebrate in the aftermath of the Frenchman’s blistering lap at the Nürburgring in the GT3 RS
ABOVE In conversation with Motorsports supremo Franksteffen Walliser. Estre is part of a strong driver roster at Porsche