DRIVER’S EYE VIEW

FROM THE F1 SCRAPHEAP, A SWITCH TO RAL­LY­ING GAVE THE FRENCH­MAN A SHOT AT CA­REER SAL­VA­TION

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - Stephane Sar­razin

The French ace res­ur­rected his rac­ing ca­reer by go­ing ral­ly­ing and carved out a niche in both

“En­durance rac­ing is ex­cit­ing, you have lots of over­tak­ing, but ral­ly­ing is more dif­fi­cult to find a good pace”

Where I live in the South of France, ral­ly­ing is very fa­mous. My father was a rally driver, so I fol­lowed it since I was a kid and tried to find the bud­get to do one rally a year. It was for fun mainly, but also to show that I could do it. In 2001 I won my first round in the French Cham­pi­onship on Ral­lye du Var and I liked it a lot.

At the end of 2003 in World Se­ries by Nis­san, I felt a bit like I missed the boat. The 1999 Brazil­ian GP was sup­posed to be just the start of my ca­reer in Formula 1, but un­for­tu­nately I didn’t make a very good choice. Mi­nardi asked me to con­tinue af­ter Brazil but I had a con­tract with Prost Grand Prix, so I stayed in Formula 3000. It was al­ways my plan af­ter that to join Prost in F1, but that’s life.

One day in the French magazine Auto Hebdo,

I saw a pic­ture with a Subaru WRC car read­ing ‘What if it’s you?’ – Subaru and the French Fed­er­a­tion were do­ing a se­lec­tion for one driver to do the full French Cham­pi­onship in 2004 and three World Cham­pi­onship rounds as well. There were around 10-12 rally drivers there – there was Bryan Bouffier and a lot of guys still do­ing it now, but I won it. Af­ter that, I won the French ti­tle, and the three rounds in the World Cham­pi­onship went very well. It was very sur­pris­ing;

I did Cor­sica, Ger­many and Catalunya, all Tar­mac and I was in the top five.

The Subaru World Rally Team then took me for 2005, which was just amaz­ing. I liked David Richards, he was a great boss for me and I en­joyed work­ing with him. But they gave me only eight ral­lies in 2005 and four in 2006. If you want to suc­ceed in ral­ly­ing, you need to do ev­ery event. For me to just do half, only three ral­lies on gravel and not a lot of test­ing, it wasn’t enough. So David Richards asked me to do the Se­bring 12 Hours with As­ton Martin in 2005. I told him, ‘I don’t want to do rac­ing any­more’ be­cause in my mind I was flat out fo­cused on rally, but as I was not do­ing enough driv­ing I agreed to do Se­bring. I wasn’t rac­ing for a year and a half at that point, so it was strange at first but I had a good feel­ing and, af­ter that, he took me for the full Amer­i­can Le Mans Se­ries in ’06.

Peu­geot con­tacted me at the end of that year to do LMP1 – and some ral­lies with the 207 S2000 in In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Rally Chal­lenge and the French Cham­pi­onship. The op­por­tu­nity David Richards gave me in GT1 gave me a chance to be back in a factory car in LMP1 – it came from do­ing ral­ly­ing first.

What I like most about ral­ly­ing is the adren­a­line. The recce is a lot of work with the co-driver, pre­par­ing the pacenotes, work­ing on the video, but you never know if your notes are good be­cause the roads are dif­fer­ent all the time. We push like in rac­ing, but the adren­a­line is amaz­ing.

In rac­ing, it’s more like per­fec­tion, brak­ing 20cm ear­lier or later. En­durance rac­ing is ex­cit­ing, you have lots of over­tak­ing and the dif­fer­ent classes, but ral­ly­ing is more dif­fi­cult to find a good pace.

In a rally, you go to the limit of the trees or rocks and in Formula E it’s a bar­rier, so they’re ac­tu­ally very close. I think the rally train­ing has helped me a lot in the bumpy tracks with very low grip.

I’ve been do­ing it for a long time, so maybe it’s be­cause I’m chang­ing all the time and I know I’m not scared. For ex­am­ple, this year I did the Monte Carlo Rally with Hyundai, I was fight­ing for the lead but un­for­tu­nately I did a mis­take and I crashed. We could have won there for sure.

I love rac­ing, I love ral­ly­ing, I’m lucky to do both. I like to fol­low my rally team and I will go to some ral­lies, but at the mo­ment I am still rac­ing at a high level and fo­cused on my driv­ing. I would like still to win Le Mans with SMP, I en­joy driv­ing in Formula E and I will try to do one or two ral­lies per year.

I think many drivers would like to do both, but they are scared about their im­age; ‘If I am not per­form­ing, the peo­ple will think I’m slow’. If you do it, you need to do 100%, pre­par­ing flat out. If you don’t do it, the oth­ers are so fast and they are push­ing all so hard, so you need to be like them.

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