Anthony Davidson's #1 Peugeot 908 finished the first qualifying session for the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours in second - edged out of pole by Sebastien Bourdais.
AUTOSPORT talked to Davidson about rivalries within the Peugeot ranks, where this year's unexpected speeds are coming from, and whether the Peugeot drivers were ordered to back off in qualifying.
Q. How pleased were you with your car's performance in qualifying?
Anthony Davidson: Well, I didn't have that much to do with it, because Alex [Wurz] was driving. That was the plan and we did the same thing at Spa, because we were treating Spa as a preparatory run for here. Alex did a really good job in quali after we'd had some difficulties in the earlier session with set-up. We'd had some problems with the car, which we rectified before qualifying, and he really got to grips with it and could start pushing for a lap time.
In the end it was a little bit touch and go but we finally got a couple of clear-ish laps that allowed him to grab P2 - for now. I think the circuit won't get any quicker today [Thursday]. We're in a good enough position to be in the top five, which is what we wanted. You can do something from there.
Q. When you talk about the set-up, is that in terms of the general balance of the car, or getting it to work over the kerbs?
AD: It's a combination of factors. Like most circuits, the dominant factor here is aero. You can't afford to carry too much drag otherwise it'll give you too big a deficit on the straights, and we were keen to work on a good balance. We're getting there. For quali it was probably more in the direction to what we want for the race. We'll work on that.
We just had a couple of niggly problems in first practice, particularly when Marc took over from me. We made a few set-up changes that didn't really do what we wanted, and then it's easy to get lost in that situation when the track's rubbering in, which improves your lap time anyway. We had a couple of minor technical issues on top of that as well, at the front end, which were quickly noticed and rectified for Alex's run. That allowed him to get quickly up to speed and ready for quali.
Q. It's been a lot quicker than last year. How much of that is car development, how much is the new surface in the Porsche Curves, how much is from the cooler conditions?
AD: Everyone's really surprised. From testing that we've done at Paul Ricard on exactly the same spec as we're running here - we were a bit slower there, which made sense at that time, then we come here and suddenly everybody's faster than last year. The Audis, sure enough, they've improved, but even they're knocking on the door of what was pole position. So, I don't know. Alex and Marc say the new surface hasn't change much in terms of grip and they're finding time elsewhere on the track. It was a bit cooler yesterday [Wednesday], which will always give a little more a power and downforce.
Q. In the final phase of first qualifying, after all three factory Peugeots had beaten the time of the ORECA car, there were several laps where each of the drivers had green first sectors and then slower middle sectors. Were you asked to back off?
AD: Well, I read something about us backing off and it wasn't like that at all. There's too much competition between the drivers here for anybody to be backing off. Everyone wants that pole position. I'm sure the team don't really care who gets it, so long as there's a Peugeot at the top, but for us it's a personal pride thing. When you're on a quick one - believe me, you're never going to back off. You give it everything you've got. The reason for slowing is that you catch traffic, and you might back off to save your tyres for the next lap. And when you're running low fuel, you've only got a certain number of laps allocated to you.
Q. Is the traffic the same as or worse than in previous years?
AD: For me it's better because I'm in a prototype this year, so I've got more power and downforce. I can overtake more easily. But the speed deficit hasn't changed between the fastest cars and the slowest cars, and it's pretty scary how quickly you come up on some of the slower cars, particularly on the twisty sections. And on the straight it can be quite daunting when the car ahead starts to veer over, because it hasn't seen you're there, and you're on the white line with only a bit of grass and a brick wall to stop you at 330km/h. It's a heart-in-the-mouth job, but you've just got to keep your toe in there.