Interview: Nicolas Lapierre on his factory Toyota deal
|By Gary Watkins
||Monday, January 30th 2012, 10:53 GMT
Nicolas Lapierre starts 2012 as a factory race driver for the first time in his career. The Frenchman spoke to AUTOSPORT about what the switch to Toyota's LMP1 programme means to him and how the deal came about.
Q. What does it mean to land your first factory drive in sportscars?
Nicolas Lapierre: When you start your career, you want to get to Formula 1; that is the dream of every young driver. If you move to sportscars, then the dream becomes driving for a factory team. That's why this is so important for me.
Q. How important was your time with ORECA, driving its own LMP1 chassis and then the Peugeot 908 HDi?
NL: I had three very good years with ORECA and made a good improvement as a driver. Single-seater racing is completely different to sportscar racing. I had to understand about strategy, looking after my tyres and being a team player. I learnt those things with ORECA, and now I feel I am ready to drive for a factory team.
Q. Do you think the victory at last year's Sebring 12 Hours helped you seal the drive?
NL: We had some wins before with the ORECA P1 car and the Peugeot, but not a big one like Sebring. It is an important race, so I am sure that helped me land the deal with Toyota.
Q. Did you have any discussions with Peugeot about 2012?
NL: There was an obvious connection with Peugeot. They knew everything that I was doing because they had all our data. Contact was made, but I thought the Toyota project was more exciting. It is a new project and it is good to be in at the beginning of what is a big challenge. If I had gone with Peugeot, I would have been just one of nine drivers, but joining Toyota means I will be doing all the tests with the new TS030 HYBRID and be much more involved in building a new project.
Q. How important was ORECA in helping you land the deal given that they will be supporting Toyota in 2012?
NL: The only person I spoke with was Pascal [Vasselon, Toyota Motorsport GmbH technical director]. I knew Hugues [de Chaunac, ORECA team boss] was working on something, because he is always working on something. I had no idea what it was and I don't know if ORECA's deal was done already when I signed, but I am sure that Pascal and Hugues talked about me. I don't think it affected the decision so much because I know that Toyota looked at all the lap times from the past two years and who crashed and who didn't. I was surprised at how much information they looked at.
Q. Is this a long-term deal for you?
NL: I know Toyota will always produce a strong and competitive car, so as long as they stay in sportscars, I would like to stay with them.