A REFRESHING NEW START!

_d4d6970This winter, Benoît Tréluyer has been enjoying the spills and thrills of ice driving with the Belgian Audi Club Team W Racing Team. It has been a new and refreshing endeavour for the triple Le Mans 24 Hours winner, who didn’t expect to have so much fun and show competitive pace this early.

After three rounds in the 2016/17 Andros Trophy, Benoît feels very much at home in the Max Mamers-organised series.

“I’m having a great time this winter at WRT with my team-mates Oliver Panis, Nathanaël Berthon, and Bérénice Demoustier,” the Frenchman said. “We’re always having a laugh and the atmosphere within the squad is fantastic. I already enjoyed working with WRT in the past and it’s really nice to see the guys again.

“Max Mamers and his team of experts undeniably know how to run a tight ship in a fun and vibrant way. It can be testy sometimes on track, but it’s only because everybody around the Trophy is so passionate and willing to win. In the end though, we’re all racing for fun and I quite like the spirit!”

Benoît has also been enticed by the technical and driving challenges, which are quite different from what he has been used to in endurance racing. The Alençon-born ace needed a few lessons in order to get to grips with the intricacies of driving on ice.

“Luckily, I could rely on a great coach in Olivier,” Benoît added. “Of course, I already knew the Trophy, having driven at in the Electric category over the past few years. But I did not think I’d be up to speed so quickly. It’s quite unique but very fun.

“As an LMP1 driver, I am used to having so many settings, knobs, and dials everywhere. Here, you have the steering wheel, three pedals, the gear lever and off you go! It’s quite refreshing to go back to the roots.

“It simply never stops and after eight laps in the Finale, there is a lot of condensation inside the car. In LMP1, it’s all about driving the same lap over and over again, like a metronome. It’s high-precision work and any mistake can have dire consequences.

“It is not like that in Andros, so you are much more relaxed in the car. For guys like me it’s a welcomed break; a cool reminder of how different driving can be and why you wanted to become a professional racer in the first place.”

The 2012 FIA WEC champion still had to work hard in order to taste this sheer driving pleasure again, as ice racing requires some basic technique at the wheel.

“I went there totally unprepared,” Benoît admitted. “I must say that, after completing my first three practice laps on the opening round at Val Thorens, I wondered whether I had set the bar too high and should lower my ambitions. I was some way off the pace and that was not even the most worrisome thing…

“With rear-wheel-drive cars, you have to ‘throw’ the vehicle into the corner, basically approaching it in reverse, and engage third gear before you even hit the apex… That’s a far cry from what I have always been doing. I could not see any similarities, except for that it had four wheels and something to steer them with.

“So I did my three laps, then another two before entering the qualifying session. It’s pretty crazy but now I am learning on every single lap. Olivier and the entire WRT crew help me a lot. Nathanaël is also making his debut in the main categories after racing in the Electric class so we’re pushing and emulating each other. And when you’re having fun, it all clicks faster.”

The following week in Andorra, for what was only his second appearance, Tréluyer showed he was already up to speed by claiming the Super Pole.

“I came down to Earth shortly after though, when I tried an optimistic move on the outside of Jean-Philippe Dayraut,” Benoît continued. “The Trophy veterans did not wait long before making it clear that I still had a few tricks to learn…”

With qualifying heats accounting for more points than the Finale, Benoît still managed to clinch his maiden Andros podium with second in Andorra.

“I am learning every weekend. Unfortunately, some drivers like Gérald Fontanel and Nyls Stievenart paid the price for my rookie mistakes when I leaned on them for my first two overtaking moves. I hope they’ll forgive me! It’s part of the learning process and there is no shortcut. Now I understand how to get past cleanly.”

For the third round in Alpe d’Huez, Benoît could not take part in the first day since he did not want to miss Audi Sport’s emotional end-of-season farewell ceremonies.

“I arrived on Saturday morning and completed my first qualifying run without any practice. I still managed to clock the fourth fastest time in the first heat, and the third quickest in the second one.”

Tréluyer could not take part in the race though, after his team-mate Berthon, who competes in the Elite category while Benoît is in the Elite Pro class, damaged the Audi A1 quattro they are sharing this winter.

“It’s no big deal,” said the Frenchman, who is keen to bounce back during this weekend’s fourth round at Isola 2000. “Once again, I’ll have to learn the track layout but the good thing in Andros is that you can always challenge at the front even when you’re new to a venue. Of course, you need to work hard but the pleasure at the wheel makes you progress rapidly.”

As the New Year dawns, Benoît is keen to share his pleasure with friends and fans alike.

“2016 was not the easiest of years so it’s really nice to kick start 2017 in good spirits and with some fun. I would like to send my best wishes of happiness, luck, and good health to those who have been following my progress all along, as well as the entire Audi Sport staff. Some will stay; others will unfortunately have to go. I wish everyone the best and send them all my love, as well as a big kiss to you all!”

See you this weekend for more Andros Trophy fun!