It was Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 at the Motorland Aragon circuit. The usually quiet area was shattered by the repeated comings and goings of a race car. The entire Peugeot Sport team was working hard at the Spanish circuit preparing for the Silverstone Intercontinental Le Mans Cup race. The delegation of drivers was classic, with Stéphane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny, Alex Wurz and Simon Pagenaud.
To them add a prestigious guest who used the session to get to know Peugeot. Quite different from what he knew behind the wheel of his Citroën DS3 WRC, but actually quite close to what he had lived in Formula 1, Kimi Räikkönen went all in. The Finland native completed 35 laps in the Zaragoza province and worked closely with the Sochaux manufacturer’s technicians and engineers for this one-day experience!
True to his great oratorical skills, the 2007 F1 World Champion declared at the end of the session: “The 908 is a great car to drive!” Ah, Kimi. There is no way to know if the session would have led to a factory driver contract in 2012, knowing that Räikkönen was to make his big return to single-seaters with Lotus that year. The only information, his desire to rediscover the sensations on the track was very real and the birth of the FIA World Endurance Championship could have very well met Iceman’s expectations. [ via 24h-lemans.com]
Kimi, characteristically honest about his experience in this interview, said:
“The Le Mans car was interesting but, to be honest, the steering was quite shit and the widescreen was really strange – it sort of distort the view… maybe because it’s very round. I can’t imagine what it’s like with oil and mess on it after you’ve been racing for a long time. But I enjoyed the experience and the car felt good, even though I’m told that it had less power compared to previous years. I’ hadn’t really driven on a circuit for ages apart from the NASCAR race, but that was on an oval, so it was completely different.”
As a Kimi fan, I would certainly love to see Kimi participate in the 24h Le Mans for real. He’s tried the WRC, Nascar, rides motocross as a hobby, and it would just be awesome to see how his endurance skills result in Le Mans, as he often uses this strength to achieve best possible results in outstanding tyre management in his F1 races.
The 31-year-old, who told Finalnd’s Turun Sanomat that racing at Le Mans would be ‘great’, summarised the experience: “I enjoyed this test with Peugeot. The 908 is a really fun car to drive.”
Peugeot Sport team manager Pascal Dimitri said the test had proved interesting, with Raikkonen offering valuable feedback on his first test.
“Kimi adapted very quickly to the car,” Dimitri said, “and gave us a valuable technical feedback. It is always interesting to get inputs from drivers such as Kimi.”
Peugeot’s sport director Olivier Quesnel said the test had been planned ‘for a long time’ and that no decisions have been taken for the future.
“Originally, this test session was planned for a long time in order to prepare the rest of the season, on top of which we have allowed Kimi to discover the 908.
This weekend, Nico Hulkenberg will start from 3rd on the Le Mans grid with car #19 thanks to Porsche dominating qualifying. Good luck to him and all the others participating, including Kimi’s long time friend Toni Vilander (teamed up with Giancarlo Fisichella) who will be driving car #51 headed by Gianmaria Bruni for Ferrari GTE-pro.
“I am very pleased the 2015 Formula One calendar allows for it and I’m grateful to my Sahara Force India Formula One Team’s generosity to let me go for it,” said Hulkenberg when announcing his Le Mans plans.
Though it was common in the past, the last driver to compete in both Formula One racing and the Le Mans 24 Hours at the same time was Sebastien Bourdais, who raced for Toro Rosso and Peugeot in the respective disciplines in 2009.
Only four drivers in history have won both the Formula One world championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours overall – Mike Hawthorn, Phil Hill, Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill.
Can you just imagine how cool it would be if Kimi was there too?! It would be something to look forward to once Kimi leaves F1 for good. Maybe with Ford? Just look at this beauty.
I hope you’re reading, Mr Raikkonen.