Interview with Stéphane Sarrazin – WEC Austin

Stéphane Sarrazin in E-Racing Magazine

Stéphane Sarrazin in E-Racing Magazine

I had the pleasure of covering the World Endurance Championship race in Austin, Texas in September. I really love going out and meeting the people who make this class of racing tick, which means I seek out drivers for quick interviews about their life and goals. The first person I talked to was Toyota’s LMP1 driver, Stéphane Sarrazin, on his racing history and future goals. 

Originally published in the October issue of E-Racing Magazine >>>

Stéphane Sarrazin is turning 40 this year. For some people, that number is a turning point: the signal to slow it down, to think about buying a nice safe Volvo – and hey, maybe it’s time to take up crossword puzzles in the morning to keep the ol’ mind sharp. For this French race car driver, his mind is on his 15th running in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year, and this time he’d like to win.

He’s standing in the hot Texas sun at the Circuit of the Americas, preparing for the 6-hour World Endurance Championship race in a few days. He’ll be competing in the #2 Toyota Gazoo LMP1 Hybrid car, the same team that may be his ticket to the top step of the podium at Le Mans next year. His past four results with Toyota are a mixed bag: two DNFs (non-finishing results) with the driver not to blame, 2nd, and last year, 6th.

Sarrazin is positive about the team’s performance vs. leaders Porsche and Audi – just not this season, and certainly not this round in Texas. “This year we don’t have any advantage. I prefer to be realistic. This year, Porsche is so quick, it will be tough for us to fight with them. Audi is between Porsche and us, so Audi’s in the middle. Maybe we can fight with them, but they have faster cars so we’ll target the podium if we get a perfect race.” Endurance racing can turn wildcard results, with the fastest cars succumbing to electrical gremlins or traffic accidents while weaving through the mixed car classes.

So with not a lot of strategy to be discussed for the weekend’s COTA race, an inquiry of the past is opened. It just so happens that on this day, American driver Alex Rossi has finally been given a ride in a Formula 1 team. It’s a historic moment for persistent F1 fans in the US, as if the signal was finally given to stop holding their breath. So for Sarrazin, how about that very, very brief stint in the ‘99 season of F1 – when after some time as a test driver for Prost Grand Prix, he was called up for just one race with Minardi in Brazil – in which he performed well until he lost control of the car and spun out? He responds with regret: “In fact I did a wrong choice when I was in F1. I was with Minardi, but I preferred to stop because I was with Prost – I was following him a lot – and I said ‘I don’t drive for you.’ In fact, it was a mistake.” He doesn’t skip a beat as he recalls his younger days. “I should have continued with him. But I was alone, no manager, and 23 years old – it was difficult to make a choice. But Prost at this time was my boss. I should have run for him the year after, but in fact he didn’t do good the year after. I lost a good opportunity at this time, and it’s difficult to go back to F1 after you go out.”

“I would have continued for sure with Minardi. But that’s life – now I’m back here, a lot of endurance races, rally, I do many things with my passion.”

Sarrazin doesn’t seem to be slowing down. A full-time gig in WEC, Formula E, plus World Rally Championship races are better than most of us can say we’re doing at the age of 30. And the next milestone – what does he expect to be doing at 45? “I dont know. It’s too far to think about. I hope that I don’t have to stop, but I have time, I’m still very fortunate and very fit. I hope to win Le Mans soon – it’s my main target.”

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