Mark Webber is returning to Le Mans to race Porsche's comeback prototype, the 919 Hybrid. Auto Express caught up with the Australian ex-F1 man at Le Mans ahead of the illustrious 24-hour race's 82nd running.
“[The Le Mans circuit] hasn’t really changed much [since Webber was last racing here in 1999]", says a relaxed Webber. "There’s a little bit more safety. Obviously I’m a bit older, wiser, been round the block a bit more so i'm composed about the whole thing compared to when I was here last and I was a bit young and easy to impress!"
Asked how his hyper-sophisticated Porsche 919 compares to what he's driven here before, Webber responds: "Oh yes the car is completely different to drive [than the 1999 Mercedes]. Fifteen years is a long time in motor sport and this thing [the Porsche 919 Hybrid] is fifteen seconds a lap faster. The downforce [to drag ratio] is very efficient, grip is higher, tyre technology is up, downforce is up, and everything’s lighter."
"Then there’s the hybrid side of it – we never used to have any of that – that’s just having your cake and eating it, in terms of fuel and everything, it’s just brilliant."
Is the car more complex? "We have a bit more to interact with in the car [versus in 1999], but we’ve improved it a lot in the past five months. There’s not a lot of stress on the driver – we have a good system. And Porsche keep making sure we’re looking out of the windscreen, not inside [at the on-board systems]."
Mark's focused on getting to the finish on Sunday, and says improvements to the car have given him confidence. "Reliability has been the main improvement. It’s nice to have a car that’s fast, but you need a car that’s robust. Are we there yet? That remains to be seen. It’s a very hard race to go for 24 hours or 5500km and not have any issues."
As regards Mark's preparation for the race, he confirms his routine has barely changed since his F1 days, despite the different demands of endurance racing. He says "I enjoy my fitness, it’s a legal drug for me to get out and about – I’ve got a pretty serious bike race in August which I’m training for – so that comes with the territory with me, I like my fitness, so I don’t have to change my training [for endurance racing]."
How does Mark rate Porsche's chances this weekend? "The car is good of fresh tyres, and has good pace over one lap, but let’s see hoe we go in the race. That’s what we’re measured on. A finish would be a success for us. There’s always something kicking off somewhere."
Find our everything you need to know about Le Mans 2014 here.