LEMANS: Magnussen ready to fight for fifth Le Mans crown

LE MANS, FRANCE, Wednesday, June 13, 2012: Four-time Le Mans class winner Jan Magnussen has his sights set on a fifth crown for Corvette Racing when the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans kicks off this weekend.

Magnussen first drove for Corvette in 2004 and immediately charged to victory lane with Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta. The Dane then continued a winning run to repeat the effort in 2005 and 2006.

He added a fourth crown in 2009 when he took the Chevrolet Corvette C6.R to victory with Johnny O’Connell and Antonio Garcia.

I’d never been on a straight that long before.

Jan Magnussen on his first time at Le Mans

Magnussen and Garcia are now full-time teammates for Corvette Racing and will be joined at Le Mans this week by rookie, Jordan Taylor.

Official practice kicks off today at 4:00pm local time with qualifying taking place both tonight and tomorrow night.

The race starts at 3:00pm on Saturday and will be broadcast like by Eurosport in Europe and SPEEDTV in the US.

Jan Magnussen QA

Q: Can you describe your first time driving around Le Mans? What were your first impressions of the track?

A: “The first time I ever drove the track was in pre-qualifying in 1999. That year I drove the Panoz with Johnny O’Connell and Max Angelleli.

“I remember going out of Tertre Rouge and down the first of the straights. I’d driven the track in a road car the day before, but it doesn’t really sink in how big this place is and how long the straights are until you’re in a race car.

“So I was going down the straight the first time, going pretty fast and thinking ‘I know there’s a chicane somewhere’ but I really didn’t know where it was. So eventually I lifted off because I thought ‘Wow, this thing probably going to come up on me really fast’ and then way out I saw the tires for the first chicane.

“I’d never been on a straight that long before.”

Q: What makes Le Mans so special?

A: “Just the challenge of it.

“When I first started racing here at Le Mans, I never really enjoyed it the same way I do now, but since joining Corvette Racing, there’s a big difference – we have a realistic chance of winning it.

“Because of that, Le Mans has become my favorite race of the year, and something I look forward to every year.

“Le Mans is the one to win, the one we all look forward to and everything we do is in it for this one race.”

Q: With many strong manufacturers and programs competing at Le Mans, how tough is the challenge of what is now a 24 hour sprint race?

A: “Very tough. Le Mans is a sprint race between pit stops, it’s not at all like it was maybe 10 years ago.

“All 9 of the GTE-Pro category cars can win at Le Mans. For Corvette Racing and the No. 73 car, we are going to have to go in at full-attack mode and get everything out of it. And of course our competition will do exactly the same thing. It’ll be interesting.”

#73 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1: Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Jordan Taylor

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

Q: As it generally rains at Le Mans during the 24 hour event, what challenges do you have driving the track in the wet? Does the Corvette have anything to make it easier for the drivers in the rain?

A: “Of course Corvette Racing tries to help the drivers as much as possible, but we don’t really have a lot of stuff to help us in the rain. It’s the worst condition really, especially if it starts to rain a lot.

“If it rains a lot, the car starts aquaplaning and it becomes a big problem for everyone – which makes the track really scary. And the visibility is about zero because you’re more or less always behind somebody, so you really can’t see anything.

“When it rains at night it’s even worse because you may not know where you are on the track.

“In the end, you know you have to be pushing a little bit, but you’ve also got to be safe and try to make it back. It’s very easy to make a very big mistake in the night when it rains.”

Q: How difficult is it to deal with traffic at Le Mans, with the faster prototype cars, some slower cars and drivers who may or may not cut you any slack?

A: “Traffic is a big part of Le Mans and that’s where I think Corvette Racing does a fantastic job with spotting for the drivers. The team uses all the available tools that they have – cameras and 10 to 12 different screens in the pit box – which are used really well and the drivers are told what’s going on ahead of us and what’s coming up behind. That is a huge help.

“What is important to winning the race is getting through the traffic, making sure when getting passed by the prototypes we don’t lose too much time and most importantly not damaging the car.”

Q: How important is your crew at Corvette Racing, knowing that Le Mans can be won or lost in pit stops and repairs?

A: “The Corvette Racing crew is fantastic, and they work so hard.

“For those guys it’s a minimal amount of sleep all week and then when race day comes they get up super early for the morning warmup, and then it’s time to get ready for the race, which starts at three o’clock in the afternoon.

“Then we race for 24 hours, with all types of situations happening. The guys all work hard. Some of them may have the chance to get a little bit of sleep, but it’s not much and it’s more or less standing up in the pit waiting for something to happen.

“Le Mans is so tough on the guys and I feel very lucky to have them around working like they do. They never give up, nomatter how desperate the situation might get, and when you have teamwork like that, it’s very special.”

Q: What do you do at Le Mans during the race when you’re not driving?

A: “When I’m not in the car I’m usually in a room in the Corvette Racing compound. I try to relax and I try to sleep, but it’s hard to let go of the race.

“During the early morning hours I can get an hour or two just because I’m so exhausted, there’s no way out of it, but it’s very hard to go there during the race, close your eyes and sleep because the race is going on right outside.

“It is important though to get away for a bit during the race, relax and refresh so I’m ready for my next stint.”

Q: What’s your favorite Le Mans memory?

A: “My first win in 2004 with Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta.

“That was a special moment, and a special race, because we started off looking really good, and then we got taken out just around midnight, and all during the night we were fighting our way back.

“In the morning we were back in second place, four or five laps behind the leader, and then they had a problem and we were on the same lap as them and we had to fight them for it from there. It was a series of fantastic battles all night and then for the lead.

“Before that I’d never had as much success at Le Mans – my best was a fourth overall in 2003 (in an Audi R8), but winning put it all into perspective.

“And then we backed it up with two more wins in a row – 2005 and 2006.”

“I’ve got some great and fast teammates with Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor.

Jan Magnussen

Q: How do you feel about your teammates this year in the No. 73 Corvette?

A: “I’ve got some great and fast teammates with Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor.

“Antonio is who I’m paired with for this year (in ALMS) and he’s been great, even a little faster than me at times. He’s got lots of experience and we work well together.

“Jordan is a super good kid – he’s only 21 years old and this is his first time at Le Mans. There’s a steep learning curve, but from the experience I’ve had with him previously I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue.

“I think the driver lineup in the No. 73 car will certainly be one to beat.”

Q: What about the No. 74 Corvette and the other competition on track in the GTE-Pro category at Le Mans?

A: “For sure the No. 74 car is always a tough car to beat. They have a great driver lineup with Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook. That’s a fast combination of drivers and they also have a lot of experience here.

“My gut feeling is that the No. 74 car will be tough, but our main competition will be coming from one or all of the four Ferraris in the class, but we’ll have to see how it turns out.”

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