Signature Plus: Set for Le Mans return with Aston Martin

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Signature Plus team will be looking to put all of their accumulated sports car and endurance racing experience to good use as the 78th running of the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans gets underway.

For Signature it will be the second consecutive participation in the event, which is one of the jewels in the crown of international motorsport, having finished in a highly commendable 11th position in 2009. However, this year’s event will see Signature tackle the huge challenge of Le Mans as an Official LMP1 Partner of Aston Martin Racing with Franck Mailleux and Pierre Ragues holding the prestigious status of Official Aston Martin Racing Team Partner Drivers.

After the opening two races of this year’s Le Mans Series championship in Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps, the team embarked on an intensive, but ultimately valuable eight hour test at France’s Magny-Cours circuit in mid-May in preparation for Le Mans itself. The team was able to carry out important set-up work, including aerodynamic and tyre testing, as well as experiencing all the associated aspects of night-time driving. The team heads to Le Mans buoyed by a strong qualifying performance in Spa where they took sixth position to rank best of the petrol-powered cars.

Le Mans is one of the most unpredictable and rigorous tests of both man and machine, running for 24 hours around the demanding 13.4km La Sarthe circuit. With a wide range of track conditions and temperatures predicted throughout the race, the team will require both meticulous foresight and flexibility in order to get the car to the end of the race. The drivers, too, have had to embark on stringent physical regimes in the run up to the event. The technical support from Aston Martin and tyre supplier Dunlop will also be crucial to the end result.

A shakedown of the car took place at the Lurcy-Levis circuit on Tuesday before all drivers undertook a technical and mechanical course on Wednesday to understand how to get the car back to the pits in the event of a reparable failure around the track. Yesterday (Thursday) saw a press conference in Bourges with the local media while the all-important scrutineering will take place at Place des Jacobins at 12.30 next Monday.

Pierre Ragues

You are no stranger to the demands of Le Mans, but how difficult is it to prepare?“There is nothing quite like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is a race that requires preparation like no other event on the calendar. It is a long week and a very demanding race for the car and for the drivers, so we have to make sure that every aspect of the package is in prime condition. There are a lot of unpredictable factors, such as the weather, but we have to just make sure we are ready for any eventuality. The test that we carried out at Magny-Cours was important and we worked a lot on the set-up, the tyres and the aerodynamics. We were also able to get some night-time running, which is always useful before Le Mans.”

How differently do you think Signature is approaching this weekend?
“As a team, we did a really good job last year, which considering it was our first season in LMP1 and Signature’s first year in endurance racing was a great achievement. We approach this year’s Le Mans more confidently but without being complacent. We know there are a lot of hurdles to overcome but with the valuable support of Aston Martin and Dunlop, we are more than ready to face the challenge. For me personally, I am looking to continue my unbroken run of race finishes. Le Mans will be the 15th in a row, so that is a bit of pressure, but nice pressure all the same. I have also been thankful for the help of my sponsor Group Auto Union, who will be cheering us on every hour along the way.”

Franck Mailleux

How special is Le Mans to you personally?“Le Mans is without question the pinnacle of the season and last year’s race was one of the highlights of my career to date. It is a thrill to be part of something so unique and entertaining. The atmosphere throughout the event is remarkable and it gives us drivers such a buzz to be racing there, day and night. It is a real team effort and there is no stone left unturned in the pursuit of the best result possible. We had a good test at Magny-Cours a few weeks ago which I think has helped us get the car and tyres in good condition ahead of free practice, but Le Mans is so tough, there is certainly still some further work to be done before qualifying and the race itself.”

How does your experience from last year help you?“Last year’s race was a real step into the unknown for me and the team, so we were very proud of our 11th placed finish. This year, we have a better idea of what we are doing and how to prepare, even if we have a new car and a new tyre supplier. We work well as a team with the support of Aston Martin and Dunlop, so I don’t see any reason why we can’t better last year’s result if everything runs smoothly. I can also draw upon my experience from the Nürburgring 24 Hours last year in which I took third place in my class, so this will be my third 24 hour race in total. I have also worked a lot with my personal sponsors Sojasun who have prepared a special Le Mans diet for me with their product range and this has been a great help from a physical preparation point of view.”

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