Rubens Barrichello will be doing his first 24 Hours of Le Mans this weekend, so Racing24-7.net had the chance to sit down with him for over half an hour. He will compete alongside Le Mans legend Jan Lammers and Frits Van Eerd in the Racing Team Nederland Dallara – Gibson LMP2 #29.
The first question was, how it was to be a rookie again, so many years after being a rookie in Formula 1.
“Since I stopped in Formula 1, I was a rookie in Indianapolis, I was a rookie in Stockcar. So for me it’s not such a big thing. It makes me young. I’ve always been the youngest one in Formula 1 career, for a long time, on the records, or just the fact that I was 19. But then I started to get older, in a way that my teammates came in with Magnussen, then it was Hülkenberg that came in, and was younger. And my saying at that time was just, as long as I keep being faster than them, I’m doing great. I think it’s the story. I’m a happy chap in Stockcars right now. People ask me, because it’s only in Brazil, they ask me what I’ve been doing now. But you can not imagine how competitive it is, the Stockcar Championship. It must be on the level of the V8’s in Australia, I think, as far as competitiveness, because there are really good drivers in there. So I’m having a lot of fun. And 45 is almost like nothing, really I feel like I’m 20. I have a little cold right now, so I feel like 45. But it’s like that, when I get in the car.”
When asked about how he felt about the Le Mans race, and if it always had been a goal for him to compete in it:
“To be very honest, at the beginning, I didn’t think so, because it looked to me like people were going fast for qualifying, but they would save it for the whole race. It looked to me, like it wasn’t fun to save all the time. But from 10 years back, it has looked to me like everybody has developed a manner of just going flat out on every stint, whatever it is – 1, 2, 3, 4 or whatever, and that’s more charming for me. It obviously caught my attention.”
“I think the LMP2 cars are a step up from last year. When I drove it for the first time I call – look, is the blue light close to the limiter in 6th gear? And they said yes. So wow – it’s either very low downforce or we have super powers, because we were like 340 kph. I don’t think I did 340 in my last Formula 1 race.”
One of his childhood friends is racing here, too, this year – Tony Kanaan. Kanaan will be driving the Ford Chip Ganassi Team USA #68 in the GTE Pro category.
“Tony is someone that I’ve spend my whole life with him. So to be able to go to the supermarket yesterday and do some shopping together was funny. We are not in the same category, so I just told him that I learn where to flash, because I will be passing him 40 times in the race,” he said and came up with that typical Rubens Barrichello smile.
All Dallara chassis were way off the pace on the test day with the special Le Mans low downforce kit.
“It was a big gap – more than three seconds. My lap was actually competitive. I felt quite good in the car, and it’s back to – If you say that I’m used to the Stockcar now, I am, but the formulas are still in my mind. Sometimes I dream, that I can go with a Stockcar in a certain speed, but it’s not the speed that we will take. It’s the formulas. There is a rule and there are packages that hey have to follow. So there are some combinations that we will try, and see if it makes it better. Especially because it’s supposed to be very hot. The car was actually quite well balanced. But the reason why we were three seconds away, was because were a little too fast on the straight, and not enough speed in the corners. So that is all. So the choice for today (Wednesday, editor) is different, and hopefully we will be more competitive.
After yesterday’s qualifying session, there was an even bigger gap, so either they didn’t really go for a qualifying lap, or Racing Team Nederland and Dallara haven’t found the best setup yet.
Le Mans is very different from Formula 1 with open access for fans almost everywhere, so how did he feel about that change?
“I felt like a Formula 1 driver when I got out of the paddock, and that amount of people around you. It’s nice. And it must be nice for the public as well, for the whole 24 hours. There is a lot of people coming from Brazil, to have a feel for the race themselves. This is a one-off right now, because I haven’t spoken to anybody else. But I would be interested in looking at the IMSA Championship, because it’s closer to the family.”
Le Mans is a very different circuit compared to the Formula 1 circuits regarding safety. Michael Schumacher said some years ago, that he would never do Le Mans again, because of the bad safety, but Barrichello has a different view – naturally. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been here.
“It’s kind of a Monaco thing. Not because it’s tight, but we are very limited on what we can do on the safety thing. I think Le Mans is the same way. I think they put the chicanes in to make it safer. If you have a brake failure, you can actually go straight. So you have some limitations, but I actually felt okay. In terms of bumps, I felt a little going into Indianapolis. But it’s actually okay. I have to race at night, how much you can see.
“When I was doing Formula 1, I was making the simulators better, with every team that I drove for. We were developing the simulator. For this, I was able to do on my own simulator at home, on iRacing. I tell you, for my first lap here, it was just like I was on the simulator. It is fantastic how they develop. People ask me, how the young kids get to know Canada, when they haven’t been there – but it’s just the same. They can do such a good job now. It was difficult in 1993, then you had to walk the circuit, and imagine. But now it’s a lot easier.”
He obviously loves the speed and downforce cars, so is he thinking about to start racing formula cars again?
“I think touring cars is the way forward. I was teasing my wife, in the middle of the Indy 500 race, with Alonso being competitive, that maybe I can do that well. And then Dixon crashed so hard, and she looked at like she was going to punch me – so, OK OK Stockcars it is.”
Rubens Barrichello is the fastest driver in the car this week, so it’s all up to especially Van Eerd, to keep the car on the track, since he already had a few off-track moments in the car so far. If they can do that, they might be able to get a Top-8 result in the LMP2 category. But the competition is so hard at the top, that they won’t be able to finish on the podium, when you look at the pace alone.