Benjamin Leuenberger looks back on a successful 2009 season. In a Lola-Judd B08/80-Judd, the young Swiss competed along with his teammates Jonny Kane (GB) and Xavier Pompidou (F) in the Le Mans Series and the legendary 24 hours of Le Mans. After a class victory in the 1000km of Silverstone in September and second place in the 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps in spring, Leuenberger finished fourth in the LMP2-drivers championship of the Le Mans Series. Back in June, Leuenberger finished second in the LMP2-class in the 24 hours of Le Mans. The 27-year old Swiss speaks about his season.
You finished second in the 24 hours of Le Mans and won the LMP2-class at Silverstone. You must be very pleased with your season?
“Yes, I would say this season was my most successful in sports car racing so far. I count the second place at Le Mans as my biggest success in racing. The 24 hours are one of the top sporting events in the world and you only get the chance for a good result once a year. We knew that we would have the chance for a good result there, but eventually finishing second was incredibly great.“
In the LMP2 class of the Le Mans Series you were always one of the quickest teams. What was the missing piece to finally fight for the championship?
“Speed-wise we were always very competitive, but we had two technical issues, one at Barcelona and the other at the Nürburgring. We finished every race, but these problems throw us back in each case. In a championship of only five races, this really hurts.”
But you still won the efficiency championship “Michelin Green X Challenge“.
„It was really great to win this trophy, as in this championship all cars, regardless of their class, are counted. Endurance racing is all about going as quick as possible, as long as possible. This championship reflects the sport really well. In this season more than 40 cars competed in the Le Mans Series, so winning this championship against so many cars really made us proud. In the end, we beat even factory teams and fuel-efficient diesel cars with our 3.4 litre V8-Judd engine. Judd gave us a perfect, reliable and efficient engine for this championship. We also clinched a second guaranteed entry for the 24h of Le Mans 2010 for Speedy Racing with winning this championship.”
Your team colleagues are runner up in the LMP2-drivers championship, but you are fourth in the championship. How did that happen?
“In the first race of the season at Barcelona Jarek Janis from the Spyker factory team couldn’t race due to an injury. As the injury only appeared after the qualifying, Spyker could replace Janis only with a driver, who took part in the practise before. So eventually Spyker asked my team to release me and so I stepped in for Jarek, as I knew the car and the team well from the last season. In the special situation my team and I agreed with the change because otherwise Spyker would not have been able to take part in the race. But also the consequences for my own championship ambition were clear to me at that moment. It meant, if Jonny and Xavier scored points at Barcelona, I would not be a contender for the championship, whatever the season would bring. This was what happened and after Barcelona they had two points and were always in front of me in the championship. I hope that one day my loyalty to the team and Spyker is rewarded.“
After several years in GT cars, you raced a prototype race car this year. Was this a big change for you going back to prototype racing?
“In the beginning, it was quite different, as I had to change my driving style and get used to the higher speed again. A Le Mans prototype requires a cleaner driving style compared to a GT car, you can slide a little bit more through the corners with a GT car. In a prototype race car, you have very high corner speed due to the extreme aerodynamics. You have to get used to it again, but after my first test in the car at Paul Ricard, it went really went. It’s little bit like cycling, if you have learned it once, it comes back to you again.”
How would you describe the difference between a GT car like the Spyker and a prototype race car like the Lola from a drivers point of view?
“In the LMP you must push yourself more to the limit. You drive into a corner with 180 km/h and it feels like you are on the limit. Then you find out that you can drive the corner 10 km/h faster because the car generates more downforce due to the higher speed, and this moves the limit. It requires some experience, to find out the limit of a prototypes. This is different with the GT car. You always try to push a GT car a little bit too hard, but then it slides around and is not quick anymore. In a prototype car, this is rather different as you have to push yourself very hard to the limit.”
You are kind of an all-round sports car racer, you drove LMP1 and LMP2 cars as well as all kinds sports of GT cars from GT1 to GT3 and even Daytona Prototypes in the Grand-Am. Where are the main differences between all these different cars and which one do you like best?
“One must differentiate between the LMP and GT cars. GT´s are more or less very similar to drive. In recent years I raced different prototype on different technical stand, so over the years the differences were fairly big. So I can only barely compare the front engined Panoz which I drove during my time as Panoz factory driver with our current Lola. LMP-cars are more race cars, more puristic. These are real driving machines without compromises. A LMP car has an enormous corner speed, is very demanding to the driver and makes a lot of fun. Prototypes are very similar to formula cars, sometimes we archive even faster corner speeds. But in GT races you have often better and harder races. You can fight closer in GT car, so GT races are mostly a real lot of fun.
What are you plan for the next season?
“There are discussions in different directions, primarily, of course with Speedy Racing. But it’s still a little bit too early for concrete plans.”
Benjamin Leuenberger season overview:
1000km Barcelona Spyker Squadron-Spyker C8 D.N.F.
1000km Spa Speedy-Sebah-Lola-Judd 2 nd
24h Le Mans Speedy-Sebah-Lola-Judd 2 nd
1000km Portimao Speedy-Sebah-Lola-Judd 5 th
1000km Nürburgring Speedy-Sebah-Lola-Judd 7 st
1000km Silverstone Speedy-Sebah-Lola-Judd 1 st
Driver’s championship LMP2 class Le Mans Series 2009:
1. Pla/Amaral 32 points
2. Kane/Pompidou 24 points
3. Cecatto/Francioni/Piccini 23 points
4. Benjamin Leuenberger 22 points
5. Biagi/Bobbi/Piccini 16 points