Kevin’s end-of-the season interview

29.10.2014

Final ELMS round at Estoril marked the end of Kevin’s 2014 competitive season. Here Kevin shares his thoughts about how his first year in tin-top cars panned out.

#98 on the way to P3 at Paul Ricard ELMS race.Is your 2014 racing season over now?

Yes it is. Maybe, just maybe there will be a single race or a test or something but officially it is over.

It seemed that your competitive season was sort of thin. On the other hand ten races in not that few...

To be honest it felt thin for me as well. But if you start thinking... Last year we had eight meetings in GP3, this year it was two meetings more with Blancpain and ELMS combined. Maybe it is because we always used to have two races per weekend in GP3 and previously in other single-seater series, but now there was only one. Plus last year I did one F3 Euroseries round and also competed in Macau Grand Prix, which all-in-all makes exactly ten meetings like in 2014. But if you count races it was 20 or 22 back then with only ten this time. Maybe this makes the difference.

Have you also counted the mileage?

Dunno... I guess it was rather low.

Did you have some offers for the end-of-season events, there is Blancpain final race in Baku for instance.

One team was interested in my services but eventually they found a well-funded driver so actually there was nothing. But next year I am certainly trying to be there. And there are also other winter races in the warmer regions, maybe we can find something. 

Before final ELMS round at Estoril you said your main goal was a pole position. It was so close, yet it wasn't there...

Yeah, damn... We had absolutely no pace this time. BoP was the same for us but this time Porsches and BMWs got some boost and you could feel it on the straights. Still in qualification, over one lap the car was brilliant as usual and I managed to put together a relatively good lap. Unfortunately we missed the pole by one tenth.

Looking from driver's side: was it a perfect lap?

There was not much room to improve. But you have always, even if you do a pole-position lap, one or two corners where you could have been a little bit faster. So yes, there were no mistakes or anything, it was OK lap. Then, I was second in three successive qualifications and this is what makes me a little bit uneasy. Once I lost out to Jan Magnussen and twice to Luca Persiani.

Race itself was virtually over almost at the beginning when car went off and got stuck in the gravel-trap...

Yeah, that's true. But when we look how much we lost to the winners, it was perhaps 4-5 minutes. We spent about two minutes in the gravel and if we were not... Probably we were still fifth at the flag because now we finished more than lap down compared to P4 car, which is almost exactly two minutes. It's a shame this off happened but all-in-all it didn't change our result. Taking our pace into account, P5 was OK.

Looking at the final point standings your car #98 took fourth place. But looking at the gaps it would have been almost impossible to climb higher even with decent results from first two rounds?

Yes. But because of that I can be satisfied with the final result in ELMS. With the package we had P4 overall was realistically maximum we could achieve.

The final ELMS race at Estoril was quite weird. You dropped to P11 at the beginning but then one car after another run into problems and you gained places all the time.

First of all the track there is unbelievably narrow and relatively short. So you have to be aware all the time. When I began my stint, I exited the pits and all leading LMP2s overtook me one after another. Thereafter they made their pit-stops and then overtook me once again. Every lap I had to let by some two LMP2s. Which means I had to look at the mirror all the time. Main straight is the only place you can relax a bit, it is quite long but otherwise you are turning all the time and must be extremely cautious to notice if somebody faster is going to pass you. This is exactly what happened to us in the beginning: Grég just hold his normal line into the corner but there was another car, they collided and both went off.

Estoril seems to be vey tough track for endurance races with lots of cars.

It is, you have to be very cautious. Plus the weather was hot this weekend, 31 degrees or something outside. Heat made it physically tougher for drivers as well as for engines, transmissions and other machinery. For instance, our brakes wore out. Brake temp was sky high when I started my stint and we were likely going to run out of brake pads. I had to coast before every turn – just relase the throttle and let the car roll on its own, so effectively I was braking not from 270 kph but from, say 264 kph. And car was rather difficult to drive this time.

Usually you drove the final stint but this time you took the penultimate one. Was it intended to be so?

No, it was not. Hot weather made it impossible to double-stint for Grég. First I wondered how it can be so hard but I only realized the situation after my own stint. It was certainly the toughest stint I have done this year. I even didn't take drink bottle with me: how difficult can a 50-minute-stint be? But I don't know how many kilos I lost while driving. Basically I blacked out after my stint. I climbed out, helped my team-mate to take a seat and that was it. Afterwards I didn't move for a good hour but my body still kept sweating, such was the dehydration.

Which was your best performance, looking back to the whole season?

It is difficult to say about Blancpain series. During the final race at Nürburgring weather kept changing and on damp track our car was very slow which makes it difficult to judge. At Paul Ricard I didn't drive at all and at Spa I basically didn't drive either. At Silverstone I could have been faster for sure and it is also true about the opening race at Monza.

But concerning ELMS my best race was undoubtedly at Paul Ricard when I went from P4 to P3 during the final stint. Austria was also good because I set the fastest lap and drove the fastest stint. Those two were the best.

It was your first season with tin-top cars, how many surprises did you have with them?

There were few things. Coasting was one of them – releasing the throttle at the end of straight in order to brake from a lower speed. I got to know about it maybe five minutes before starting my very first stint at Monza. I was like "What do you mean, coasting?" Engineers explained it and then I had to begin with it from the very first lap. Actually, it served not for brakes but fuel saving purpose at Monza – you lift and thus don't burn any fuel during 50 final meters at the end of every straight.

Again, looking from trackside the roof above you and double weight compared to single-seater didn't confuse you?

No, I rather liked it. Maybe I can't evaluate thoroughly because all the cars have different handling but I very much liked the McLaren. You have to fight with it and that is what I like.

On the other side: do you feel you had some shortcomings?

Maybe driver changes could have been smoother sometimes. And it is difficult to tell something about my pace in rain as we had only one wet race at Nürburgring where conditions changed all the time.

It is difficult to recall any driving errors from your side during the whole season.

Maybe one or two minor mistakes happened. From the very beginning I tried to remember we have three- or four-hour races where anything can happen: somebody can break down, somebody can crash. I tried not to take too high risks when lapping slower cars for instance. Transition to endurance racer’s mindset was easy for me.

You started the season as a complete rookie in GTs while your Blancpain team-mates Andy Soucek and Kévin Estre were already established pros. How much did you close in the gap to them during the year?

For sure I got closer. I guess my pace went up after Imola which was fourth round in Blancpain. Team engineers said the same. At Nürburgring I was faster than Andy during the qualification and eventually my time was the one which decided the grid position. It showed my speed was rather good towards the end of the season.

Qualification seemed to be your main strength?

One-lap-speed was definitely good in the autumn. I did seven qualifications – two counted in Blancpain and all five in ELMS – and the worst result was P6. It was at Silverstone Blancpain meeting with 47 entries.

Where do you have some unused reserves?

I'd like to drive more in the rain. I hardly got any wet laps this year and this is what I need to learn.

And the final question, a very predictable one: what about next year?

We will see, it is uncertain yet. Maybe we will know at the end of November. Then you can't be sure, there have been years when plans were finalized in February.

Inside

Youngest driver to win a race in Formula Renault 3.5 Series.

Read more...