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Q&A with Alex Yoong

NEWS STORY
15/06/2006

A1 Team Malaysia driver, Alex Yoong, is preparing to take part in his first Le Mans 24 Hour race, the most famous sports car race in the world, which takes place next weekend from 17:00 local time on Saturday 17 June. He was interviewed during his preparations:

Alex, first of all, what is the Le Mans 24 hour race?
Alex Yoong: The '24 Heures du Mans' as it is known in its native France is a motor racing event that takes place at Le Mans, France, in the Loire valley and around 1 hours west of Paris, on a circuit that is part public road and part race track. Around 50 cars are entered by professional motor racing teams, all competing for the honour of winning this prestigious event. It is the world's most famous endurance racing event.

Why is it so special in motor racing?
AY: Its revered status as the jewel in the crown of the sport is partly due to its heritage – this is the 74th running of the annual event – and the circuit itself, 13.5 kilometres long including public roads and purpose-built circuit, and the ultimate straight in sportscar racing, the Mulsanne straight.

How many drivers are there in the team?
AY: A maximum of three drivers is allowed for each car, and I'm driving with two of the greats, Jan Lammers and Stefan Johansson, who are helping me enormously. The level of concentration and the physical demands of the race are so high that most drivers can only be behind the wheel for around two hours, and a maximum of three hours. You could probably drive for longer, but the lap times would get slower as you tired, but with two other drivers, it's possible to keep the stints manageable and within stamina limits.

When do drivers finish their 'stint' in the car?
AY: The exact timing of the driver changeovers depends on a number of factors, including the refuelling and tyre changes strategy, as well as unforeseen situations such as pace car periods. You might think that the race is long enough to give plenty of time for pitstops, but that's not the case. This race can be won or lost on pitstops so you'll see every team taking the least possible time, on average around 50 seconds, long by single-seater standards, short by endurance racing standards!

What do you do when you're not driving during the race?
AY: On average I will have around four or five hours between driving sessions during the race, and within this there's plenty to do: debrief with the race engineers feeding back to them any problems with the car, potential problems ahead and strategy for the next stint; refuel my body, with plenty of fluids, protein and carbohydrates to keep up my strength and stamina; meet with sponsors and media who always want to know my thoughts on the track conditions, the car, the prospects for success; and finally, rest. Sometimes it's possible to get a sports massage for back, neck and leg muscles that work so hard during each session in the car can be useful, but a few hours sleep is vital!

Why did you want to compete in the 24 hours of Le Mans?
AY: I think every professional motor racing driver wants to race in this event. Running down the list of drivers who have participated here is a very humbling experience in itself. It's like the Monaco Grand Prix in F1 (which I'm also lucky enough to have experienced); it's one of the top events in the world of motor racing. It's also a personal challenge – a unique chance to put my own stamina to the test. Of course, I'm also here to win.

Can you win?
AY: With over 50 other cars all with the same goal, and with some teams with enormous financial budgets allowing them to purchase every single piece of equipment they might need, it's going to be very tough and I don't underestimate the enormity of the task ahead. But as everyone says in racing, 'to finish first, first you have to finish' and this is so true of a race over 24 hours duration. There may be three drivers, but there's only one car between us and there's so much can go wrong with this, from a simple puncture to a more complex electronics issue, and with an 13.5 kilometre lap, it's a long way back to the pits if something does go wrong. I hope that we don't have any major car problems. I think if we can run smoothly and without any big issues for the duration of the race we're in with a good chance of a strong result. It is possible for a small team to win this race. Let's see how we go this year. And whatever happens this year, we will be back again with a bigger programme next year. I think that was a long roundabout way of saying 'Yes' wasn't it?

What are the major differences between an A1 car and the Le Mans car you will be driving this weekend?
AY: Yes, I had a great season of A1 Grand Prix racing, which ended on a very high note, as I took my first victory and a second place finish in the two races at the final event of the season, in Shanghai. Of course, I'd like to stay in the 'winning way' with RfH at Le Mans too!

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