The 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours will go down in sporting history as a race packed full of superlatives thanks to the fierce battle between its protagonists, the tactical mastery of an Audi team never stronger than when faced with adversity, by the excellence of its drivers and emotional pressure under which Benoît Tréluyer and his team scored victory. It's the flashback over these 24 hours that will forever define the Le Mans local...Following the post-race fervour, a 25th hour that brings with it more joy, embraces, tears and media questions, slowly the realisation begins to dawn on the Alençon-born driver and team-mates André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler. For Benoît as for them, nothing will ever be the same. Winning at Le Mans is something to be cherished for life. But this is no career coronation, more a door opening on fresh challenges. It is an achievement matched only by a Grand Prix or Indy 500 victory. For Benoît, it is also the opportunity to offer thanks to all those who have helped shape a career full of ups and downs. He will make a detailed list just as soon as he is able to collect his thoughts. Such genuine emotions continue to whiz around his mind, the humble and decent person he always was now stronger than ever.
Finding the words..."The car crossed the finish line and I fell into the arms of Marcel (Fässler), then into those of Doctor Wolfgang Ullrich (Head of Audi Motorsport), but I was incapable of saying one word. Were they really necessary? There was a lot to take in. I looked for Joachim Hausner who was responsible for creating the partnership I formed with Marcel and André (Lotterer). Memories of the last two years, and especially last six months, during which we worked so hard together, collided in my head. The team's strength comes from taking everything into account. Even if you say something really stupid, they listen and explore that thought. You are not scared to express yourself. The long embrace I shared with Wolfgang was to say thank you for trusting in me and listening. It was a huge thank you to this incredible team!"
Where is André?"With Marcel, I ran towards the podium, looking for André but he hadn't arrived! We were desperate to embrace him warmly, but couldn't find him. Then we realised he was still completing the lap of honour. We were going crazy, hugging our mechanics, searching for Leena, our chief engineer, and Ronny, our chief mechanic. The #2 car's team is young and passionate and it's the first time both Leena and Ronny have held such responsibilities. Over the previous 24 hours, one member's slightest failure or smallest error would have cost us dear. With Peugeot doing 12-lap stints, we made the strategic choice to run 11. To win, the calculation relied on us being 0.5 seconds per lap faster without making the slightest mistake on track or in the pits. Behind the wheel, I often thought about the guys. During key moments I knew they were relying on me, that I could not let them down."
Picture souvenir"I was over the moon on the podium but, at the same time, a bit embarrassed for my team mates. As we were in France, a lot of the attention was on me even though all three of us had won. They deserved the crowd's adulation as much as me. I felt great, and would love to have stayed there for the rest of my life! My mobile phone wouldn't stop vibrating in my pocket. I took it out to get some photos, just for me, to record this moment forever and ensure there is no risk of it fading over time. A school mate managed to get my parents on the flat terrace above the podium. What a great present! I saw them and took a photo. To know they were there, so close, was amazing!"Returning to reality"At the press conference I started to come down a bit. I tried to control myself, desperate not to end up in tears. Questions asked by journalists, which underlined the team's role, helped me better understand that we had achieved something really significant. The quality of our opponents and battle we have waged. And I had a thought for Peugeot; without their determination to beat us, our victory would not have tasted so sweet. I thought this feeling must be similar to what the French football team experienced at the end of the World Cup final in 1998. I was so proud."Finding Mélanie"We arrived at the Audi hospitality area, which is huge, and were sprayed with champagne and beer. Everyone was screaming. As on the podium, it would be great to see Audi's other drivers join us. My parents, sisters, nieces and rest of the family were there. The loves of my life as well; Mélanie, who I lost in the confusion at the finish, and Jules, who despite being only five years old understood something special was happening. I didn't see much of them during the week and wasn't at home very much over the past few months, so for them to be there at that moment was very important to me. Just before that, I had rushed to the studio of the weekly French TV sport programme Stade 2. It allowed me to share a bit of this victory with previous sponsors and all those who have helped me but were not present at Le Mans. To be there was also my opportunity to say thank you. I know they are proud. I was so happy."Allan & Rocky..."In the middle of the party I thought about my mates. I know what it's like to have a big crash at Le Mans! Allan's (McNish) accident, in my eyes, was an unfortunate fact of the race, while Rocky's (Mike Rockenfeller) should have never happened. He was exiting a corner taken flat-out. Everybody knows that you have to be very careful not to cut the racing line through there when the prototypes overtake. I was in the garage when it happened and it wasn't easy when starting my new stint. He got out of the car unaided but the situation was still unclear. Reassuring news came through over the radio. Had something serious happened it would have burst the bubble we were sharing throughout the week."Parting image"The normal procedure after a stint is to eat, drink, have a massage and sleep. Except that since the start of the race I had not managed to fall asleep once. Following a quadruple stint, at 4 o'clock in the morning, I forced myself to take some rest. So I got out of the car, had a shower and went straight to bed. Food, massage; I'll sort those out when I wake up, I thought. But that's not how it worked out. I was woken at 7am and asked to hurry. Running to the garage I grabbed my helmet and wondered what was going on. All I'm told is it will be explained later! André arrived and I jumped in the car. Mechanics changed the tyres and I went out. 'Good morning Leena!', I said down the radio, exiting the pit-lane. The sentence goes unanswered, so I continue; 'What time is it? Where are we in the race?'. It was only then I was told we had lost ground, that it will be difficult, that I will have to attack. I thanked the pits for this wake-up call, as exciting as it was terrifying. I asked myself if I was up for the challenge. By the chequered flag I had the satisfaction of knowing I had done my bit."
Just three days after their triumph, Benoît and friend André Lotterer headed for the Sepang circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for round three of the Super GT championship. Both will be welcomed as heroes by the Japanese contingency as in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Le Mans 24 Hours is held in high regard. To see their own - Benoît and André being two of the national championship's biggest stars who also race with a Japanese license - return with such a revered trophy will be welcomed with pride. It is just what Japanese motorsport needs while finding its feet following the terrible recent tsunami which rocked the nation.
The Japanese racing community has set up their own charity - SAVE JAPAN - which is raising money to help victims of the county's recent natural disaster. You can find out more about the campaign and donate online by visiting their website: www.js-style.com/savejapan/en.htmlhttp://www.js-style.com/savejapan/en.html