From Japan to the United States and back to the Land of the Rising Sun, September has been an extremely busy month for Loïc Duval. However, after returning with FIA World Endurance Championship and Super Formula podiums, the globetrotting proved to be well worth it for the Frenchman.
“It’s great to come home, but it was really cool to spend three weeks travelling as much as I did,” admitted Loïc, whose motorsport marathon saw the Chartres-born driver race three times in as many weekends. Between the fifth and sixth Super Formula rounds at Autopolis on September 14 and SUGO last weekend, the 32-year-old journeyed to Austin, Texas, for the fourth FIA WEC contest of 2014 at Circuit of The Americas – his first event with Audi Sport since his horrifying practice shunt at the Le Mans 24 Hours on June 11.
“I really couldn’t wait to return with Audi; I was delighted to be back in the car,” added Loïc. “Despite being slightly behind Toyota in terms of raw speed, the team performed perfectly and second place for myself, Lucas [Di Grassi] and Tom [Kristensen] capped off a fantastic 1-2 for Audi on a continent that is commercially important to us. Of course, our goal is to claim a third successive Manufacturers’ title so moving into the championship lead with that result was very important.
“However, it was too much to ask to catch the leading R18 e-tron quattro after some bad luck. The sudden deluge of rain further complicated our strategy, and unfortunately it didn’t pay off. I always approach every race with the intention of winning, so I’m a little frustrated. Nonetheless, the overall team performance makes up for it. Second is great and I was happy with my own display. To be involved in a terrific battle at the beginning was superb fun, as was it to be on the podium with Lucas and Tom!”
His Austin mission accomplished with flying colours, Loïc headed to Japan for the penultimate Super Formula meeting at SUGO, and completely missed Monday while in transit!
“I had lunch in Austin on Sunday before having dinner in Los Angeles, yet breakfast was in Tokyo on Tuesday,” explained Loïc. “Indeed, Monday didn’t exist for me!”
Finishing second in free practice suggested the jet lag hadn’t affected Duval, who nevertheless then struggled slightly en route to seventh on the grid. However, in the race he surged through to third by the chequered flag to score his eighth podium in as many single-seater appearances at the circuit.
The result moves him back up to joint-third in the standings, 6.5 points behind championship leader Kazuki Nakajima. That gives him a shot at winning the title during Suzuka’s double-header on November 8/9, where victory in both races will be worth eight points to the winner, rather than the usual five.
“Our strategy in SUGO of not changing tyres and starting with a lot of fuel – to minimise time lost in the pits – was the correct one,” said Loïc. “I was faster than Kazuki, yet I couldn’t find a way past. However, the podium was a great reward for all our hard work.
“My absence at Fuji following the Le Mans accident and being an innocent victim of a shunt in Autopolis has cost us a lot of points. Nevertheless, if I win both races at Suzuka, the title will be ours. We have a great chance but need to raise our game during qualifying. We’re going to give it absolutely everything.”
From Geneva-Frankfurt-Tokyo, Tokyo-San Francisco-Austin, Austin-Los Angeles-Tokyo and finally back to Switzerland via Frankfurt, Loïc’s gruelling 54 hours of flying is over, for now.
“I realised during those three weeks how much I love my job,” beamed Loïc. “For two months I questioned whether I would be able to race again and here I am having scored two podiums in eight days, including a particularly important one with Audi which is just fantastic.”
Jet lag? What jet lag?!
FIA World Endurance Championship Classification:
1. Audi: 157 points2. Toyota: 139 points3. Porsche: 82 points
1. Davidson/Lapierre/Buemi: 96 points2. Treluyer/Fässler/Lotterer: 85 points3. Di Grassi/Kristensen: 72 points…7. Duval: 36 points
The next FIA WEC race is the 6 Hours of Fuji on October 10-12.
Super Formula Championship Classification :
1. Kazuki Nakajima: 33 points2. Joao Paulo de Oliveira: 29 points3. Andre Lotterer: 26.5 points4. Loïc Duval: 26.5 points