Ice, Ice Benoît!
By Mel Fabrikant Friday, January 31, 2014, 03:49 PM EST
Despite the encouragement of fellow sportscar drivers and ice racing exponents Stéphane Ortelli and Loïc Duval, the two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner had never taken the opportunity to try it for himself. He’d been close last year when Andros Trophy organiser Max Mamers called offering a seat, only for existing commitments to scupper the chance. But when his assistant, Stéphanie Val, enquired again 12 months later there was no hesitation!
Next WEC Race: Silverstone
Great Britain, 20 April 2014
Length: 3.660 miles / 5.891km
Benoit's 2013 result: 2nd
“I went there to have a good time,” explains Benoît. “More and more I feel the need to do fun things in cars, drifting around with perhaps a little contact. Quite the opposite in fact to what I do in sports-prototypes, where the steering must be accurate and clean to minimise sliding.”
Adopting a courageous but not reckless approach, the Frenchman first took advantage of a few days skiing with his family in Val Thorens by enrolling in the Ice Driving Academy there.
“I had no prior experience of racing on ice but the Val Thorens track was a good place to learn the basics, like the Scandinavian Flick. Then, as I was still a rookie at Lans-en-Vercors, I was able to practice a little with Franck Lagorce, first as a passenger and then driving.”
It was also the first time that the Audi Sport driver had tried the tubular chassis Andros Trophy Electric racer, decked in the colours of prominent French energy supplier ERDF. After first taking part in the official test, it was straight into the qualifying session where all laps count.
“I drove too cautiously at first,” he laughs. “In the second round I urged myself to attack a little more. I did a good lap – the best in fact – but not four times in a row! I enjoyed myself in the race and had a great tussle with Mathieu Vaxivière, a young driver competing in World Series by Renault.”
After a good night's rest Benoît returned the next day with loftier ambitions and determined to improve further.
“Once again I was too cautious in the first qualifying session. I was clean but lacked pace. In the second heat I gave it everything and made just a couple of mistakes to end up third. I was happy. Then in the race I lined up behind Franck (Lagorce). He took the inside line into the turn and when he braked I was alongside. Unfortunately, and involuntarily, he slid wide and put me in the snow bank. We touched slightly and another driver hit me from behind, spinning my car around and helping to remove its bonnet! I was able to re-join the race but was unable to slide through the corners properly as the exposed wheels kept catching the snow banks. So in the end I just got stuck! I was disappointed and felt especially bad for Max and ERDF. In any case, I’d like to say a very big thank you to them and the whole Andros Trophy crew for a wonderful experience. There was such a great atmosphere!”
The experience was a revelation for Benoît, who had no idea how he would stack up.
“According to the Andros regulars I did quite well and adapted more quickly than professional drivers from other disciplines making their first appearance on the ice. It would be great to repeat the experience in the future, except next time I will have a lot more ambition. After all, competing is in my blood!”
Benoît’s ice racing exploits will now take a back seat as he focuses on physical training. That includes a minimum of one mountain biking session every two days thanks to his partnership with GT and SRAM, as well as regular motocross outings on his KTM, which all contribute to his conditioning and endurance. Indeed it’s this variety, plus a spot of Andros, that ensures he stays fresh and focused for the long season ahead.