This is what the 32-year-old from Belgium, whose world-title winning Yoshimura SERT Motul team tops the EWC standings after last month’s 24 Heures Motos, has had to say ahead of the FIM Endurance World Championship returning to Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the first time since 2001.
What are your earliest memories of Spa-Francorchamps?
“When my father [Michel] was racing I was here with him when I was five or six years old. I grew up in the paddock of World Endurance so I grew up in Spa.”
Spa is ranked as a legendary track, how would you describe it?
“This track is amazing, it’s very, very fast, you have to respect it a lot because you need a level of concentration and confidence that is very high.”
Amazing but challenging, right?
“Essentially it will be a very tough race, especially during the night. It’s a track where you can make a big difference in terms of lap times, so you have to respect this track clearly, but that’s why everybody says it’s the most beautiful track in the world because it’s in the woods with long corners, seven kilometres, the track really is amazing.”
How much of a factor is the weather at Spa?
“I raced at Spa in 2005 and 2006 and it was like this, the weather can change at any moment. Sometimes it’s raining in the back of the track and not in the first part so it can be a surprise at every moment and that’s why I said you really have to respect this track.”
Would you say you have an advantage – it’s your home track and you ‘grew up’ at Spa?
“It’s not true, for sure I did some tests last year with Bridgestone with my own bike, my standard bike but for me the favourites are clearly the F.C.C. [TSR Honda France] and BMW teams because BMW did a lot of tests last year and they also did the 6 Hours of Spa. F.C.C. came to make some tests but [my team-mates] Gregg [Black] and Sylvain [Guintoli] didn’t know the track before the test. I don’t think I’m the favourite because I’m Belgian and we have a lack of experience as a team with the data. During the race it’s not about the fastest, it’s also about who is on the lucky side and the 24 hours will be very, very long.”
How will the long track length of 6.985 kilometres affect strategy?
“The strategy will be made from the experience of the tests and we have one test left. We still have to understand a lot of things and in that moment we will make a strategy and see if it’s the right one and then we will adapt during the race if we are missing something or not.”
Is the fact you won the 24 Heures Motors and lead the standings a help or a hindrance?
“We have to take it race by race because every race has its history, its moment, a number of things can happen. We know our opponents will be very strong. They will want to try to push and win and it will be in our hands to see if we want to win or just push and go over the limit just to win or just to make the podium. It’s difficult to speak about the precise result.”
What comes first, winning at Spa or defending the EWC title?
“It will be great [to win at home] but it’s not the most important thing. If we have to do third or fourth because it’s our maximum we will do that. But for sure if we can win it’s a lot better and better for the championship as well.”