Former French GT champion, Antoine Leclerc joined the crack ART Grand Prix McLaren team over the winter and immediately impressed with a solid performance at the pre-season Paul Ricard test. He immediately followed this up with a confident run to 2nd place at Monza in April, marking himself and his team mates Andy Soucek and Mike Parisy out as potential title hopefuls. As he prepared for his and his and the ART Grand Prix teams’ home race at Paul Ricard, we spoke to Antoine about his hopes for the coming weekend.
How do you feel about your 2013 season in Blancpain Endurance Series so far?
“We had an amazing start at Monza, which confirmed all the work that we had been doing during the winter and the early stages of the season.
“Then there was Silverstone, where we expected good results, as the team achieved last year when they got a pole position in PRO AM and a second best time overall. So, we were confident about the possibilities of the car, but soon realised that it was going to be different this year! Indeed, in qualifying the first McLaren was P24 and we were P26. So, taking the car’s potential we were pretty good, but the car itself was not great at Silverstone compared to other models. Then the race was tough for us, I got a drive through penalty following a slight mistake, and then during the third stint, an electronic issue forced us to withdraw from the race. So, this is a weekend we have to forget and now just look forward to Paul Ricard.”
How is it going with the team, and your teammates in the ART Grand Prix squad?
“It is actually going very well since the beginning! And with the good Monza result that we got really helped us bond together, I am even more integrated in to the team, and the atmosphere among Andy (Soucek), Mike (Parisy) and myself is really good!
You were used to driving the Porsche last year, what do you think about the McLaren?
“The McLaren is a great car, which probably has a different philosophy from the other cars that I have already driven, even if I did not race in every of them. For me, the McLaren MP4-12C is a real race car, which is harder to drive and requires finer setups. I think it has characteristics that are more race-oriented than other GT3 cars that are maybe a bit easier to drive.”
What are your expectations for the Paul Ricard weekend?
“I think that we can be on the podium. Silverstone was a standstill for us, but this is part of racing, and we learned from it and will try to be back in the thick of the competition in France! It made us stronger; we know that we have potential and a driver line-up that can deliver. We had a great test at Paul Ricard in March; the performance was there for us so we will arrive at the track in a confident mood. Our objective is definitely to be back at the front of the field, and if everybody does a good job I am sure we are going to be on the podium! Moreover, this is a “home” race for me and for the team, as it is in France, so we really want to do well. And, another reason is that this is the last race before Spa, so we need a good momentum before the critical round of the series for the points standings.”
What do you think about the Blancpain Endurance Series this season?
“Since its first year this series has been amazing! And it does not stop improving in terms of quality and quantity in the field! I think that today, this is the reference point in GT racing. It is really motivating to find yourself, as a driver, surrounded by other good drivers and teams, because that is what we drivers are looking for. Winning is important, but winning in the face of adversity matters a lot too. And this adversity is predominant in the Blancpain Endurance Series, so it is great.”