26 April 2022

Alpine Endurance Team: The ideal driver line-up

The fiercely competitive arena of the FIA World Endurance Championship (FIA WEC) clearly requires a trio of dependable drivers who are not only fast but who also mesh together perfectly. Alpine Elf Endurance Team General Manager Philippe Sinault talks about this delicate alchemy and why he selected Nicolas Lapierre, Matthieu Vaxiviere and André Negrão, outright winners of the calendar’s opener in Sebring, Florida.

The Le Mans 24 Hours’ innumerable legends include rare cases of heroes who triumphed in the French classic after spending more than 23 hours behind the wheel. Like Luigi Chinetti in 1949 and Louis Rosier in 1950. Nowadays, individual performances of the sort are simply inconceivable given the pace of endurances races which practically matches that of sprints. It is consequently vital to be able to count on a trio of drivers who combine speed with an ability to function together in complete harmony.


In endurance racing, the same car is shared by three drivers. Having a crew that bonds perfectly is a fundamental part of the performance equation.

Philippe Sinault, Alpine Elf Endurance Team General Manager
 

The team first and foremost

This mix is not an automatic ask of drivers who cut their teeth in the ruthless world of single-seaters where putting oneself first has long been the prevalent attitude. “The approach required to succeed in endurance racing is effectively different to that associated with single-seaters where drivers are groomed to be self-centred,” observes Philippe Sinault. “In endurance racing, the team must always come first. In addition to giving their very best in the car, drivers must be capable of contributing to the overall dynamic, communicating freely with and, above all, serving those around them. That’s the real key to success, and its calls for a completely different intellectual and psychological mindset compared with single-seater racing.”


Sharing information is essential for each of the drivers to be as efficient as possible

Nicolas Lapierre made the switch to endurance racing some 15 years ago and agrees wholeheartedly with his boss. “The difference is night and day,” he concurs. “In endurance racing, you want your team-mates to be as fast as possible, whereas your instinct in single-seaters is to trounce everybody else! It’s a completely different mentality.

Compromises

Having three drivers sharing the same car clearly calls for compromise, as Philippe Sinault explains: “In endurance racing, not only must you be willing to look after the brakes for the driver who takes over from you after a stint, but you must be mindful of your fuel consumption and accept that you’re not always going to have fresh tires. You’re forever having to make compromises and think about your team-mates, while still pushing as hard as possible. That can lead to decisions that may surprise those who are unfamiliar with the sport. The seating position inside the cockpit is an example that springs to mind.

Finding drivers who are capable of taking these values on board and sharing them with their team-mates is no simple matter. “At Alpine Elf Endurance Team, not only do I play a hands-on role in tracking down the ideal trio, but I’m happy to admit that it’s the part of my job I prefer,” he confesses.

Some teams carry out a detailed analysis of the performance of prospective drivers. Others may be tempted by certain nationalities for marketing reasons, or to seek out drivers with similar styles. Alpine Elf Endurance Team’s boss has no hesitation when it comes to defining his guiding influence as far as recruitment goes. “In my opinion, the number one priorities are team spirit and overall approach,” he states. “There is no easy key, though. No guaranteed recipe. It’s essentially a gut feeling whether someone is a good fit for the dynamic you’re looking to achieve.”


Philippe Sinault and his personally chosen drivers for leading the A480 to victory

The way the drivers operate together can actually take the team forward as a whole. “When the dynamic is strong, each driver helps his team-mates progress in areas that aren’t necessarily their strengths,” he continues. “Not only does this sort of positive cooperation bring out the best in all three driver but it also helps them to progress individually. When you see this alchemy click into place, it makes the pleasure and success you share that much more fulfilling!

Philippe Sinault got his choice spot-on when he named Nicolas Lapierre, André Negrão and Matthieu Vaxiviere for the 2021 FIA WEC. “I am so proud to have brought these three drivers together,” he smiles. “They functioned so well in 2021 that there was no question of making any changes for this season.”


The 2021 crew was renewed in 2022. They know each other by heart

A winning trio

Nicolas Lapierre has been part of the squad since 2016 and has emerged as the team captain… “Every time he gets in the car, we know he will give his very best, in addition to being perfectly objective regarding both his and the car’s performance. That’s such a valuable asset to have,” remarks Philippe Sinault.

While enlisting the services of a Frenchman with such an eloquent record may have been a clear-cut option, the Brazilian André Negrão came to endurance racing late in joining the team in 2017, after a first career in single-seaters: “Endurance racing gave him an opportunity to reveal the talent that stems from his intelligence. He enjoys working and succeeding as a group and has become an indispensable part of the team.”


Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão encourage Matthieu Vaxivière at the trackside

At the beginning of 2021, Nicolas and André were joined by Matthieu Vaxiviere... “Not so long ago, Matthieu’s outlook was very much that of a single-seater driver,” notes Philippe Sinault. “However, through his collaboration with his team-mates, he soon grasped the notion of team spirit and has become a particularly strong endurance racing driver.”

After their successful campaign in 2021 that harvested six podium finishes, Nicolas, André and Matthieu kicked off the current season in style by winning the opening round of the FIA WEC – the 1,000 Miles of Sebring, in Florida, USA – in their Alpine A480. The fact that they are provisionally sitting at the top of the championship leaderboard is persuasive evidence that all three possess the qualities that distinguish endurance racing drivers from their single-seater counterparts!


The joys of victory for a tight, united and efficient team

Founded in 1955 by Jean Rédélé, Alpine has asserted itself over the years with its French-style sports cars. In 2018, the brand presented the new A110, a sports car that is true to Alpine’s timeless principles of compactness, lightness, agility and driving pleasure. In 2021, the Alpine Business Unit was created, to become the dedicated brand for the innovative, authentic and exclusive sports cars of the Renault Group, benefiting from the heritage and know-how of its historic Dieppe factory and the engineering expertise of the Alpine Racing and Alpine Cars teams.

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