He might no longer live in the Land of the Rising Sun, but a piece of Benoît Tréluyer’s heart will always remain there. And on Sunday he’s relying on the support of his fans to breathe fresh life into the #1 Audi Sport crew’s FIA World Endurance Championship title hopes.
Indeed, Benoît is quick to acknowledge that he sees Fuji Speedway as another home race. “After the Le Mans 24 Hours in France, the 6 Hours of Fuji is my second home event, even though I haven’t lived in Japan for three years now,” he explains passionately. “I experienced a lot of success and emotion during my ten years in the country, and the local fans haven’t forgotten that even though I no longer live out there.
“For two years I lived in Gotemba alongside my old team before moving to Tokyo and the birth of my son, Jules. I still have a lot of friends in Gotemba, which is why I’ll be arriving quite early. Dinners are planned with Mr Hoshino, my former engineers and mechanics from Nismo, and my journalist friend Yumiko. The first three days of the week are dedicated to seeing them.”
Clearly Benoît loves Japan, and that’s partly down to the fans who return the favour by welcoming him back with open arms. “That really shocked me last year,” he adds. “When I was racing in Japan I used to miss France. But now that I’ve returned to France it’s Japan that I miss! Teams, spectators, fans; Japan embraces motor racing differently. When I watch my Audi Sport colleagues André [Lotterer] and Loïc [Duval] competing in Super Formula races, like last time at Sugo, I see the spectators standing, imagine the atmosphere and understand the passion for motorsport that doesn’t exist in most countries. I cannot wait to return!”
Video of 2012 6 hours of Fuji race
In order to arrive there in top physical condition, Benoît’s preparation included revisiting a sport he had not competed in for many years. “Along with a friend I enjoyed myself racing in a four-hour motocross endurance event, just for fun and with my KTM bike! I managed to secure the #18 plate after arguing that I couldn’t risk being injured by starting in the middle of the pack, and the organisers were very accommodating. So I started with the top guys and was sixth after 80 minutes of racing. I handed over to my mate who did well and managed not to lose too many places. Unfortunately the last stints became more physically difficult. I could have tried maintaining the pace, but this would have forced me to take risks. I’m going to prepare myself a bit better for it next year as it’s a great way to train. It works muscles that I had forgotten about!”
Four days later Benoît and a few of his friends from GT Bicycles and SRAM visited the 30th edition of the ‘ROC d’Azur’, a famous mountain bike event that takes place at the Fréjus nature resort in the Maures region. “It was a great breath of fresh air before catching the plane to Tokyo so that I arrive in Fuji as fit as possible!” he laughed.
While the Fuji Speedway layout perhaps isn’t as challenging as Suzuka’s, it still requires a degree of past experience to go quickly there. “With André still racing in Japan, as well as the previous advantage we had in 2012, hopefully we’ll be able to retain some of our edge this year. Turns in the second sector like the A-Corner, 100R and hairpin are where we can hopefully make the difference. Fuji is not my favourite circuit but it is the one where I had the most success while racing in Japan.”
Sunday also sees Tréluyer trying to preserve his title chances, even though the challenge has become more difficult.
“It would require us to win and our friends in the #2 car to have issues, which André, Marcel and I do not wish for. We’ve certainly lacked fortune this year but will fight until the end. Lady Luck can swing around, but first we will have to beat Toyota who are competing on home turf and will have worked hard with that in mind,” he concludes.
Mount Fuji’s sacred fire has long been extinguished, but on Sunday it’s a title fight that’s just waiting to erupt.