Interview – Soheil Ayari, FFSA GT Champion

During the DTM / FFSA GT meeting last weekend at Le Mans, I spent some time with Soheil Ayari – writes Claude Foubert. This interview was carried out before the two wins achieved by Soheil and Bruno Hernandez, his partner at the wheel of the ANAVEO Oreca Saleen S7R - and their subsequent title in the FFSA GT Championship.

Q. Soheil, as we are at Le Mans, how do you feel ahead of the two races?
A. “Quite good. Bruno Hernandez and myself, we form a good line-up, we have been performing well throughout the season, being fast and consistent. The Finns have retired twice, while we did only once. So, we'll lose 15 points more than them, which explains our ranking in the championship standings. So, things seem pretty good at Le Mans because Palttala / Kuismanen's Corvette has 80 kgs of ballast while our Saleen will have only 40. However, to claim the title, we need to have some good results here, because we'll have to deduct two results."

Q. Is the Bugatti circuit better suited to the Saleen or to the Corvette?
A. " I believe that we should be better here. The Corvette and the Saleen have almost the same speed. However, the Saleen is very good on a track with a very smooth surface, such as here. It doesn't like the bumpy circuits, where the Corvettes are better.”

Q. What about your association with your partner, Bruno Hernandez?
A. “We have known each other since 2002 when I claimed the title in the Supertourisme Championship (A Class), whereas Bruno had won the B Championship. We appreciate each other’s driving and last year when Bruno entered the FFSA GT Championship, I agreed to follow him. This year, we had the opportunity to race the Saleen with such a professional team as Oreca, and here we are."

Q. What do you think about the Pro-Am format of the championship?
A. "It's interesting, but it depends on your partner's skill, otherwise things may become difficult. With Bruno, I am well served, so it's all right."

Q. Let's come to the Le Mans Series. Aren't you a bit frustrated?
A. " By the final ranking in the championship ranking, yes - but not by the results and the performances. Unfortunately, we couldn't race at Istanbul because we weren't ready enough, but we won at Spa in our first race. Then we failed somewhat at Nurburgring and above all at Donington, but we finished quite well at Jarama (below). This has been a great season, even though our third place in the standings is a little disappointing. The car has been very quick, and I was very pleased to have Stéphane Ortelli as my partner. We got along together extremely well, he did a great season and we were no doubt one of the best GT1 line-ups in the Championship."

Q. Is there still more to come with the Saleen S7R?
A. " Yes, Oreca aims to improve the car before the next Le Mans 24 Hours. Not so much with the speed of the car, even though there is still a margin for improvement, but above all on the reliability. It is a big development work, but Oreca has the structure for doing it. Moreover, the Saleen factory helps
us with that development."

Q. What is the difference between the FFSA GT Saleen and the Le Mans Series S7R?
A. “None, it is only a matter of setup, due to the tyres (Michelin for Le Mans Series and Pirelli for the FFSA GT Championship). We have to change the setup for the FFSA GT because the tyres don’t stay quite so effective for so long."

Q. Next year, Le Mans Series or FIA GT for Oreca?
A. " Le Mans Series, of course. They are 1000 kms races, which is most interesting, and there are more professional drivers. Le Mans Series, it is fine."

Q. You went off to Japan once this year for the SUPER GT championship (right). How was it?
A. “I should have raced in the Suzuka 1000 kms, on a really magnificent circuit. It is a very professional championship, with an impressive organization and many spectators. It is very pleasant. Many French drivers are racing there and it is very nice. They are very fast. They are not welcome in the Formula 1 Championship, but they are great drivers."

Q. How did that drive come about?
A. " Usually, the Suzuka 1000 km race is the hottest and toughest race in the SUPER GT, so the teams need a third driver. That's why Team SARD, with which I was in touch, asked me to join them to race at Suzuka at the wheel of the #66 Toyota Supra GT."

Q. However, you didn't race. Why?
A. “There was a typhoon before the race which considerably cooled down the temperature and so a third driver wasn't necessary any more."

Q. What is the difference between a Saleen and a Supra GT?
A. “The Japanese cars are lighter (950 kgs against 1150 for the Saleen), but they are less powerful (480 hp). They rather look like the DTM cars in their conception: much aero and much braking."

Q. In July, you were at Le Mans for Le Mans Classic.
A. “Yes, it was a great fun, with an amazing atmosphere, even on the pre-grid, with drivers like Ragnotti, Serpaggi and so many others. It was a great pleasure to drive the Interscope 935 Porsche, winner of the Daytona 24 Hours. It is fantastic too to have won against all the prototypes, Bobby Rhal's Chevron, the Alpine-Renault, the 936 Porsche. A great moment, really!”

Q. Any plans for 2007?
A. " The Saleen and Oreca, for sure."

Q. Peugeot?
A. "Maybe, why not, but wait and see.”

And then Soheil and Bruno Hernandez raced to two wins during the weekend – and the FFSA GT Championship.

PS. David Legangneux tells us that this image (below) does not show Soheil celebrating the second win at Le Mans, and the title, on Sunday. But as the Oreca technician looks very much like Soheil Ayari, we'll include the photograph again here!

 

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