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.
Soheil, as we are at Le Mans, how do you feel ahead of the two
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."
Is the Bugatti circuit better suited to the Saleen or to the
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
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."
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."
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
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."
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."
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."
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."
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
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."
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."
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!”
Any plans for 2007?
A. " The Saleen and Oreca, for sure."
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.
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!