Stephane Daoudi – A Gun To Fight In The LMES

The number of times the name Daoudi has cropped up on entry lists on dsc over the past couple of years would suggest that we’re almost neglecting continental / French talent. It’s time to put that right – and Stephane himself originated the contact. He’d politely pointed out that we had a mistake on the results page from the Monza 1000 Kms. It was he who had set the fastest lap in the GT Class at Monza, and would we mind correcting it? The Ed’s excuse was that he’d thrown the result at the screen on the Sunday evening at Monza, before attacking a race report, which needed to be finished before the media centre shut.

Anyway, mistake corrected, introductions took place at the Nurburgring 1000 Kms, and here we are – a chance to introduce Stephane Daoudi to dailysportscar’s readers. You’ll be familiar with the fact that he’s driven prototypes, you’ll be familiar with his name associated with Porsches, but like so many others (and like Adam Jones too), Stephane Daoudi had a career planned out in single seaters. He begins by explaining where he started out, and the pitfalls that led to a change of direction.

dailysportscar.com“I started my racing career in Formula Renault in 1993, but it was very much a learning year for me. In 1994 a new project the "ELF La Filiere" scheme was born, running such drivers as Oriol Servia, Sebastien Phlippe and Stephane Sarrazin. There were 12 Elf cars, and of the Elf drivers I finished behind only Sarrazin. After this achievement, I was awarded a contract as driver for La SEITA (the Gauloise / Gitanes cigarette company). I won the Formula Renault Eurocup at Magny-Cours and to win with La SEITA was good for my career, because they could see people through to F3 and F1.”

Can you see the parallels here with LMES rival Adam Jones? The Englishman, from a (later) beginning in French single seaters, had his eye on a ladder from F3 to F3000 and F1, but…..

In 1995 you made it to F3 in France Stephane, but you were having a difficult time then, because of sponsorship issues, weren’t you? SEITA ceased sponsoring racing?

“The law against tobacco advertising was introduced so I found myself without a sponsor. With no budget I was forced to race an Elise F3, a practically undriveable French-built car. Because I could not compete properly in this car I decided not to finish the season with this team. Luckily at this point La SEITA came up with the solution, driving a car in the colours of Gitanes, but with a false logo, similar to the Prost F1 team. This meant that I could run in the last few races in the championship, for the same team that had run my car in Formula Renault. I was driving a Dallara / Honda Seymaz. This new package helped me to lead in the rain at Le Mans before I had to retire - because my red light was not working, of all things.”

So he’s very good in the rain too….

In 1996 you ended up racing the HELEM GT car: how did that come about and what happened to those unusual cars?

“At the start of 1996 I was trying to find the best opportunity, because I had no money. My best offer came in GT racing in the HELEM. This came about because I had tested the car and was offered a contract with RJ Racing (ROY / JOHNSON) who built the Renault Sport V6 twin turbo, that became the HELEM. It was a very nice project. The team had done an official presentation of the car with Christian Contzen and Bernard Dudot, so if the team had done well, we could have Renault behind us. I only did two races that year. The Le Mans round of French GTs, which I won and the Nogaro BPR round, in which we DNF’d.

“In 1997 it was much the same, I did the Le Mans French GT round and won again and then we raced at Nogaro again, this time in French GTs: we led but we didn’t finish. That year I was also on the entry list for the Le Mans 24 hours, but we did not qualify and I didn’t get the chance to do even one lap of the famous circuit. The problem was that Roy came up with this product and the team for his son Benjamin Roy, and in 1997, he disappeared, with the money from all the sponsors, the cars, everything!! I know that one of the cars was somewhere in England after all this happened but there were to be no more races for me that year. So from 1996 to 1997 I only did four races.”

After the Helem you appeared to have a gap of almost three years without a drive: did you find yourself a job from Monday to Friday during this time?

“After the disappointment of ‘96 and ‘97 I didn't give up. In 1998 I found a job as a "chauffeur" for a lawyer and I did some testing in America with the GT Mosler. I also tested Condor Motorsport’s Formula Atlantic car between 1998 and 1999. There was no way I could race during this period, because I had no money. But testing allowed me to keep sharp and race prepared.”

2000 saw your first Le Mans with WR: how did you get the drive with an LMP team?

“Well in 2000, one of my friends, gentleman driver Philippe Papin, asked me to drive with him in a full season of FFSA - for nothing. The car was a Venturi 400 Trophy. Although the car was never able to finish a race, while it was running it gave me a chance to show my speed and gain a good reputation in France. This paid off because when WR were looking for drivers, Xavier Pompidou, who was driving for WR, managed to get me an invitation to test the car. This was successful and I was given the drive for Le Mans 24 Hours.

“This was the start of a long story, because I raced for WR at four Le Mans and I was the "works driver". It also allowed me to meet some important people at the Peugeot Factory, and I still continue to develop the car when they need my help.”

In 2001 you raced in the FFSA and FIA GT for MAC Racing: how did you get this drive? And what did that lead to?

“My friend Papin decided we should race a MAC Racing Porsche GT3-R in 2001. Once again I was quick and we came second in the N-GT championship, behind JMB. Throughout the season Papin was slower than me so I learnt to attack at all times on the track, so I could get back into a good position. The highlight of the season was an overall race win, ahead of the higher class GT cars, at Magny-Cours - in the rain.

“MAC Racing also tried FIA GT in 2001 as well, but the car was not to the standard of the others on the grid. One good thing to come out of 2001 was the fact that I had managed to impress JMB. In fact it was only due to budget problems that I didn’t race for them in 2002.

“My Le Mans drive in 2001 was a WR for the second year in a row. We managed to get a good finish coming across the line second in LMP675.

“But in 2002, I had nothing 15 days before the start of the season. I told the people at Peugeot, and one them called Stephane Ratel . I think he wanted to show that there was a possibility for a good driver to go from GTs in France to FIA GTs, and I know that Stephane is in good relationship with Peugeot. Anyway, there was one place in the Freisinger team and Ratel organised this with Kaneko (the team manager then). I had to bring a very small budget, and Papin helped me for this season. I drove with Bert Longin, who had Siemens sponsorship, and I was always faster, but I had to learn all the tracks, and my car was absolutely not the same as the Ortelli car (chassis, engines, tyres).”

More parallels with Adam Jones of course – the same year in which he was racing in British GTs.

“I asked to drive with Ortelli because he was always changing his team mate, but Manfred never gave me the chance, even to test the Ortelli car. In fact, we had some ‘relationship problems’. As you know, he is very special and he told me that the association between Daoudi and Freisinger was not possible in his mind....

“In Anderstorp, they gave me an old Ortelli engine, and I qualified second, 2/10 slower. They did the same in Enna (where I finished second). I was leading the race, but they asked me to let Stephane go by. I did it because I knew that the people from Porsche were looking at me and maybe it could be good for the future.

“For Spa, Freisinger replaced me one day before the race with Loterrer, telling me that he was sent to them by Porsche. So Kaneko managed to find a drive for me with Cirtek. This was a crazy race, because I was driving with Manfred Jurasz, Vic Rice and young Frenchman Julien Piguet. We changed the gearbox five times before the race!! Jurasz had to stop because of a foot problem, and Piguet was disqualified because he stayed in the car too long (he drove under the safety car when Kumpen had his big crash). So from about 2am to the end of the race, I drove double stints, then Rice one stint, then me a double stint! All of this with a fuel pump problem and gearbox problems. We finished fourth in class and seventh overall which was good for the Cirtek team at that time.”

The WR story continued at Le Mans, for the third time in 2002, but it was a tale with a nasty kick right at the end – as many dsc readers who were present might remember.

“I was racing with De Fournoux and Bouvet . I did a 3.46 in qualifying ,which was very good with the WR . As you know, after 23 and a half hours, we were still leading the class, then I had broken suspension. The tyre was touching the body and exploded. I just came to the pit and asked the team only to change the tyre because we were two laps in front of the del Bello Reynard. They did it but 500 meters afterwards, the new tyre exploded again. The Reynard passed me and we finished second.

“This moment (when the first tyre blew) was unbelievable, because it happened just before the entry of the first Porsche Corner. I was going at about 300 km/h and I don't know how I managed to save the car. All the team had been ready to celebrate the victory. The champagne was in the fridge and some of the crew were crying. It was a desperate moment. For me, regarding all of this, I absolutely wanted to bring the car home and pass this finish line. What can I say, only that it's racing, especially at Le Mans!”

2003 didn’t see the relationship with Freisinger continue, but your career with Porsches in GT racing developed elsewhere. How did that happen?

“For Sebring, one of the Russians (Alexey Vasiliev) said at the last moment that he would’nt race there. So RWS wanted a good driver and some people from Porsche pushed for me to go. This was my first contact with the Russian drivers and RWS. I did a good qualifying lap because we were fifth and the first GT car on Pirelli tyres, in front of the PK car that had the factory Pirellis, and behind the untouchable AJR, Orbit and Petersen 911s.

“But we only raced for two hours before the engine broke.

“After this, I signed a contract for the full season with RWS, with the help of the Yukos money. This could have been a very good season, but there were three big problems: first was the Pirelli tyres that didn't progress like the Dunlops. Pirelli was working hard with Ferrari but not doing much with Porsche. So on every track, I was just a little faster than the pole from the year before, but not as fast as the new Dunlop runners.

“Then we lost many races because of broken engines broken – we had 11 fail that season.

“Third was that I changed team mate many times and some were not fast, or too hard with the gearbox . I only had a good race in Donington with Johnny Mowlem when we finished second, and with Adam we had no result but he is a nice guy, and I'm happy that he is driving for victories this year because I think we are in a same situation, and we have both had to be the team mate of gentlemen to be able to make something.

“At the end of the year Freisinger proposed to Vasiliev and me to race at the 1000 km of Le Mans with Ortelli. This was important for me because it was the first time for Yukos to be in a position to win a race, and for me I could drive a really good car, and compare myself with a driver like Ortelli. I was waiting for this for a long time.”

“For the free practice, Ortelli drove all the time. I only had six laps but I was 2/10 slower...

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“For the race, Ortelli took the start under the rain. Then when I drove, I was on intermediate tyres. After this when Ortelli drove again, he was on slick tyres and of course he was faster but after this race, in which we finished second, they told everybody that I was 1.5 seconds slower. It was true, but I was on intermediates and he was on slicks.....

“Anyway there was a chance for Yukos to come to Freisinger, but Manfred went to Russia without telling me, and I wasn’t part of the deal…

“The Le Mans 24 hours last year wasn’t good with WR, because the new car was really too slow, and was not ready for the race.”

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But as one door closes…. the opportunity that arose for 2004 was to drive a Ferrari 575 with Jean-Michel Bouresche’s JMB team, in the FIA GT Championship.

“Jean-Michel arranged for me to drive with the gentlemen drivers in the #19 Ferrari. This was a very important opportunity for me and I really have to thank Antoine Gosse, Peter Kutemann, and Andrea Garbagnati for this, and also Jean Michel who helped me a lot.

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“I didn't drive at Monza because Antoine Gosse went out before my stint, but in Valencia, when I drove I overtook the two leading cars of the team. At Magny-Cours, I did a few laps in free practice and when it was raining, I was on pole during the time I drove. I think this confirmed what Bouresche was thinking of me, and he proposed me a good deal to race at Le Mans with the Modena. As you know we were fast, but we DNF’d because of too many small problems.”

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And that brings us almost right up to date. What happened to you at Monza, and then at the Nurburgring?

“I raced in the first LMES round in Monza with Melo and Rusinov. We did a good race (finish second) but one of my team mates lost too much time to give us a chance to win, but as you know, I set the fastest race lap.

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“At the Nurburgring, I didn’t know the track, and I was leading the race at the end of my stint. But later in the race we had a problem with the starter motor so we finished sixth, but with second fastest lap, very close to Maassen’s fastest lap.”

We pointed out the LMES GT points position in the Adam Jones feature, so let’s do the same here.

1 Adam JONES 3 10 13
- Sacha MAASSEN 3 10 13
3 Kazuyuki NISHIZAWA 6 6 12
- Haruki KUROSAWA 6 6 12
- Manabu ORIDO 6 6 12
6 Roman RUSINOV 8 3 11
- Stéphane DAOUDI 8 3 11
8 Stéphane ORTELLI 10 - 10
- Romain DUMAS 10 / 10
10 Jaime MELO 8 / 8
- Xavier POMPIDOU / 8 8
- Marino FRANCHITTI / 8 8

“As you know, Rusinov and I are third in the drivers’ LMES championship; only two points from Maassen / Jones , so I hope we can win the championship. This could be a good chance to prove what I can do, and that I shouldn’t have been overlooked in the past, and also I think the LMES is maybe the title that Ferrari and Michelotto are closer to winning.

“Concerning Spa, it seems clear now that I will not be at Spa, but it’s not a big disapointment because I knew anyway, that I couldn’t be in a car to win.

“But I feel very much at home in the JMB team, and I want to be there for a long time. I have a good position to find some sponsors to help the project develop.

“Anyway without the support I have had, I could have never been in the 360, and I feel very good about staying in the JMB team. My goal is to win races and I feel it coming closer and closer, so wait and see!!!”

Our last question concerned the 575 and the 360. Which would Stephane rather drive?

“Of course the 575 is a fantastic car, but I'm just doing minimums laps with it during every weekend, so I prefer the Modena which is my "gun to fight in LMES!”

So there we have them: Stephane Daoudi and Adam Jones, both targeting the LMES this year. As things stand, we may well see neither of them racing at Spa, but the introduction of the LMES for 2004 has given them both the opportunity they have been seeking for a long time: a drive in a top car, going for a title. We wish them both well when the teams gather at Silverstone in two weeks’ time.

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