Webber on Le Mans

Australian ace reflects on returning to the scene of disaster 15 years later

Mark Webber

Mark Webber has declared that his return to the Le Mans 24 Hour in June – for the first time since two frightening flips in 1999 – holds no fears for him.

Then a 22-year-old member of the Mercedes-Benz AMG world sports car squad, Webber’s world twice went blue-green-blue-green while at the controls of factory CLR-GT1 sports racers.

The Australian escaped uninjured, but initially copped some blame from the team for the incidents. However, a similar flip by teammate Peter Dumbreck five hours into the endurance classic made it clear the car’s aerodynamics were at fault.

Benz subsequently shelved the program, prompting Webber to turn to Formula 3000, from which he graduated to Formula One in 2002.

He returns to Le Mans this year to lead Porsche’s new World Endurance Championship campaign driving the recently unveiled 919.

“That’s racing, things happen,” Webber told Wheels at last week’s 911 Turbo launch at Phillip Island when asked about the flips. “Le Mans is a great track, I always enjoy driving there.

“The incidents probably weren’t my fault, so it’s encouraging from a driver’s perspective to know there are no real demons there for me to get over.

“I have had a long, long career… I have had incidents along the way and that’s part of the game, to get back off the canvas and go again.

“Le Mans was actually the making of me because it made my career, making me start again back into single-seaters. So those shunts actually played a role in me achieving a lot more things.”

Given how busy he will be with the Porsche 919 LMP1 WEC program once he gets to Le Mans, Webber says he will have little brain space to devote to reflecting on 1999.

“When I drive back past those scenes, I think I will be focussing on the job at hand,” he said. “It probably will come into my mind – there was a lot of emotions when I was there last time – but it won’t be something that anyone will notice.”

Webber says he hasn’t had any regrets leaving F1 for WEC and the new challenge the 2.0-litre V4 petrol-electric hybrid all-wheel-drive 919 poses.

“The car is quick, it’s enjoyable to drive with that level of downforce and technology,” Webber said. “Its performance is pretty impressive.

“We are on a such a learning curve with it at the moment, even driving technique, all those types of things. The driver is in the loop in terms of how we use the technology, how we get the recovery off the car in terms of all the battery technology, how we use the hybrid in certain parts of the lap.

“We are trail-blazing at the moment and it’s early days."


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