LONDON (Reuters) - Toyota’s Anthony Davidson starts the defense of his world endurance title at Silverstone this weekend with Le Mans on his mind.
The 24 Hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe in western France on June 13-14 is the jewel of the championship, a classic test that has mauled many a driver over the years and that every sportscar racer wants to win.
“We had a big fight on our hands last year all the way through (the championship),” the 35-year-old Briton told Reuters in an interview ahead of Sunday’s Six Hours of Silverstone season-opener.
”We didn’t win Le Mans -- that was our main target for the season and we didn’t achieve that. So that remains the same for this year.
“I think it’s going to be hard to defend the championship and possibly even harder to win Le Mans. But it should be a great fight.”
Davidson won last year’s endurance championship with Switzerland’s Sebastien Buemi but finished only third at Le Mans after a heavy crash on a wet track early on in the race with Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre at the wheel.
In the 2013 race, Davidson finished second while in 2012 he had a massive crash that saw the car take off at the Mulsanne corner and left the Briton in hospital with two broken vertebrae.
The experience has in no way dimmed the former Formula One driver’s enthusiasm or determination.
“I feel personally as a driver I have tamed it,” he said.
”I feel I know how to win that race. I’ve led it a couple of times outright and it’s looked like I’ve been on my way to winning it.
“I feel like the team had the recipe to win it last year, we had the fastest car and on my car we had the reliability to win it. We would have won it at a canter, well over six laps, if we didn’t have the crash early on in the race due to the weather.”
A victory this year would be more than welcome, however it might come.
“If I am handed the victory this year...I would quite happily take it because it would make up for all the times when I did deserve to win it (and did not),” said Davidson, who now has the number one on his Toyota.
”To the average person on the street, to tell them that you won the 24 hours of Le Mans...sounds more impressive (than the championship).
“People in the know, know what the championship means. But for something to hang your hat on, of course Le Mans is an amazing achievement.”
So too is winning the world endurance title, a championship growing in stature in the motorsport world even if crowds -- with the exception of the 250,000 thronging Le Mans -- are comparatively small.
Toyota face a big battle this season against perennial Le Mans favorites and winners Audi as well as the Porsche works cars.
The eight round calendar includes six hour races at Spa-Francorchamps, the Nuerburgring, in Austin, Texas, at Japan’s Fuji circuit, Shanghai and Bahrain.
“In the second year of a stable set of regulations it seems that everyone has improved, we’ve all honed our cars as you’d expect,” said Davidson of the battle ahead.
“I think it’s probably going to be more of the same in terms of the level of competition.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Patrick Johnston