2021 marks my 10th season in INDYCAR. I can’t believe how the time has flown by and how much has happened in 10 years. I have stood on the podium 32 times and been on the top step 15 times in 10 seasons. I won an INDYCAR Series Championship and I achieved my dream of winning the INDY 500. But my work is far from done, and I have so much more to achieve in INDYCAR. So stay tuned!
How it all started
Nothing really predestined me to be a racecar driver. No one in my family had a motorsport background. My first racing experience was as a 4-year-old when I watched Senna and Prost on TV, fighting it out on the race track. I was so impressed with the skill they had racing one another and the speed to which they were doing it. From that moment, my passion for racing was born! When I was 8 years old, I managed to convince my parents to let me try Karting. That was my first experience behind the wheel and I was instantly hooked. It all felt so natural.
From the age of 9 until 16, I raced in Karting at a regional level. During that time my dad got involved with the newly built racetrack, Circuit du Val De Vienne, close to my hometown.
At 16, I had the chance to enter the Volant Elf in 2001, which was a racing competition for young drivers. I really only participated to get an exemption to be able to drive cars around the racetrack at 16. But: I won! The prize for winning was a seat in a junior single-seater series. I jumped at the opportunity and my life became racing. For four years until 2005, I moved through the ranks of different junior formulae. My goal was different from most drivers at the time. I was open minded and my top goal was to become a professional race car driver – I didn’t care what series. Of course, there were dreams of Formula One, Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24h, but I understood pretty quickly that you needed the right connections and the right funding, both things I didn’t necessarily have at the time. So, I had to make a career choice. I have always been attracted to American racing, so I contacted Sébastien Bourdais who was paving the way for French drivers in the United States. We connected with US teams in the Formula Atlantic Series and convinced them to let me participate in a few tests for them. In 2006, I was hired by Team Australia in Champ Car Atlantic (Indy Light today) to drive for them that season.
Living in America
So, at just 21, I packed up my life in Europe and moved to Indianapolis. Without really speaking a whole lot of English! I promised my family that, if I didn’t make it within a year, I’d come back to Europe and get a ‘proper’ job. I really did mean it, so I rented everything for just one year: my apartment, my car, even my TV and the couch! I was determined to make it, and I did. I won the Atlantic championship straight away in my first season, and that championship, along with the prize money I got from winning it, I used to move to Champ Car in 2007. My life in America gathered speed…
Life is made of moments, and certain people you meet have a big impact. Sébastien Bourdais helped me enormously, gave me a lot of advice, not only when it comes to racing but also regarding life in the USA. Thanks to him, I met the right people and he was the first driver to meet me back in my motorhome when I had won the Indy 500. We have become really good friends and I can’t thank him enough.
Then it went wrong…
A racecar driver’s career is rarely straightforward. You need a team to race, and there are only so many places on the grid available each year. I got to experience that first hand when my Champ Car team closed its doors at the end of the 2007 season. After only two years in the United States, I had nowhere to go, no ride for the year ahead. That was a scary thought, as I knew I hadn’t reached my full potential yet. So, I turned to my other racing passion: endurance racing. I started contacting sportscar teams and testing went really well. Gil De Ferran and Acura were starting a new factory program in ALMS and they chose me to drive for them for the 2008 and 2009 season. Again, another person in Gil, who I like to call my YODA, propelled my career to the next level. The Peugeot factory team hired me to run in Le Mans in their beautiful 908 diesel power LMP1 prototype. We came very close to winning the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011. This near-win gave me a lot of visibility, both in Europe and in the US, and it finally opened up the doors to INDYCAR. That was in 2012 with Sam Schmidt /Hamilton /Honda racing.
10 years and still going strong
My 10th season in INDYCAR is only a few days away. How do I feel? Right now, it is all about confidence and believing, and I believe we will be title contenders this season. This winter, I wasn’t able to visit France for the first time since I moved to the States. I decided to turn this into a positive and I focused even more on preparing myself for this season. I spent a lot of time studying past races finding ways to improve. I worked countless hours with my engineers to prepare this season and I upped my physical and mental training.
I am looking forward to my 10th season. I am passionate and the fire is very much burning within me, maybe now more than ever. I like to push myself, I want to improve all the time and be the best I can. It is amazing to me how much you can constantly learn if you keep searching. I am still growing, as a driver and a person. I appreciate greatness in sports and I’m continuing to look for it every time I step in that race car.
So here’s to the next 10 years!