Minassian: You can't afford to not finish races.
Frenchman underlines the importance of finishing races after reliability woes cost him and team-mate Marc Gené 2007 Le Mans Series laurels.
by Russell AtkinsTO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL, CLICK HEREAfter missing out on the Le Mans Series crown last year through unreliability, Nicolas Minassian insists his main aim in 2008 is simply to win as many races as he can - beginning with the season curtain-raiser in Barcelona this weekend.The French ace and team-mate Marc Gené finished fifth in the LMS title chase in 2007, behind fellow Peugeot Sport duo Stéphane Sarrazin and Pedro Lamy and the Pescarolo pairing of Jean-Christophe Boullion and Emmanuel Collard, after triumphing twice - at Monza and Silverstone - but enduring just as many costly DNFs. This time around, Minassian insists, it will be all-out attack from the word 'go'."I just want to win races," he asserted, speaking exclusively to Crash.net Radio on the eve of the season-opener. "That's my priority at the moment. After that I want to finish as many races as possible. "It's such a short championship that you can't afford to not finish races. As long as you finish every race, you've got every chance to be able to win the championship. We're going to go into the first race trying to win it, and if we can't do that we will simply try to finish. For the championship that will be the most important thing."The UK-domiciled star admitted his main focus for the forthcoming months, though, was glory in the Le Mans 24 Hours, the iconic round-the-clock French endurance classic. Minassian, Gené and Jacques Villeneuve were lying in second place in the closing stages of the race in 2007 - the first time the Lion had been back to La Sarthe in its own right since its second successive victory there back in 1993 - after Sarrazin had put the sister #8 car on pole position. It was not, however, to be the fairytale ending everyone in the squad had dreamed of."The Peugeot 908 HDi FAP was born really well," Minassian explained. "There was immediately a lot of pace in the car, which we showed in qualifying at Le Mans last year by setting pole position, but in the race we couldn't push so hard because the car wouldn't have lasted the distance. "What we learned was that we had to work very, very hard to make the car as reliable as possible so that we can push as hard as we did in qualifying in the race too. Le Mans now is becoming more like a 24-hour sprint than a race to the end."It was hard to have to retire close to the end last year, but at the same time it was one of those things. We had never run the car for 24 hours before the race and we weren't sure the engine was going to last, but when you get to just two hours from the end of the race and you're in the car, in second place and several laps ahead of the third-placed car, it was a bit sad. It's a killer of a race."Be that as it may, it is equally a race the 35-year-old is eager to vanquish in 2008, and preparations have begun in fine form. Whilst neither Peugeot nor arch-rivals and defending Le Mans winners Audi had a straightforward run of things in the Sebring 12 Hours last month - a race used as something as a test-bed in the run-up to the main event in June - Minassian confirmed the outing had been a valuable one."Our winter testing programme has gone really well," he underlined. "Last year obviously we had some reliability problems with the car, which was normal for the first year. The priority therefore was to make the car reliable and we worked all year-long to do that. "Now the car is getting more reliable by the day, meaning we can start to explore its potential a bit more. We're getting more speed out of it and discovering more about the car all the time."I didn't know Sebring - I had only been there to do a small portion of the track before with Champ Car, so there were a few corners that I needed to learn. The track is so bumpy, and Sebring is such a special place. Just for the engineers and the drivers to get some feedback during the pre-race test was very useful, and it was very good to go there first."Even if it won't go down in the record books that we were on pole, everybody at the track knew we were on pole. We were the fastest car all week in nearly every session, and we proved that in the race as well, so not starting from pole wasn't too much of a big deal."The first two hours of the race were very good, because we had I think about a 37-second lead over the first of the Audis and everything was going fine, but then we had some hydraulic problems. We went there with a few new systems on the car which we knew weren't 100 per cent reliable, so we knew we were maybe going to have some problems and when we did it wasn't too much of a big surprise. We could see Audi had some problems as well, so we weren't the only ones."It's frustrating in one way for the drivers because we always want to win, but on the other hand it was good that the problems happened then and not at Le Mans. Peugeot are just concentrating on Le Mans - that's all they want - and the objective [in going to Sebring] was fulfilled 100 per cent. With all the problems we had we know exactly what we have to do to resolve them. "Driving for Peugeot is a dream come true for me, and everything is perfectly positive for the future. There is no better place for me to be. I'm sure this year I'm going to have a shot at winning Le Mans - it's never written that you're going to win it, but at least I'm in a position to fight for it."To read Minassian's first exclusive Crash.net column, Click HereTO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL, CLICK HERE
Published 04/04/2008 13:36
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