24h Le Mans
24 Hours of Le Mans – Olivier Panis: "The start is a relief!"
With four starts as a driver to his credit, this year Olivier Panis is gearing up for his fourth participation in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a team owner.
Briefing at Panis Barthez Compétition's hospitality suite: everyone is there, talking with each other. These are the moments Olivier Panis, the last French F1 Grand Prix winner (Monaco in 1996) to date, especially appreciates. "I love Le Mans, but the thing is it lasts 10 days, not 24 hours. The best part is experiencing everything with the team and drivers. It's wonderful to share all these emotions, feelings, the pressure mounting from day to day."
A team owner experiences the race from the garage. "I never go to the wall. I can't. That's the domain of the technical director, the car's engineer, the data engineer and Sarah who acts as team manager. She's in communication with the team and Race Direction to manage the Full Yellows, safety car neutralisations, etc. I manage everything necessary in the garage with Simon who goes from the pit wall to the garage as needed."
Simon is Simon Abadie and Sarah is his sister. Panis Barthez Compétition relies on them and their company Tech1 Racing to monitor the technical aspects of the #23 Ligier JS P217. "I am thrilled to work with Simon and Sarah, whom have won F. Renault 2.0 and 3.5 Series championships. Simon and Sarah Abadie have taught me a lot about team management and how to approach things. The track is only the tip of the iceburg in this profession."
Panis is happy to give up the quest for financial partners and sponsors for a few days. "You get here at 07:00 on Saturday for the warm-up, the set-up and a short briefing with the team and drivers. The warm-up is typically to make sure everything is functioning as it should, but the first year it was a challenge! So, it's a rather stressful moment for me, because if there's a problem, there isn't much time to do something about it. When the car returns to the garage, you know it will take the start and you're happy. Then begins the longest wait up to the start. You just want to get going. Up until the last second, we're checking and rechecking everything we can to kill time. The start is a relief!
He's ready for a white night at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. "If things become a bit complicated, I'm here to explain it to the drivers. Otherwise, they know what to do. This year, we're just going to pay a little more attention to rookie René Binder. So, no sleep for me. The life of an owner is way more stressful than that of a driver. When you're at the wheel, you know what you have to do. There aren't x number of things to take care of. Panis Barthez Compétition is fortunate because we have a fantastic team with experienced individuals, but sometimes you don't know what's going on. You don't know how a certain situation needs to be handled. It's a bit scary!"
This year, the French team is looking for a podium finish in LMP2. "It's an ambitious goal. The class is so competitive that the slightest mistake can be dire."
PHOTO: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES DU MANS, 2019. The pressure is on for Panis Barthez Compétition, but the owner remains calm.