24h Le Mans
Tom Coronel: "I would like to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans one day."
Eccentric Dutch driver Tom Coronel has just finished his fifth Dakar in 35th place. Next he will return to the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in which he has been competing without interruption since 2005. He has also participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 10 times, half with Spyker in the GT2 class (from 1999 to 2010).
You participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999 with two fellow countrymen. What do you remember about that first experience?
"I remember driving a Lola B98/10 Ford fielded by Konrad Racing with Jan Lammers and Peter Kox. I think back on my night stints, going more than 300 km/h. It's an experience I will never forget, I am so proud of it! I also remember the restaurant situated on the left side of the Mulsanne Straight, and the barbeques, it smelled so good when I passed by. I was even able to say, one or two laps later, that the sausages were ready to eat (laughs, Ed.). The following year it was the same team, the same driver line-up. Four hours into the race, I lost a wheel. According to the regulations, I was not allowed to move away from my car. I said to the marshals and to race direction, what do you want from me, to push the car all the way to the wheel? In the end, we were forced to retire."
You then had a less than stellar experience with an Audi R8 in 2001…
"Yes, and it was a car I had never driven in a race! It was a shame because we had a car that could have taken us to a podium finish. But, Stefan Johannson had an accident only seven laps into the race (surprised by a downpour, Ed.). He told me there was nothing he could have done, but I pointed out he was the first to go off the track, which means the others were smarter than he was, I was pretty ticked I have to admit. I knew it was my moment of glory at Le Mans, and it was wasted because someone took too many risks in my opinion!"
Later you joined Jan Lammers and the Racing for Holland team in 2002 and 2004. Was it important to you to join forces with another Dutch driver?
"It was a small team, we had quite a few fans, a lot of sponsors. It's true, it was important to me to run with Jan Lammers because he was my 24 Hours of Le Mans mentor, my professor. The Dome S101 was a fantastic car, the Judd engine sounded incredible and we finished seventh I think! Two years later, I returned. I was teamed up with Justin Wilson and Ralph Firman. As we were in fifth position, Firman had an accident. It was my last participation at the wheel of an LMP and I have to say I wasn't very lucky! But I had a great deal of fun in such fast cars. I remember I reached 342 km/h with the Dome. I had never gone that fast in my entire career."
Once you closed the door on the LMP chapter, you went on to compete in all your editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Spyker…
"I was special for me because Spyker is a Dutch marque, managed by my friend Peter Van Erp. He was my manager when I won the Masters of Formula 3 at Zandvoort in 1997. I was taken aback by the car's speed at Le Mans because we trailed the official Ferraris and Porsches by only two seconds. It was great work for such a small marque. I did Le Mans five times with them, the car was super, very beautiful, even though we knew it would not be enough to win. We were more popular than the winners and very supported by our fans!"
What is your fondest memory of the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
"It's not necessarily an in-race memory, but the Drivers' Parade actually, seated in the back of the legendary vintage cars, with this huge crowd all around us. We were like gladiators entering the arena. Just incredible! When you compete at Le Mans for the first time, of course there's the race, but everything on the periphery is phenomenal!"
Your worst memory?
"I have two. First in 2001 with the Audi R8 and also in 1999 when Peter Dumbreck took off in the Mercedes CLR. At the time, I was sharing an apartment with him in Japan for the Formula Nippon Championship (now Super Formula Championship, Ed.). I will never forget what happened to my friend!"
When will we see Tom Coronel in Endurance again?
"If a good opportunity presented itself to me, I wouldn't hesitate, but they're rare. If it's to be at the back of the pack, that doesn't interest me. I don't want to be the third driver, I want to bring my experience to the team and not just be a warm body. The other factor is now you have to find the funding to do that type of race and that's something I just don't understand. I've been in motorsport too long, 28 years now. I still enjoy it, the proof is in the pudding, I'm at a circuit as we speak. I'm getting up there in age, but I hit the track every weekend, I'm still in the mix I think. I am never frustrated, I'm always positive, I have thousands of fans who make a point to follow me on social media (Tom Coronel is very active in that regard, Ed.), I always have fun on the track. I would like to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans one day."
Tom Coronel at the 24 Hours of Le Mans:
1999 : Lola B98/10-Ford (Konrad Motorsport) with Jan Lammers and Peter Kox (retirement, gearbox)
2000 : Lola B2K/10-Ford (Konrad Motorsport) with Jan Lammers and Peter Kox (retirement, loss of a wheel)
2001: Audi R8 (Johansson Motorsport) with Stefan Johansson and Patrick Lemarié (retirement, electrical failure)
2002: Dome S101-Judd (Racing for Holland) with Jan Lammers and Val Hillebrand (8th overall, 7th in LMP900)
2003 : Spyker C8 Double-12R ST (Team Orange Spyker) with Norman Simon and Hans Hugenholtz (unranked, insufficient distance)
2004 : Dome S101-Judd (Racing for Holland) with Justin Wilson and Ralph Firman (unranked, did not make it to the checkered flag)
2005 : Spyker C8 Spyder GT2-R (Spyker Squadron) with Peter van Merksteijn, Sr. and Donny Crevels (retirement, incident)
2006 : Spyker C8 Spyder GT2-R (Spyker Squadron) with Donny Crevels and Peter Dumbreck (retirement, engine)
2009 : Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2-R (Snoras Spyker Squadron) with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Jaroslav Janiš (25th, 5th in GT2)
2010 : Spyker C8 Laviolette GT2-R (Spyker Squadron) with Peter Dumbreck and Jeroen Bleekemolen (27th, 9th in GT2)
PHOTOS (Copyright - Archives/ACO): Tom Coronel (center) at the Drivers' Parade in 2002.