Benoît TréluyerAfter a winter break that proved as discreet as it was serious, Benoît Tréluyer’s season began in earnest at Le Mans last weekend where the three new Audi R18 TDIs made their first public appearance. With the successful test complete, he now heads to Japan for 2011’s opening Super GT round.

On Sunday evening, after the official test for the forthcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, Benoît’s smile revealed his delight at returning to competitive action and the targets he has set for 2011. Following months of development work, the first public appearance of Audi’s brand new prototype was a great moment.

“We have completed a lot of mileage since the end of last season so it is a great reward to see the car at the top of the timesheets,” he said. “We have to remain cautious as we are not totally ready yet, but it is looking good. The Audi R18 TDI is totally different from the Audi R15 TDI of last year and there is a lot of expectation. New regulations, a closed car, the desire to prove that we can be more reliable than our rivals whilst at the same time being faster; with this car Audi wanted to come back with a bang!”

While Benoît remained guarded on the potential of Ingolstadt’s latest prototype, he was more open when discussing its ease of usability.

“What is certain is that we have a car which is easy to drive. It’s great in the Porsche Esses for instance which is a critical section of the circuit. You enter the corner without any apprehension, whilst normally it can be a bit hairy! As a driver, it’s a big deal to enjoy driving and that helps improve overall performance.”

Focusing on the basics was the German manufacturer’s main objective over the Easter weekend at La Sarthe. “Shakedown the three cars and test several different things, followed by a major debrief with all the team’s engineers in order to get the most out of the gathered data! We did not take it easy!”

Benoît’s preparations for the famous event continue on 6/7 May in the Ardennes region during the 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps.

Before then, another of his season’s commitments will have already begun. This weekend, in Japan, the Super GT championship kicks off at Fuji. Just as the entire country was badly affected by the terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March, so Japanese motorsport is slowly finding its feet again. For all its fans and those associated with the sport, the first meeting of 2011 will have strong symbolic value and be marked by great solemnity.

“I was in Tokyo the day of the earthquake,” said Benoît in La Sarthe. “It was not what scared me, but the tsunami which I witnessed live on television and the difficulty realising it was only 100 kilometres away. Then Fukushima happened… I left shortly afterwards for Audi testing. I have not returned since, but have spoken to the team nearly every day on the phone or by email.

“I will be delighted to see everyone again even if I’m going back with some apprehension. Saying that, I have never questioned returning in light of the nuclear issues as Japan has offered me so much.”

Benoît left Le Mans on Sunday night, making a quick visit to his home, before flying off to Tokyo. On Friday he will be reunited with his Motul Autech squad, team mate Satoshi Motoyama and the Nissan GT-R with which he intends to recapture the title won in 2008. In life as on the track, it’s safe to say he’s flat out!