I have driven many cars, some good, some bad, and some that nearly cost my life. A good car I tested, but did not race, was the Williams FW14. Many people forget that I was the Williams test driver when Damon Hill won his championship. It was a fantastic car; you could put it anywhere you wanted. It did everything you would ask of it. Another car, giving satisfaction, was my PacWest Motorola Reynard 971 which I drove at Portland, winning the race by 27/1000ths of a second, from Gil de Ferran. I have always driven well in marginal conditions, where its either wet going to dry, or, the other way around. At Portland, we were on a drying track and the conditions were just right for me. I got onto slicks earlier than anyone else and got the most out of them. Don’t forget, I started 11th on the grid. I took the lead off the last corner of the last lap. It was very funny because I can remember Gil punching the air, thinking he had won. On the other side of that was the accident I had in Rio while racing the PacWest Reynard 961. I crashed heavily into the wall and I thought my days were over. It was a mechanical thing that was fitted to the car and should never have been on the car in the first place. My teammate, Mauricio Gugelmin, was lucky too, the same mechanical device caused him to crash, but not as badly as me. The strong Reynard chassis saved my life. However, the car, to drive, was terrible.
In 1992, I was part of the successful Le Mans Peugeot team, with Derek Warwick and Yannick Dalmas. Jean Todt, the current, successful, Ferrari F1 team manager, was our team manager. I know without a doubt that our victory, just as Ferrari’s victories today, had a lot to do with him. He was a great man then, obviously going on to bigger and greater things, but he knew how to motivate people. His greatest attribute is that he is able to listen, and take on board other people’s points of view. Obviously, he was firm where he had to be firm. If he would disagree with your point, he would meticulously justify why he wasn’t going to do things your way; a great people-person. The car, the Peugeot 905, was really a state-of-the-art car. It was a fantastically well-balanced car, using a huge amount of “aero” which gave very good grip. Above all else, the car was “bullet-proof.” After we had finished the 24 hours of hard racing, we went back to the car, started it up, and just listened to it. It sounded so fresh, I’m sure it would have done another 24 hours, no problem. The engine never missed a beat in the whole of the race. Well, I say that, during my night-driving stint I did have a huge wake-up call. The weather for the weekend was quite poor. It started raining heavily; I reached for the switch to turn the wipers on and inadvertently turned the engine off! I can tell you that got my attention very quickly. The people back in the pit, watching the telemetry woke up too. I was able to rectify things immediately, but races can be won or lost by similar means. The down-side, if there is a down-side to winning Le Mans, was that a French manufacturer, Peugeot, had won the race and because of strict alcohol regulations, we were forbidden to spray Champagne on the podium. Nevertheless, it was a huge victory filled with emotion.
As told to Mike Jiggle