A dream can be followed for a long time, but it can also last without fading out. Takeshi Kimura's dream of competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans goes back a long way, but it has been a reality every year since 2019. This year, the Japanese driver will once again tackle the endurance world’s most eagerly awaited challenge, behind the wheel of the 488 GTE, courtesy of Car Guy by Kessel Racing. After the great thrill of first gaining entry in 2019, thanks to an ALMS title win, Kimura once again returns to lay siege to the Le Mans podium with a brand new, yet competitive crew, made up of Scott Andrews and Mikkel Jensen.
What are your feelings on the eve of this edition?
“I never thought that I would be able to take part in three editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, to be honest. This race was always a dream for me but the way it came about has been unusual. It was 2018 and, as the owner of a 488 Challenge, I was invited to Monza to test the 488 GT3. I felt immediately comfortable with the car and bought it. At that point I tried to figure out which championship was right for me and I chose the Asian Le Mans Series. Luckily, the season went well [four wins out of four races, Ed] and thanks to the result I was able to be at the start of this legendary race”.
Experience at Le Mans is fundamental. How much has your knowledge of this race and its dynamics improved?
“The year I made my debut at Le Mans I had a touch of flu and that stopped me from enjoying the weekend as much as I would have liked, but I still managed to drive. Last year, fortunately, I showed up in better shape and was able to drive well. This year, using the experience I’ve gained in the previous edition, I think I will be able to be even more competitive. One of the things in which the improvement has been most noticeable has been in traffic management. We drive the slowest cars on the track, so keeping out of the way - but without losing pace is important. Here at Le Mans you have to have eyes in the back of your head because there are so many cars on track!”
This year's programme will be very packed, which will also have an impact on the recovery times of the drivers and the team. How are you preparing for that?
“I’m keeping it simple: I get up, eat, drive and rest [laughs]. I'm lucky enough to have a team that takes care of everything, so I can really just concentrate on doing whatever is necessary for the best performance. I think this is the best way to prepare for an event like the 24 Hours of Le Mans”.
You are tackling the 24 Hours with a new crew this year: Scott Andrews and Mikkel Jensen are two fast and reliable drivers. What are your expectations?
“The crew is new, but for me, an important member is our engineer Gabriele, who I trust entirely and who is able to provide me with a car that is always competitive. We start with that set-up and then Mikkel's [Jensen, Ed] advice helps make our Ferrari fly. Mikkel is a really good driver, fast and consistent in his lap times. Scott is also very fast and physically well-prepared, which is very important in endurance racing. He is also very consistent in his performance. Mikkel has surprised me because he can give me very useful tips on improving both my driving and my times. Scott, on the other hand, is fantastic at creating a positive atmosphere for the team, and the feeling with Mikkel is amazing. These conditions are ideal for creating a winning team spirit, as the Portimao race also showed. There is great trust between all of us which we’ve proved on track. That is why we are aiming for victory here at Le Mans as well, although I am well aware that it will be tough. More than winning, however, it is important for me to create the conditions for good teamwork, so that there is the knowledge that we could get a noteworthy result”.
How important is it to be able to count on a structure such as Kessel Racing for a tricky race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans?
“It is really important. I am extremely happy to be racing with them because they make me the centre of their attention; I feel 'pampered' from that point of view. They have a full, high-level structure and great professionalism. I'm also happy with the relationship I have with Ferrari because, even though it’s a huge company, both Antonello Coletta [Head of GT Sporting Activities, Ed] and Alessandra Todeschini [Head of Competizioni GT, Ed] are always there for me and always ready to help if I need it”.