“Harold Primat: Unwinding the drive”
Viewed often as the more quietened, contemplative souls of motorsport, those competing in endurance racing tend to go about their business with a subtle resolve.
Many a race is dedicated to eking out long winding strategies, each layer peeling away as the hours fall.
That view is changing somewhat, thanks to the ever more tense battle at the top of the World Endurance Championship scales between Audi and Toyota.
Harold Primat is an example of the “classic endurance racer”. After a brief stint on the single seater ladder, the 37-year-old French-Swiss racer switched to sportscars in 2005 with Rollcentre Racing, before moving to Pescarolo Motorsport and the doomed Aston Martin Racing.
Aston Martin withdrew from LMP1 in the middle of last year following the disaster of the AMR1 project; however Primat found a base at Lotus Rebellion Racing in 2012.
One could say it’s a sort of homecoming for Primat as he competes with the WEC’s sole Swiss squad alongside teammate Andrea Belicchi.
Despite having two teams in the LMP1 category, Rebellion’s effort have seen luck not always come their way – Primat and Belicchi more often than not on the receiving end of some poor misfortune.
A clutch issue at Le Mans, gearbox problems at Sebring and a late clash during last week’s fifth round at Interlagos have all conspired to dampen races, although drives at Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone delivered well deserved rewards.
With three rounds remaining, the Primat / Belicchi duo reside equal 10th in the WEC points standings, while Rebellion Racing battle hard with Strakka Racing HPD for the top prize in the LMP1 Trophy.
However, this weekend Primat is stepping sideways. After several years in LMP machinery, a guest appearance in GT’s beckoned, with the 37-year-old stepping to the Blancpain Endurance Series for a one-off drive at the Nurburgring.
Primat will be driving the #13 Audi Team Phoenix Racing entry with Luca Ludwig and Rene Rast. Despite all his time in motorsport, this is something of a step into the unknown for the quiet Geneva-based racer.
I spoke to Harold on Friday to garner his impressions of the challenges that lay ahead.
“Although I have done the Aston Martin Experience before, this will be my first race [in a GT car]. My first time driving the car will be in FP1 on Saturday. My friend Tom [Kristensen] invited me to try it out recently and when the time came, I said ‘yes, why not?’”
A day’s experience in an Aston Martin is once thing certainly, but when one’s entire top level racing career has been in downforce heavy LMP1 machines, where does one start?
“Teammates. I know and understand that there will be far less aero and that it will slide around more at the rear, but I have two very experienced teammates and the Nurburgring is a circuit I know well from previous events.”
It’s all a far cry from the financial career that so nearly snared Harold in his formative years. A late bloomer in racing, the Swiss racer was already 24-years-old when he entered the US F2000 National Championship, finishing 12th in standings in his first season.
“I was always interested in racing, but started later than most. After about two years of karting, I moved to the Ford (US F2000), but by then I was already 24. There was also time in Formula 3 (British F3 Series) and World Nissan Lights, which is now the Renault World Series, but had two problems.
“By then, I was already 29, so my opportunity for Formula 1 was limited and also my height was difficult; at 1.93 metres (6ft 3″), the cars were very cramped. I tested a Formula 3000 car, but the size of the safety cell meant my legs were too cramped.”
Height would cause additional problems for Primat, gradually easing his way to endurance racing; however he was quick to point out the benefits of such a move.
“When you look to endurance racing, people are having longer careers there. Look at Tom Kristensen who is 43 and [Dindo] Capello who has had a long career, so with that, there were more opportunities. Eventually, I did some races and enjoyed it.”
While it may well be enjoyable, Primat has been quick to point out the issues faced by the Rebellion squad in the WEC this year, but with a good engineering team and a high quality powerplant from Toyota, he is confident Rebellion can succeed.
“For sure, it has been good, but there have been a lot of problems. For example at Le Mans, we lost a long time due to a broken clutch, but that is motorsport. The Lotus Rebellion has been competitive, but the HPD cars are also strong.
“The Toyota [engine] feels good. It is strong in different ways compared to the Aston Martin I drove previously. Sometimes, it needs higher revs, but overall there is a similar result.”
It’s not just been about sportscars for Primat in 2012 though. Indeed an invitation from friend Nicolas Prost (part of the Lotus Renault F1 programme) saw the endurance racing veteran clock up miles in the Renault R30 (2010 Renault F1 car) at Circuit Paul Ricard in July.
Clearly Primat enjoyed the experience; however while the 37-year-old is unlikely to give up the WEC any time soon, he could not help draw comparisons of his respective machines.
“F1 is the pinnacle in terms of technology, so it was a very good opportunity. Very quickly, I noticed the car was very light and had a lot of aero. Braking later was easier to do much later, but obviously I did not brake too late as I do not want to crash the car. It very expensive [laughs].
“For example in the f1 car, I could brake at 50 metres, but in the LMP1 car, I would have to start braking at the 100 metre board.”
It all just adds more experience to Primat’s growing roster in what has been one of the key seasons in his career to date.
Today’s Blancpain Endurance Series race at the Nurburgring will see Primat’s Audi Team Phoenix squad start from 2nd on the grid following a stellar job in qualifying by Rast. Then it’s all back to “normal next week for Primat as he heads to Bahrain for the sixth round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.