The first time I remember seeing cars racing, I was in a stroller; my mom was pushing me and my dad was racing. When I started driving I was hooked immediately. I remember well the very first metres I did in a go-kart. The freedom, the intensity, the focus… But it soon became about pushing the limits and playing with them.
When I took part in my first 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1997, I felt a lot of positive vibes, nervousness, and adrenaline. I think it was a perfect mixture. When I was young, hearing about the race was not even a dream. It was just so far away from that little local gas station where I was pedaling around in a small car. But if the dream is big enough and if you do something you love, it tends to go well.
After my win in 1997, I had two years of failure; in 1999, I had the biggest lead I’ve ever had at Le Mans - nearly four laps - but my car broke down. It was the biggest disappointment of my career. But it’s really important that when you fall, you get up. You can win Le Mans once, but to win again was very important. It matured me. I have always been competitive by nature, but I had never felt such a comparable hunger to win, to bounce back. The 2000 victory was incredibly decisive for me, and it was the start of six consecutive ones.
People ask me, what is the best, the 24-hour journey or winning at Le Mans? I can tell you, if you don’t enjoy the 24 hours and the whole preparation, if you don’t enjoy every moment, you’re not going to win. I’m sure the people I worked with at Le Mans - teammates, mechanics, engineers - learned a life lesson that if you put a lot of effort and energy in, if you’re persistent, it’s positive. It’s the only way to get something back.
Some things may feel unattainable, but when it happens, it’s very dear to you and you don’t want to let it go. To get that second win, after two years of failing, had to be celebrated in some ways. I wanted to hold on to that moment and keep it forever. I decided to reward myself with the ultimate driver’s watch, the Rolex Daytona.
I come from a humble background, and to spend my savings on a Rolex Daytona was a very big thing. In many ways, to win a watch comes as a nice surprise, but buying your own is the real reward.
My Rolex Daytona is engraved with the year 2000. It puts me back at the race and to what it’s there for: to mark a great performance, a unique camaraderie, a very special time in my life.