We talk to 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans driver Wei Lu

We talk to 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans driver Wei Lu


In January of 2019, I interviewed a young Ferrari World Challenge alum, Wei Lu. He found racing in 2014 and took to it like a sponge to water. After falling in love with the sport, his goal was simple: compete at Le Mans. Ambitious? Certainly. But also doable, given the connections he made racing Ferraris. Six months to the day later I find myself in Le Mans, in the paddock, in the back of the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE AM (car number 84) transporter talking with an exhausted Wei Lu.

It’s almost noon, Sunday June 16th2019, just a little more than three hours to go of the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans. Wei Lu has just completed his six-hours of drive time. Teammate Jeff Segal just got in the car and it will be Segal and Rodrigo Baptista taking the car to the end. They are currently in third. 

Autoweek: When you and I last spoke, you told me that it was a long-time dream to compete at Le Mans. Six months later, here we are at Le Mans. You just raced a quarter of the entire 24-hour event, how do you feel?

Wei Lu: Relief. The first three-four hours, it was kind of easy. I was actually expecting a harder challenge, but through the night because of all the noises coming from all of the race cars, I didn’t get to sleep really well, I slept only one hour. And my last double stint, I jump into the car. The first hour was fine. The last hour, I was dying in the car. It’s Le Mans. It’s not as easy as I thought. It’s hitting you from different directions that you’re not really expecting. So, it’s very very challenging. And I’m just glad my job is done. 

AW: What were those things there were more challenging than you expected?

WL: For me, night driving is quite challenging. I don’t have much experience driving at night. I made a mistake, went into the gravel at night. Luckily, I got myself out. We lost some time. After that it was all fine. Really, driving at night you need to be so focused. You need to know the track. Since Le Mans is such a high-speed track, you don’t really see where you’re going. So there’s a big difference between the driver who knows the track and who’s it’s there first time here at night. 

AW: Did the nighttime practices help? Or was that just because there’s so much to learn it’s hard to take it all in?

WL: There’s so much to learn. And because of the traffic, you rarely have a complete lap. And I think I had, like, eight laps, nine laps, in total, at night to learn it. It was definitely not enough. That’s why you see those people who come to Le Mans three or four times, they’re (the ones who are) fully prepared. And, that’s hopefully what I’m going to do in the future. I trying to prepare myself (to be at that) next level.

AW: You were the amateur driver in the team, officially, is that correct?

WL: Yes. Yes, I am the bronze driver. 

AW: Now that you’ve successfully gone to and competed in Le Mans and did six hours with the car still in one piece — that’s monumental by the way — that’s a fantastic result. There are drivers, I saw several, crashing out. Now that you’ve achieved this and you’ve done very well, the car is currently third in class, what’s the next goal?

WL: Go home and sleep. (laughter)

AW: What’s the next goal after that?

WL: We have Barcelona coming up for European Le Mans series. I still need to do a good job for the whole season. Hopefully finish top two in the championship, so we can bring a Le Mans invitation for the team next year. It doesn’t matter if we are driving, or somebody else is driving. But, at least that is what we can do for the team. Because I had a really good time with the team, we are like family. I hope we can get them the invitation.

AW: Having experienced this event, having experienced the surprises, was it what you dreamed of? More than you dreamed of? Different than you expected? Because dreaming about a dream and living a dream are two different things.

WL: I think living the dream sometimes can be harsh and difficult. For me, before I came to Le Mans, the dream was really easy. I was dreaming about myself, maybe finish first, or maybe finish on the podium and now we are actually in P3. But I don’t have the excitement yet. It’s really like you’re being tortured. You’ve been beat up. And now you know the reality is quite cruel. And you need to prepare yourself at a better level next time. 

Even for us, the bronze driver, to be able to compete at this level or trying to win the race you really need to be close to the pros. Even though you’re a bronze, you can’t be slow. You see the top bronze like Ben Keating, the Ford, some other people including myself, we’re like 2.5 seconds off from the pro. That’s it, on this huge track. That’s probably (the equivalent to being) less than a second on a smaller track. The competition here is crazy, especially this year. They said this year is one of the hardest, because they have so many good bronze drivers and good silver drivers.

AW: So many cars in general, 62. What’s it like going from being one of the top in the field in a lot of the race series you’ve run, to being in the slowest class?

WL: It feels alright. Because at least all of the cars are kind of equal. Even though we’re to slowest class, but we’re just focusing on our competitors and it’s also pretty fun watching those P2 and P1 cars passing us, trying to wave at Fernando Alonso, yeah it’s interesting.

AW: Did any of them catch you in a place that you weren’t expecting and give you a scare?

WL: Yes. Many many times. Especially at night. 

AW: But it was okay. You managed it.

WL: I got lucky so far. Yeah, you really need to work with them. Especially, they also have gentlemen, amateur drivers in the (LM)P2. Even though they are quite good, the speed difference is quite difficult for them to maneuver the traffic. For the pros, they normally do the job better. For the gentlemen drivers, you really need to think about who’s driving behind you. How do you let them by. And everyone has their own personality, I think that’s the difficult part. It’s not like playing a video game (where) everyone is consistent. Everyone trained to react differently, trying to overtake you from different places. That’s the tricky part.

AW: Do you have a goal of becoming silver? Gold? Platinum? 

WL: I started doing this too late. My goal is becoming a silver. I want to be a decent silver. Not sure if I can become the really top silver. There are some silver (drivers) that can drive as quick as a gold, or even get close to the gold. I just want to become a decent silver. I am working on that. Physically, mentally, and driving skill wise. I think I am getting closer. Two, three years, hopefully.

AW: What is the advise that you would give to another driver with aspirations to race at Le Mans?

WL: Sign up. Pay for it. Don’t think too much because it is going to be hard. Just enjoy it. I mean, it’s such a big game. All the atmosphere here is so different. The only thing I can say is just enjoy it. There are bad things that will happen. There are good things that will happen. We were in P2, after I made a mistake and we had a brake rotor changing issue, the team lost some time in the pitstop, now we’re third. Man, there are so many things you cannot control, so just have fun.

The JMW team went on to finish the race third in class, behind a Ford GT and Porsche 911 RSR, which meant Lu celebrated on the podium while driving at his very first Le Mans. Later on, the ACO disqualified the Keating Motorsports Ford GT for a fuel regulation violation, meaning Lu joined Segal and Baptista in a second-in-class, 32ndoverall finish. Not bad for someone who competed in his very first race five years ago. 

Wei Lu celebrates with teammates Jeff Segal and Rodrigo Bapbista on the podium of the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans

Wei Lu celebrates with teammates Jeff Segal and Rodrigo Bapbista on the podium of the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans

Wei Lu celebrates with teammates Jeff Segal and Rodrigo Bapbista on the podium of the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans

Wei Lu celebrates with teammates Jeff Segal and Rodrigo Bapbista on the podium of the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans

Wei Lu celebrates with teammates Jeff Segal and Rodrigo Bapbista on the podium of the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans

Wei Lu celebrates with teammates Jeff Segal and Rodrigo Bapbista on the podium of the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans

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