Thierry Tassin: “Every detail counts”
As sporting director of the successful Belgian Audi Club Team WRT squad, Thierry Tassin holds the rare distinction of having won the Total 24 Hours of Spa both behind the wheel and on the pit wall. On the eve of the 70th edition of the endurance classic, we asked the Belgian about his views on the past, present and future of this iconic race.
Tassin, now 59, participated in 19 editions of the Spa 24 Hours as a driver. He scored a total of eight podium finishes, winning on four occasions. For several years he was the most successful driver in the event’s history, until Eric Van de Poele took a fifth win in 2008.
But one could say that Tassin has five wins under his belt, too. As sporting director of Belgian Audi Club Team WRT he was part of the squad that secured victory in 2014, adding a further triumph to his illustrious résumé.
Thierry, of your four wins as a driver, which are you most proud of?
“The very first, in 1983, driving a BMW 635 CSi for the Juma Racing team. Back in the eighties, the Spa 24 Hours was already one of the most important sporting events in Belgium, with tens of thousands of spectators and significant media coverage. My win allowed me to show everybody that I was more than a single-seater driver who competed in foreign championships.
“But the strongest memory I have is of standing on the podium and searching in the crowd for a little kid looking up. When I was six or seven years old I had been there myself, below the podium. Back then I was gazing up at the winners and telling myself that if one day I would be able to stand on that top step, it would be the most beautiful day of my life.”
You drove both in the touring car and GT eras. Is there a significant difference between the two?
“Fundamentally, there is no difference. In the eighties and early nineties, the Spa 24 Hours was already one of the hardest races to win. I admit that at the end of the last century, there was a bit of a dip. But I am very happy to see that the Total 24 Hours of Spa has regained its former lustre. I think the race is probably even better now, because there is only one category of cars. They’re all GT3, whereas in the touring car era you had different classes and cars with different engine sizes. If you were at the wheel of a car from the top class, it was a lot easier to lap slower cars than it is now. What’s more, I think there must be some 30 cars that can win the Total 24 Hours of Spa these days, so that makes it more difficult.
“Add to that the high level of preparation carried out by the participating teams and the increased reliability of the cars, and it is clearly very hard to beat the competition these days. I remember when I drove for Juma, team boss Julien Mampaey sent his 10-year-old son Bart (now a team owner in the DTM, ed.) to go and spy on his drivers at the chicane. And if Bart caught us hitting the kerbs, his dad told us off! Nowadays drivers can and must attack from start to finish. Traffic has become the toughest part of the race, so drivers have to be careful and sometimes patient. That is not always the easiest thing to do.”
As a sporting director, how do you experience a win in the Total 24 Hours of Spa?
“It is a totally different experience than when I was a driver. Drivers never realise how privileged they are. You only have to focus on yourself and your driving, whereas now I realise that every single little detail counts. I appreciate the efforts of the engineers, the mechanics, the weather crew, all members of the team. Everything has its importance.”
Final question: what would you change about the modern version of the Total 24 Hours of Spa?
“Not much. SRO Motorsports Group has done a great job and improved a lot. The event is really top-level, both for fans and teams. The only thing I would change is that I would eliminate the imposed pit-stop time and let everybody do them as quickly as they can. That would add to the show. And another thing to get rid of – but there is nothing much anybody can do about this, because it is a problem with any modern F1-type circuit – is those large escape roads. Back in the day, when I made a mistake in Raidillon or in Blanchimont, I ended up in the tyre wall. This increased margin of error is also at the root of the ‘track limits’ problem. They do not have an easy task, but it is a good thing that the race stewards are very severe on the subject. A driver not respecting track limits could easily gain a couple of tenths each lap.”
Practical information - Total 24 Hours of Spa
When: 23rd – 29th July 2018
Tickets: www.24hoursofspa and www.ticketmaster.be
Monday July 23rd
Track day with Marc Duez 09:00 - 18:00
Tuesday July 24th
Track day with Marc Duez 09:00 - 12:00
Bronze test 14:55 - 17:55
Wednesday July 25th
Parade Spa 18:00
Autograph session 19:00-20:00
Thursday July 26th
Free Practice 11:45-13:15
Night Qualifying 22:30-24:00
Friday July 27th
Super Pole 19:10-19:40
Saturday July 28th
Starting procedure & Grid walk 15:45-16:30
Start of the 70thedition Total 24 hours of Spa 16:30