Lilou Wadoux: from Alpine Cup to Hypercar test in one year
"I learnt a lot, more than ever before in my career." - Over one year, young French talent Lilou Wadoux went from Alpine Europa Cup frontrunner to driving the championship winning Hypercar, in one of the most outstanding progressions in endurance racing.
Here's what the WEC racer told us about her Rookie test in Bahrain.
At her first season in endurance racing, Lilou Wadoux has arguably been one of the best revelations of the 2022 FIA WEC season. The 21 year-old from Amiens, France, was the protagonist of one the quickest progressions in sportscars, graduating from the GT4-based Alpine Europa Cup straight to LMP2 machinery. While there was a lot to absorb in her rookie year at the highest level of endurance, the transition from the increasingly competitive Alpine single-make series did not worry Wadoux, who started to claim top ten finishes in class straight away. At only her third race in prototypes, Lilou started the mighty 24 Hours of Le Mans – finishing sixth. In one of the biggest races on the planet, Wadoux showed all her talent and proved she had what it takes to climb the ranks of endurance racing – as the sport enters a new golden era. A reserved young woman, Lilou is fearless and fierce behind the wheel. Her lively eyes reveal an extremely meticulous yet energetic personality, with clear goals always in focus. Having made her debut in touring cars series such as the Peugeot 208 Racing Cup and the Renault Clio Cup France, she moved up to the Alpine Europa Cup in 2020. After a learning season, Wadoux thrived in 2021 and claimed eight podiums and one race victory in the series – establishing herself as one of the most promising young talents in sports cars. From there, the sky was the limit. After the post-season rookie test in the Richard Mille Racing Team's Oreca last year – her first time in a LMP2 prototype – the French squad decided to give her a chance and she was promoted to the line up alongside compatriots Charles Milesi and rally legend Sébastien Ogier. While certainly a learning-oriented year, Wadoux showed glimpses of brilliance.
"It was a bit of a mixed season, but I would eventually say it was a good one" – she told us at the end of her first season in the FIA World Endurance Championship. "It didn’t really pay off in terms of results as we missed that bit of luck to score a strong result even though it was within our reach in some races, such as Monza." At the Italian round, Wadoux and Milesi were joined by Paul-Loup Chatin. The trio immediately proved to be very quick at the Temple of Speed, but an unfortunate contact midway through the race denied Richard Mille Racing Team their first likely top five. "Nevertheless, I believe we showed some great things" – Lilou continued. "Other than that, it was first and foremost a learning year. I had to discover what Endurance really is as it is so different from sprint racing." She would round out the season with four top-ten finishes out of six race meetings, with more solid performances at the 6H of Fuji and the 8H of Bahrain – where she also was hit and spun around, but managed to finish eighth with a good recovery drive. "It was a good year in that sense and I feel like I learnt a lot, more than ever before in my career." – Lilou said. "I’d say the biggest achievement this year was the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We started this long week with two rookies, a lot of media attention and nearly everything to learn, but we reached the finish line without doing any mistake and with a pretty good pace", she recalled. "I was really happy about that one, but really tired also!" Her remarkable 2022, though, did not end with the final chequered flag in Sakhir: having been selected by the WEC organization, Lilou Wadoux took part in the post-season Rookie test, where she became the first ever woman to drive a Hypercar.
"It's a dream come true and I'm delighted", she had commented at the announcement. "On a personal level, I am proud to show that women can reach the highest level of motorsport. I hope that my example will inspire young girls to follow this path.” Lilou Wadoux would step in the cockpit of the championship winning Hypercar, in a historic moment for both her career and for women in motorsport. From the Alpine Europa Cup to Hypercar in one year. We asked Lilou what her reaction would have been if we told her last year she would be driving a Hypercar in such a short time.
"Honestly, I think I wouldn't have believed it!" – she replied. "That's a big step for sure, especially in just one year. Coming from the Alpine A110 Car to the Hypercar, which are two different cars as one is mainly designed to learn GT racing and what’s currently the best car in Endurance racing…That’s just a huge step I would not have believed." "Obviously, I did everything to prepare as well as possible to enjoy this experience to the fullest and I would like to thank all the people who helped me on the way" – she continued. On November 13th, Lilou Wadoux completed 30 laps around the 5.412 km Sakhir International Circuit at the wheel of the Toyota GR010 Hybrid. She was fifth fastest in the morning session, with a best lap of 1:50.953. She therefore became the first woman to drive a car in the premier endurance racing category since 2011, when Vanina Ickx drove the Lola-Aston Martin LMP1 machine.
"Obviously, it pushes really hard!" – Wadoux described her first ever impression of the car. "A bit more than the LMP2 car although it's a bit heavier. In the first laps, I was thinking it was going to be difficult to deal with the hybrid and all the processes, but it actually went quite well!"
Speaking of the main differences in the driving approach compared to the Oreca LMP2, Lilou highlighted the extra power coming from the hybrid system in the straights, as well as the resulting weight. "The Hypercar is heavier, so it is much harder to carry in some places, but the car as a whole is more efficient overall." "It goes a lot faster in the straight lines with the hybrid boost too while the cornering speed is more or less what I’ve been used to this season in LMP2", she explained. "I’d say the main differences are just how you deal with the extra weight and extra power, but the main target is always the same: going the fastest you can!" While being the woman to break that glass ceiling is certainly a source of pride for Wadoux, she stresses that her ambition is to go farther as a driver, firstly. "It’s a good thing and I’m happy to be the first, but you know that’s not my end goal" – she said. "I'm a driver more than anything." Undoubtedly, Lilou Wadoux's rookie season was a positive one to build on for what's coming next. Her goals for the future, though, remain clear: "Tough one to sum up in one word!" – she told us, as we asked to encapsulate her next target in one word. "I just want to keep learning to improve and develop as a driver."