On June 14th, 2008 Cong Fu Cheng is going to make history as the first Chinese driver to ever race Les 24 Heures du Mans. The 23 year old may be young, but his name is already well known in his home country and Cheng, Frankie to his mechanics, is ready to race.
The Beijing native made headlines last April as a bearer of the Olympic Torch in Greece, but currently Cheng is fully focused on Le Mans. "I'm looking forward to my first race in Le Mans with Saulnier-Reaing and I am hoping for a good result. Of course it's not easy starting on a racetrack that's new to me, and a legendary circuit as well. But so far, I've always been a very quick learner, so I'm optimistic."
Since his last A1 season where Cheng scored the first A1GP podium for China on home soil at Zhuhai in December, the slim, dark-haired Chinese driver did not have a lot of time to think about the future of his career. At the A1GP race at Brands Hatch the team manager for Saulnier Racing approached Cheng to ask if he would join the French team for the Le Mans test session and, as Cheng puts it, "the deal was done. As I was a fan of Le Mans it did not take long to convince me."
At last weekend's Le Mans test session, Cheng proudly sported China's red, yellow and white colors on his helmet sharing the French team's LMP2 "Pescarolo Judd" with Matthieu Lahaye and Pierre Ragues, but qualification was far from easy. At 3pm sharp on May 31st, Cheng left the street circuit of Pau in southwest France where he had been racing in the Formula 3 Euroseries, arriving at Le Mans at 11pm that night. The next day he completed his mandatory ten laps in heavy rain at a circuit he'd never visited before. Then on Monday, he boarded a plane from the Le Mans airport back to Pau in time for the second race of the Euroseries.
Cong Fu Cheng successfully came through Les 24 Heures du Mans test session despite this incredibly hectic schedule, which could have easily shaken another driver. The name of the game for "Frankie" was to follow the team's instructions to the letter and to complete his laps without mistakes while also setting a promising best lap time according to the official Rolex timing. "I learned that Le Mans is a very fast circuit _ it is not easy to concentrate on every corner in the car and I have to be very careful for that. The car is reliable and powerful. It is easier than expected to drive but you need to be highly focused. I felt at home in a prototype even though it's very different from an F3 car."
Cheng says he has always dreamed of racing at Le Mans and hopes his appearance will help the continued growth of the popularity of motorsport in China. "Motorsport is getting more and more popular there and I hope I can help the public to understand racing more. I've always wanted to do this Le Mans race but never thought it would come this early in my career. It's a real honor."
The weekend of June 14/15th Cong Fu Cheng will line up with the other drivers in front of the Rolex countdown to the start of the 2008 24 Heures du Mans, one of the greatest endurance tests in the world. Rolex is the Official Timekeeper for Les 24 Heures du Mans and the Le Mans Series. In North America, Rolex has been the title sponsor for the Rolex 24 At Daytona since 1959.
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