NASA NorCal member Alexandre Prémat has a racing resumé that is a bit more extensive than your typical NASA driver.
Prémat began his career in karting at age 10 and by 1998 he had earned a championship in Île-de-France, the region that surrounds Paris. After karting, he moved up to French Formula Renault and won the title in 2002. He then moved on to Formula Three, in which he won the prestigious Macau Grand Prix and the Marlboro Masters nonchampionship races.
His success in Formula Three earned him a seat in the GP2 series, where he was teammates with Nico Rosberg and then Lewis Hamilton. Prémat also drove in the A1 Grand Prix, a single-make open-wheel racing series that featured representation by country that ran from 2005 to 2009. Prémat and his teammate Nicolas Lapierre won the title for France in the 2005-2006 season.
Prémat also had a brief seat in Formula 1, driving the third Spyker MF1 Racing car at the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix. He has driven in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, for Audi Sport Team Joest in the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011, and from 2012 to present, driven in the Australian V8 Supercars series with DJR Team Penske.
We first met Prémat at the 2018 25 Hours of Thunderhill, where his team was campaigning a pair Mitjet LV02 cars in the E0 class. Prémat currently is CEO of the EXR Racing Series and EXR Team by Prémat in Las Vegas and Fontana, Calif., and his team is campaigning different cars and drivers in the NASA Western Endurance Racing Challenge, World Challenge, IMSA and Trans Am. We caught up with him to get some perspective that only someone like he can provide.
Q: It’s safe to say you have an impressive racing resumé. Which series among those you have raced in was the most fun and why?
A: Well, I did lot of series in the last 15 years. They were all different and fun. It all depends how serious you’re taking them, but my best series is V8 Supercars because the level is high, and all the teams are professional. When we are racing, all drivers are within 3 to 4 tenths, so there is no room for mistakes. The Aussie drivers are very good, and fair drivers, too.
I didn’t speak yet about the car, but they are something different from Europe and America. It is a specialist series. The cars are fun to drive because you can slide, control, and feel any small bumps on the tracks. Finally, we are going to Bathurst and Gold Coast, my two favorite tracks. The adrenaline is pure. You can’t remove that from the racing.
Q: You have raced an Australian Supercar at Bathurst. Is driving that circuit as fun and challenging as it looks?
A: Going to Bathurst is always special. The track is unique in lot of aspects. The hills are tremendous, blind corners all the way, no room for mistakes. The pressure to get the result is there, too. It is definitely the best track to drive with the Supercars. When we are at the top of the mountain, we are reaching around 240 kmh and the speed is crazy. The fans are here also, so it gives some joy on the top. And when we are at the bottom, we are reaching 305 kmh before the fast right, Chase Corner before braking to get in second gear. The car is moving under braking. You can feel the car is alive.
To win Bathurst, it is another story. I have been trying to win Bathurst since 2012, and even if you have the best car, it is still hard to do it, because you need luck. In 2016, I finished second at 0.1434. In 2017, we had a rocket car and the engine blew up. In 2018, we finished P3, but without an issue in the pits, we should have won. Well, crossing the fingers to win this year.
Q: Among all the cars you have raced, which has been your favorite?
A: I did Formula Renault, F3, F2, F1, A1 GP, LMP1, LMP2, ChampCar, Formula E, DTM, Supercars, GT3, GT4, TCR, so I have touched all kinds of cars, but my best memories were, of course, Formula 1 with Spyker F1. In 2006, I drove the car in Silverstone and Shanghai as a third driver (reservist). The potential of an F1 car is something way different to all the cars. Braking, changing direction, control, power, downforce is something you will never get that feeling on all the other cars. LMP1 was good, but it was like an F2, 4 to 5 seconds slower than an F1. Formula 1 is the most developed car in the world. Today, the cars are even faster, so the pleasure to drive those car might be cooler.
Q: Since you raced a Formula 1 car, you’re in a unique position to be able to tell us something about F1 that we wouldn’t otherwise know. What detail stood out to you most about being involved in F1?
A: It is a very unique platform, the car, the paddock, the teams, the drivers. You are going from one continent to the other. All racing car drivers want to get in F1 once in your life. It is a dream come true.
When I drove in Shanghai, I did free practice 1 and free practice 2. I finished FP2 in P6, just behind Michael Schumacher and in front of Sebastien Vettel. This is something I will always remember all my life.
Q: You’ve raced at LeMans and the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Which race was more difficult?
A: The two races are as much as difficult to finish, because it is an endurance race, but for sure the week in LeMans is much harder, because as a professional driver, we have so much commitment with PR, sponsors, qualifying at night Wednesday and Thursday, so you need to rest when you can. The pressure also is much higher in LeMans, because all teams and manufacturers are spending much more money, so there is no time to lose on track or off track. The speed of the track gives you adrenaline, but it takes out all power from you, too. In LeMans, we can use only three drivers, so it makes it harder, less time to rest.
Q: Which series that you have driven in had the most talented fields of drivers?
A: All the series I drove, they were very talented drivers. When you do DTM, Supercars, F1, LMP1, DPI, F2, all drivers are talented. You must be on the best team to beat those guys.
Q: Can you compare and contrast level of driving talent in a series like, say, DTM, and the front of the field in NASA?
A: Well, it’s all about pleasure. I can see the passion in the NASA driver. They are coming to have fun with friends and share a good weekend. At the end, everyone wants to go faster than the other car. It is part of racing. You want to reach the pole position or to win the race. The front of the field in NASA is very good, always fair play, gives room, and wants to win. This is why I like to bring my drivers learning into the NASA atmosphere.