Along with Sébastien Bourdais and Bastien Brière, Julien Canal is one of only three Le Mans-born drivers contesting this year’s 24-hour classic. Given his origins, the 29-year old was naturally drawn to motor racing and, after learning the trade in Formula Renault, the Porsche Carrera Cup and the French GT Championship, his thoughts obviously turned to his home race…
“I approached Jacques Lecomte [team manager, Larbre Compétition] to see if he had a place in his team for me for the 2010 Le Mans,” he recalls. “After a trial race in the Saleen at Le Castellet, he agreed and we went on to win the GT1 class.” Not a bad debut for a rookie!
The following year, Larbre Competition switched to a Chevrolet Corvette and Julien was part of the squad again, finishing second in his class at Le Mans this time. “This year, my programme with Larbre includes the WEC, too, so that adds prestige to my programme. However, the highlight of the season is obviously Le Mans where I’m sharing our Corvette C6-ZR1 with Patrick Bornhauser and Pedro Lamy. It’s interesting to work with someone like Pedro. He is very modest, but he is making a valuable contribution. Personally, I can compare myself to him and try to go even faster.”
Team boss Jacques Lecomte is known to be very demanding of his drivers, yet he has lots of praise for Canal. “He’s a good listener and it’s a pleasure for me to teach him what I can. He learnt a great deal alongside Gabriel Gardel and our switch from a Saleen to the Corvette in 2011 saw him take on a fresh dimension. I started to give him extra responsibilities, such as qualifying the car, and he did a solid job at Spa this year. He will learn more alongside Lamy this weekend and he could well take on team-leader duties for the WEC rounds in Brazil, Bahrain and at Silverstone.”
Lecomte also notes that it’s a French team – ironically – that has brought the McDonalds brand to world class endurance racing, thanks to Canal’s personal backing from a group of French McDonald franchises. “My father holds the franchise for the seven McDonalds in Le Mans, including the one down the Mulsanne Straight. “I compete in the ‘Am’ class because my main job is Operations Manager for all these restaurants, and I spent two years running the Mulsanne Straight one in particular. I was back at work on the Monday morning after the Test Day and I was working as recently as Tuesday morning! I don’t know how my career as a racing driver will go, so this is work is very important.”