Ex-Formula 1 driver and two-time Formula E champion Vergne was one of the six drivers named by Peugeot for its two-car Le Mans Hypercar effort last week.
It marks a move up to the top class of sportscar racing for the Frenchman after four years in the LMP2 ranks, which began in 2017 with a season in the WEC with the Manor squad.
The Frenchman switched to G-Drive Racing for 2018, and won that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours on the road alongside teammates Roman Rusinov and Andrea Pizzitola, only for the team to be disqualified for an illegal modification to the fuelling rig.
Having been rejected for a Toyota LMP1 seat after testing at Paul Ricard back in 2015, Vergne said he viewed dropping down to LMP2 – and initially not receiving a salary – as a price worth paying to secure his long-term future in endurance racing.
“When I left F1, I did a test for Toyota,” Vergne told Motorsport.com. “I think when I did this test, in my head, I wasn’t very strong mentally and I just wasn’t in the right place at the right time.
“So it didn’t happen, Toyota didn’t hire me. I found myself without a drive; I still had Formula E, but for me, it was equally important being able to do Le Mans, it has always been a dream.
“I asked my manager Julian Jakobi to call absolutely everyone in LMP2. I wanted to stay in prototypes, I didn’t want to go to GT, because I think afterwards it’s difficult to get back to prototypes. He told me, ‘Look, it’s not the best team, it’s not the best drive, but we’ve got an opportunity to drive at Manor’. I said, ‘OK, perfect’.
“It was difficult: the team had no money, it didn’t work well at all. We had an amateur teammate [Tor Graves] who was having fun but was extremely far in terms of lap time, so I knew I had no chance of getting a result. Above all, it wasn’t a paid drive, I had to pay for everything like hotels, travelling, flights… but I saw it as an investment.
“That year, I think it was in Fuji, I met Roman Rusinov. We had dinner and I did a test for his G-Drive team at the end of the year, and it went very well. I learned a lot in this team. It was an investment.
“It was not easy thinking I was out of F1 and Toyota didn’t want me. I hit rock bottom, and I needed to be calm in order to pick myself up.”
#26 G-Drive Racing Aurus 01 Gibson: Roman Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne
Photo by: G-Drive Racing
Vergne and G-Drive came close to winning Le Mans again in 2019 only to be delayed by the failure of what he described at the time as a “10 cent” piece, and electrical issues and a suspension problem restricted the squad to fifth place last year.
But the 30-year-old believes that his performances in the French classic, and in the ELMS, did not go unnoticed by those making the decisions at Peugeot.
“I think Peugeot – and everyone who watches the performances closely – see the stint average, the qualifying laps, they can really properly analyse how it’s going,” Vergne said.
“Every year I ranked among the best drivers in LMP2. Last year the performance was really good, I felt really good in the car.
“I have more and more confidence, I also enjoy driving at Le Mans, and on all the other circuits in the ELMS and WEC.”