Sebring 12 Hours
NISSAN TAKES PODIUM UPON RETURN TO LE MANS PROTOTYPE RACING
- Virtual racer Ordonez takes another step towards his Le Mans dream
20 March 2011 - Nissan enjoyed success on its debut in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) series yesterday when the No.26 Signatech Nissan LMP2 car clinched a second-place class finish at the end of the gruelling Twelve Hours of Sebring in Florida, USA. The result marks a solid start to Nissan’s new challenge in sportscar racing and another step along the way for the first ever virtual-to-real racer, Lucas Ordonez.
As Nissan set out on this new adventure it was important for everyone concerned that they put in the best performance they could as a mark of respect to their colleagues and friends in Japan. Messages of support were displayed on the car and on the drivers’ helmets and the Japanese people were never far from the team’s thoughts.
Lucas Ordonez was wide eyed at the prospect of his first big race and all eyes were on the Playstation gamer-turned-racer to see how he would cope with the tough Sebring track. Happily, he didn’t disappoint.
The task of qualifying the car in Friday’s session came down to French veteran, Soheil Ayari, who left the competition standing with a historic pole position. This was the first pole position for a Nissan-powered car at Sebring since 1994, and it put the Nissan name firmly back in the record books.
The race itself was always going to be tough, with the rough Sebring course being renowned as a ‘car breaker’, 58 cars on the circuit at the same time, and the air temperature standing at over 30°C throughout the day. For Lucas, this was no longer a video game.
Franck Mailleux took the start of the race and quickly established a good lead in the LMP2 class. Then it was Lucas’ turn and he did a great job, keeping hold of the lead throughout his long stint. Unfortunately on lap 78, during Soheil’s first turn at the wheel, electrical gremlins in the gearbox forced the car into the pits for an extended period to allow the team to fix the problem. Then the fight back began.
All three Signatech Nissan drivers got their heads down and slowly but surely clawed back the lost time to once again lead the race in the LMP2 class. Unfortunately though, after nine and a half hours of racing, the gremlins returned. This delay allowed the first of the Lola Honda cars to retake first position- a lead it never relinquished, despite the best efforts of the Nissan drivers.
Lucas Ordonez was delighted with his and the team’s performance at Sebring, stating: “A few short months ago I could never have imagined I’d be racing here at Sebring in the ILMC. Today was the culmination of intense preparation since the deal between Signature and Nissan was signed – all the drivers, technical staff and management have been working incredibly hard. I spent a lot of time driving the circuit virtually before I got here and that really helped my preparation.”
“Personally, I feel that I made some small mistakes out there today, but I’m learning all the time, and certainly can take away a lot of lessons from this race. One thing I need to work on, for example, is carrying as much speed into the corners as possible. You don’t get to feel the same huge downforce on a Playstation…yet! We have to remember that this was our first ever competitive race. We now have a few weeks before the race in Spa, and we’ll be working round the clock to at least match this great result next time.”
Carlos Tavares, Chairman of Nissan Americas added: “I am very proud of the Signatech Nissan team efforts today to come back from adversity. The team has drawn inspiration from the courage and resilience of our Japanese friends. Our thoughts continue to be with our colleagues and everyone in Japan. We dedicate our first podium finish to them.”
Phillipe Sinault, Team Principal of Signatech Nissan, quoted: “This was a hard race, and obviously we had some gearbox issues, but due to the hard work of the whole team we were able to finish the race and get a pleasing result.”
The next race for Signatech Nissan is the 1000kms of Spa (Belgium) on 7 May, before the teams head to Le Mans in June - the moment when Lucas’ dreams of racing at Le Mans will all come true.