Young Aussie Matt Simmons has gone from gamer to Blancpain Endurance driver thanks to winning the Nissan GT Academy. He spoke to Andrew van Leeuwen after the Paul Ricard test.
MOTORSPORT.COM: Your first big all-in pre-season test as a proper Nissan GT3 driver; how did it go?
MATT SIMMONS: Unbelievable. It’s a good thing Paul Ricard has a long straight because it gave me plenty of time to smile – and just take it what was happening around me.
It was an amazing experience. It’s too good to be true, but it’s happening. It was an amazing couple of days of testing.
Having our pro drivers there was really good. To be able to pick there brain and draw on the experience they have at the circuit and with the car, it helped me get as comfortable as possible before I’d even hopped into the car. That was crucial.
At the end of the day, it’s the guys that you’ll be sharing the car with that you’ll be measuring yourself against. How do you feel you stacked up to them at Paul Ricard?
It’s quite difficult to try and compare. Obviously we’re competitive, so we’re always looking at each others times, but as much as we’re doing that we’re just trying to learn from what our team-mates are getting out of the car.
For me, it was a lot of data review from those guys. And of course developing an understanding and working as a team.
I felt like I was getting comfortable in the car, and there was positive feedback from the team. I was always improving, with every lap, so I don’t feel I could have done too much more. I left feeling quite positive.
My team-mates were happy in the car too, so we’re all in a good headspace heading to the first round at Monza. We’re not setting out expectations too high, because two of us don’t have the experience of doing an international race yet. So we want to apply the same mentality that we did at the Paul Ricard test, which is easing into it, and, particularly with Monza having such a small margin of error, keeping it mistake-free.
We don’t want to make a mistake at the start and jeopardise our chances of at least finishing.
The unique way you’ve come into the sport is well documented; how have you found the actual transition from gaming to actually going really, really fast in a proper racing car?
I’m quite fortunate with how the development process works. It’s a very compact programme, but you’re always moving up. You start off slow, and then you move into something faster… so you get to gain experience and knowledge. But it’s compacted that you get to apply it the next weekend. That was quite good for me.
Coming into the Blancpain programme, it’s… anyone can put the pedal down, but it’s all about technique. And that’s where the extra tenths are. You have to have consistency across a whole stint, too, that’s so crucial in endurance racing.
So that’s where my focus is. The pace will come, but consistency and mechanical sympathy have to be there first. That’s what I’m focussing on.
I know what I want to try and deliver coming into Monza. It’s a very fast circuit, and going fast always brings a smile to my face, but there’s a risk to it as well. So I am working on getting a feel for that in the car, that is ultimately what will make me a quicker driver. And every time I drive the car, that feel gets better. It’s becoming easier.
Are you nervous about Monza? I mean, anyone would be a little nervous, but you’ve had to learn so much in so little time. This is really a big deal…
Definitely. The butterflies and the nerves are always there. I’m excited to be doing it, but at the same time I know how big a deal it is to be doing my first international race.
I had nerves coming into the test, and I have processes that I’ve been taught on how to keep my mind focussed as I’m getting into the car. So I will apply that when I get to Monza, and make sure I take a positive state of mind into it.
The biggest thing for me is trying to enjoy the moment. That’s what I’ve been able to do the last couple of days at Paul Ricard, and going into Monza it’s obviously going to be amazing. I’m just going to try and take it all in. It’s going to be an amazing step in my career.