Monza: Nissan’s GT title defense gets underway

Fifth place in class for No.80 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.

MONZA, ITALY - The newest graduates of Nissan’s GT Academy competition took part in the first round of the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series at Monza today.

The No.80 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 – in the hands of Alex Buncombe, Nick McMillen and Florian Strauss – took fifth place in the pro-am class after three hours of hard racing from the back of the field. Lap One contact turned the race into a training session for Mark Shulzhitskiy, Miguel Faisca and Katsumasa Chiyo in the No.35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 but they will fight another day in the Blancpain Endurance Series, one of the toughest GT series in the world.

The team had more than its share of challenges during the qualifying session on Saturday. A small technical problem for the No.80 GT-R meant that everything hinged on Alex Buncombe’s final lap of the session. An accident for one of the Bentleys brought out the red flag at the critical moment and Alex had to accept 17th place in Pro-Am, despite having the pace to be right at the sharp end. The No.35 GT-R had a much better run, with Katsumasa Chiyo bagging sixth place in class.

#35 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3: Mark Shulzhitskly, Miguel Faisca, Katsumasa Chiyo
#35 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3: Mark Shulzhitskly, Miguel Faisca, Katsumasa Chiyo

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

The start of any race at Monza is always tight but squeezing over 40 GT cars into the first chicane makes for a nail-biting opening lap. Al Buncombe in the No.80 GT-R made an astonishing start, passing 17 cars on the first lap, moving from 32nd overall to 15th overall and fourth in class.

Unfortunately for Mark Shulzhitskiy the first corner squeeze proved to be the undoing of the No.35 GT-R. Slight contact did enough damage to send the car back to pits, unable to return to the track until halfway through the race.

“I was very careful at the start,” said Mark. “I tried to avoid contact and I thought I had got through ok. The car felt good and it wasn’t until I got to a very fast part of the track that I felt a vibration and then I heard Bob (Neville) telling me to pit. I watched the onboard camera for the start and it is only now I see that an Audi came very close but I didn’t feel a hit when I was in the car. I am very disappointed as this is a real shame, not just for me but for Chiyo-san and Miguel too.”

After an hour of racing, Alex pitted from fourth in pro-am to hand over to Nick McMillen, who immediately set off after the leading pack of pro-am cars. The American GT Academy winner got as high as second during his run.

“I had a clear track for the first few laps,” said Nick. “I made a few small mistakes so focused on taking it carefully and relaxing into it. At one point I was chasing first so it was a lot of fun. I had a good battle with a Ferrari, which got me under braking and I got caught up with one of the Bentleys for a while. I learnt a lot today and had a lot of fun.”

Florian Strauss took the last stint in the No.80 GT-R, the German GT Academy winner doing a great job in difficult circumstances.

“I felt a bit nervous, getting into the car in second position,” explained Florian. “I struggled at the beginning as I focused a little on the cars behind me. It’s hard to let the pro drivers past when you are as fast as them. In the end we had to be cautious with fuel so I backed off a bit. After our qualifying result though I’m happy with what we have achieved today.”

The No.35 car needed radiator repairs so only rejoined the race around the half way mark. Miguel Faisca had to work hard in his first few laps.

“Due to the radiator problem I had to keep checking the temperatures when I got out on track,” said Miguel. “Some of the old radiator water then went all over the screen and I couldn’t see for a moment. Once I settled into the race the car felt stable and I was able to enjoy a good battle with an Audi. This race was really a training session for us so I made sure I didn’t get in the way of anyone else’s race.”

“All six drivers performed really well in what is one of the hardest rounds of the championship as Monza is such a fast track,” said Bob Neville, Nissan GT Academy Team RJN boss. “Now I’m looking forward to seeing how well they go at the next round at Silverstone.”

Nissan Nismo

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About this article
Series Blancpain Endurance
Teams Nissan Motorsport
Article type Race report
Tags alex buncombe, bes, florian strauss, katsumasa chiyo , mark shulzhitskiy, miguel faisca, monza, nick mcmillen