Motorsport.com columnist Harry Tincknell tells us just how close the JOTA Sport team came to winning the European Le Mans Series.
It’s easy to let the events of a previous race affect you, and having won at Paul Ricard by over 30 seconds, and subsequently having the victory taken away from us, it is something we know only too well.
That one was a massive shame, too, a driving-time infringement caused by a glitch in our strategy software.
But you always have to focus on the bigger picture, and how, as a team, setbacks such as these can drive you forward, making you even more determined to succeed.
Heading into the final round at Estoril in Portugal, we’d already had a remarkable season, with three pole positions, a win at the Red Bull Ring and two further ventures to the podium, so we were confident of turning our two-point championship lead into the 2015 title.
Adding to those pretty impressive performances, I was well chuffed with winning LMP2 in the 6 Hours Spa in May, clocking the fastest time in both qualifying and the FIA World Endurance Championship race itself.
But you cannot afford to become complacent even when you are leading the field as at any moment any one of the other teams could find an advantage that could be the difference between you achieving a podium result and finishing mid-pack.
This is why our work with Dunlop is so crucial at every race weekend. After all, it does not matter how quick any of us are on track, we will never be able to step onto the podium without a tyre than can go the distance.
The information that our tyre technicians provide us during our practice sessions is pivotal to our success, as we are able to use their expert knowledge to find the perfect setup for our Gibson chassis, which has contributed to us starting on the front row of the grid at every race this season so far.
Filipe [Albuquerque] was able to continue this streak by putting our Gibson 05 on pole position once again during a wet qualifying session, giving us the best possible chance for the race.
One of the major factors for us choosing Dunlop as our tyre supplier is that we can remain confident that we have a tyre underneath us that will not only produce the goods on a single lap, but will continue to perform at a competitive pace for the duration of the stint. And that was something which would prove vital later on in this particular race.
By the time Filipe pitted after 52 minutes of running, he had managed to pull out an impressive 30-second lead over our nearest competitor. This gave Simon [Dolan] the advantage he needed on fresh rubber to quickly return to the front of the field.
However, disaster struck 100 minutes into the race as a sudden downpour caught him out, spinning the car into a gravel trap and resulting in a full-course yellow.
After being towed out, Simon immediately pitted for fuel and Dunlop intermediate tyres, but we were now a lap down and 90 seconds off the lead.
The feedback from our tyre technicians was a necessity at this point, with the track now very slippery in certain places. Knowing how hard to push the tyres would be the difference between making up for lost time and another spin into the gravel.
Thanks to Dunlop’s vast racing pedigree and proven results as the most successful tyre supplier at Le Mans, their advice on how best to manage the tyres always provides us with peace of mind, on this occasion allowing Simon to swiftly work his way back through the field to fifth by the halfway point.
With just over 90 minutes to go, Simon handed the car over to me to continue his charge and aim for that fifth consecutive podium.
Having listened to the technicians' feedback during Simon’s stint, I had learnt how I could maximise the performance from the tyres in the drying conditions, and immediately put this to good use, beating Filipe’s fastest lap with a 1:33.077.
Dancing the car around the slippery track, our Gibson 015S-Nissan was a staggering 0.649s quicker than any other car on track. I was able to move into fourth with just under three quarters of an hour remaining.
However, this was a position we would be unable to improve upon before the chequered flag, narrowly missing out on a final podium of the season.
At the end of the race, the realisation of what this meant slowly sank in as we had missed out on the 2015 title by a mere four points, despite a blistering fightback by both Simon and myself.
The disappointment was difficult to process as you instantly look back at races such as Paul Ricard as moments where the championship could have been lost, but I have come to realise the importance of the team behind me, as without them none of this would have been possible.
Our record of five front row starts and four podiums would not have been achievable without Dunlop’s expertise in endurance racing and their provision of a tyre that not only let us set each of the fastest sectors at Estoril, but allowed the team to drive the car to its absolute limit lap after lap and continue to perform.
None of this would have been possible without the support of my personal sponsor, Goodridge, and, of course, Nissan NISMO for allowing me to race with JOTA Sport in ELMS and at Spa WEC this year at late notice alongside my LMP1 programme.
But I was still part of the Nissan “family” with JOTA as the Japanese manufacturer supplied great engines for the Gibson.
Thanks also must go to the three directors of the JOTA Group, Sam [Hignett], Simon and David [Clark] for the opportunity to race for JOTA for a second consecutive year.
I started this blog by saying how you cannot look back on what could have been, and that is exactly what our view will be on the 2015 season.
We have to be proud of the outstanding performances we have achieved, and focus on ensuring that we work closely with Dunlop and our other partners to ensure we continue to perform in the moment that matters most next season.