Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona polesitter Mikhail Aleshin has shrugged off the engine failure in practice that means the SMP Racing BR01 will start with the Nissan motor it used in pre-event testing.
Motorsport.com was on site as the ‘old’ unit was fired up in the pole-winning car late on Friday afternoon, after the fresh engine slated for use in the 24 Hours expired in the final practice session.
The test engine has already completed 1000km of trouble-free running, and is now back in the LMP2 chassis that will lead the field to the green flag on Saturday.
There were plenty of nodding heads and no apparent leaks as the engineers went through the engine warm-up process, going up and down the gearbox while the car was on its stands.
“For me, it doesn’t matter,” said Aleshin of the engine change. “The most important thing is that I hope all the technical issues have ended today.
“We’ve changed the engine, and I hope it’ll be fine for all 24 hours.”
Did you expect to start from pole position?
“I expected we would be fast. We had a good test at the beginning of the year here. I’ve always thought the car had good potential; we’ve been working on it for a year now and I was sure we’d be in the top three in qualifying.
“Of course, I wasn’t sure about the pole, but at the end of the day it’s about you, the car and track conditions, especially with the weather we had… which was crazy.”
Did you totally nail the lap?
“Yes and no. First point for me was to not put the car in the wall. We don’t have many spare parts, and I didn’t want to finish the weekend in qualifying!
“I was kind of pushing, but at the same time I was taking care. I think I’d have been much quicker if someone told me to do whatever I wanted, just get the pole. I knew I couldn’t push too hard, especially in the difficult weather conditions.”
This car is quite new, did you expect this speed?
“To be fair with you, no. It’s a brand new car, and since the beginning, when we started testing it, we understood it was going to be a very quick car. Of course, we started from not such good positions in qualifying and in races last year, but every race we were promising – during the whole of the ELMS we continued the development of this car.
“I really like this car; it’s really like my child. It was kinda born and I needed to teach it how to drive, how to corner and take the curbs, and how to take the hard times [laughs] – all these things.
“For all the team, it’s been very important to develop the car, and there’s still a lot of room to develop. A lot of things are still sitting in the setup. This car has even more potential; we didn’t open that 100 percent yet. That’s my feeling.”
Any major reliability worries, apart from the engine problem?
“When you do a race like Daytona and Le Mans, the first point is to finish the race. Of course, we’re aiming for more, but the real race is going to start 22 hours after the actual start. So the last hours will be the real fights for position. Before that we have to hang on in there.”
There’s often a late yellow in these US races isn’t there?
“I think it’s a great system, because it makes it more interesting. It means the leader can’t pull out a big gap, but at the same time it allows cars that have issues or mistakes the chance to still be fighting for positions.
“I think it’s kinda great, it ensures competition right until the end.”
How’s it going to feel as a Russian driver in a Russian team and Russian-entered car leading the grid to the green flag in America’s biggest sportscar race?
“It already felt great yesterday to get the pole at Daytona, it’s one of the biggest races in the world, like Le Mans. For us, it’s a really important weekend, and qualifying has made it even more important for all our guys.
“We showed all weekend we have good speed and pace for the race. As always, you need a little bit of luck – I think with the speed we have, we’ve the possibility to do good.”
Is the team ready for the challenge?
“I think there’ll be no problems, the team is very experienced. I have no doubts, we’ve been focused since the test, we all know we can be up there.
“When you believe in this, you know it can come true, it gives you a nice big kick up the butt! We will just keep going forwards.”