Nissan LMP1 signing Harry Tincknell is a Motorsport.com columnist for 2015, and he gives us the latest from inside the GT-R LM NISMO camp.
Firstly it’s great to be doing a regular column for Motorsport.com this year. Hopefully I can give you an extra insight on everything that’s going on within the Nissan camp from the driver’s perspective.
I was absolutely delighted to sign with Nissan for LMP1 this year. It’s a dream come true to drive for a manufacturer, especially one as big as Nissan with its rich motorsport heritage. The first time I saw the car, at Michelin’s test facility in South Carolina, I was really surprised at how different it looked with the front engine and the tunnels going through the car.
However, it’s amazing how quickly it becomes normal and we’ve been making progress in testing ever since. We’re doing all the test work in America right now so that we can guarantee the weather and the track time, so I’ve been doing quite a lot of flying over the Atlantic. In fact, I’ve already got more air miles this year than the whole of last year put together!
It’s massively cool to be developing a car from scratch for the first time and while it can be frustrating when everything isn’t working perfectly at the start, it will be great to look back on when we make the car a success and know that there is a bit of me in the GT-R LM NISMO.
Busy time in the cockpit
It’s so much busier in the cockpit than an LMP2 car. Every lap you are making multiple changes to the steering wheel and dash panel, having to take in a lot more information on the radio from the engineer, managing the fuel flow so you don’t go over the required amount per lap and much more, while also trying to go as quickly as possible without making any mistakes.
At the start it was hard but as a driver, you quickly get used to it. And the debriefs and meetings are a different prospect too. I’m used to debriefing and giving feedback to about six guys in LMP2, in LMP1 it’s more like twenty five with each one an expert in their own particular field on the car. It’s a big step up but so far I think I’ve been telling them the right things!
Of course, it is disappointing not to be doing the full World Endurance Championship as originally planned. Being a Brit, missing the Silverstone WEC race is hugely disappointing because it is one of my favourite tracks that I’ve had such great success in the past and you always get a great reception from the British crowd. However, it is the right decision.
Because the car was late beginning the testing programme, we were always playing catch up and we need more time to test before we race the car. We could have still gone to Silverstone with the car in its current guise but we wouldn’t be doing ourselves justice and we wouldn’t be learning anywhere near as much as you can when you test privately.
The track we use is available 24 hours a day, so we can make multiple adjustments and test everything you need to test before Le Mans. And Le Mans is where we want this car to shine the most. It’s the biggest race in the world and the Nissan has been designed with Le Mans as the serious target.
So while not doing the Silverstone WEC is blow, trust me, it’s for the best and the car you will see at Le Mans will have benefitted massively by the extra testing we’ll be able to do. If you are attending Silverstone, you’ll still be able to see the GT-R LM NISMO on display along with lots of other things from Nissan so still must come along and see it!
Returning to JOTA squad
That all said, I’m still going to be racing at Silverstone. I’m absolutely delighted to be rejoining JOTA Sport for the entire five-race European Le Mans Series in racing a LMP2 Gibson – with a Nissan engine of course! JOTA is a fantastic team and I honestly wouldn’t be in the position I am now, with a ‘factory’ contract in LMP1 for 2015, without them.
The JOTA opportunity was totally unexpected. The British team was sorted for the season but in racing things can change very quickly and it didn’t take me very long to accept the offer to drive in the ELMS Prologue at Paul Ricard recently before continuing testing the GT-R LM NISMO in the US. The JOTA and Gibson boys have worked very hard on the re-branded Zytek over the winter and while on the outside it looks quite similar, I can tell you that they have made some big steps and everyone is very happy with the improvements.
Simon Dolan, Filipe Albuquerque and I missed out on last year’s ELMS Driver’s title by just four-points – the same as the Teams’ championship. We scored four top-four finishes – including one win and two podium placings – a fastest race lap and four pole-position race starts. Our biggest weakness last year was straight line speed and we’ve managed to increase that by reducing drag, but critically we haven’t lost any downforce by doing this, so it’s win-win.
And it’s great to be back driving with Simon and Filipe. We forged a really strong partnership last year and there was always a great atmosphere in the team. Simon improved his driving so much last year and I tried to help him in a number of areas as much as possible. When I joined the team last year my aim was to make as big an impression as possible to show the LMP1 teams what I could so it’s amazing to back this season as an LMP1 driver alongside Filipe who of course I’ll be up against in LMP1 at Le Mans as he races for Audi there.
Going head-to-head with Albuquerque
He’s a great guy, very funny and very fast. We pushed each other hard last year to get the best out of each other and to push the team on and it’s going to be great doing that again this year. We don’t know what the opposition have been up to over the winter, the only thing we do know is they will have been working hard too and certainly won’t have stood still.
With the Oreca O3R and the Ligier unable to develop due to the homologation rules, we have a fair idea about their performance from last year but the new Oreca 05 looks like a good car and certainly has shown it will be fast from the early testing results. Being run by TDS, which has a strong silver drivers in Badey and Thiret, and led by the quick and experienced Tristan Gommendy, I see them being the main competition to JOTA.
First up we’ve got Silverstone on the sportscar double-header weekend over 11-12 April. Last year we [JOTA] dominated. I put the car on pole, 1.2 seconds clear of the field. That was an awesome feeling in my first ever sportscar weekend. I was absolutely buzzing afterwards and could hardly sit still when we were having lunch! In the race Filipe made a textbook start and pulled away from the field giving Simon a nice lead. He consolidated our advantage at the front during his marathon triple stint.
Simon was awesome during the race and was all set to give me the car still in the lead. With my confidence sky high and a new set of tyres, I think we would have cruised to victory but Simon was involved in a big crash on the Hangar straight when forced off the road by a GT car. It actually occurred on his 'in' lap and I was suited and booted in the pit garage. It was a sad end to a great weekend but the main thing was Simon was okay if a little bruised.
We went on to have a brilliant season, winning LMP2 at Le Mans, and then taking the ELMS title fight down to the wire in the last race. I think with another year’s worth of experience under our belts, an improved car and the continuity of the same driver line-up, we are going to my ‘home’ Silverstone in good shape with the aim of finishing off the job from last season.
Having the British National anthem played out on Saturday evening at the end of the 4 Hour race would be pretty cool. I’ll let you know how it works out.