Motorsport.com columnist Harry Tincknell has been successfully hunting podiums again in the WEC and ELMS as he gears up for Le Mans.
So my manic month of May is only three weeks in, but a lot has happened and I’ve been able to spray some more champagne since the last column.
I had a good feeling going into the Spa World Endurance Championship round that we could better last season’s second place but I didn’t expect to do it with such an emphatic win. My JOTA Sport team was really on fire at Spa and I think they laid down a big marker to its LMP2 opposition for Le Mans.
The Gibson-Nissan was fantastic all weekend and every member of the team did a great job. We won by a lap and I felt it was one of my best ever races, although it didn’t feel like it was going to be when, on lap four, I received a drive-through penalty for a jump start!
It must have been very close and although I didn’t intentionally try and get past my old Formula 3 pal Pipo Derani before the startline. However, the official timing said otherwise…
It was doubly annoying as I had managed to make my way up from fourth on the grid to lead the race at the start of lap two and was managing the gap to Sam Bird and the rest of the field behind.
I just had to take it on the chin, serve the penalty and channel my frustration into super quick lap times to make up the difference. I came back out in P7 and ultimately pitted from P2, seven seconds behind the leader.
JOTA had Mitch Evans with us at Spa, enjoying his first sportscar race in preparation for his Le Mans 24 Hours debut, and he did a great job. He’s a lovely guy and obviously a very fast driver being a GP3 champion and GP2 race winner.
He quickly passed G Drive’s Julien Canal and maintained an excellent pace for his whole double stint, handing the car over to Simon Dolan one minute clear of the field.
Simon did a fantastic double stint and was very fast and consistent. In fact, his confidence was still buzzing after his first LMP2 qualifying session, as in the WEC it is the average lap time of Simon and I's laps that make up the qualifying position.
I then took over the car and exited the pits with a 30-second lead but after only two laps I heard over the radio that the G Drive car, now with Sam Bird back at the wheel, had blown its engine.
I was honestly gutted as I was looking forward to an exciting end to the race. But it left us miles clear of our nearest rivals, so it meant we could cruise to victory and Mitch took over for the final stint to do just that.
With about five minutes of the race to go I heard a shout of, “Go on the Maori” from the back of the JOTA garage. It was Porsche factory driver Mark Webber cheering his protege on to the win!
Back in the Nissan GT-R LMP1
I didn’t get much time to celebrate though as the next day I was back on a transatlantic flight from Brussels to the United States for the final Nissan LMP1 test before Le Mans. We drove for another three days at Bowling Green in Kentucky, and again made more progress with the car and found more lap time.
I was running the rather stealthy looking carbon-black car and completed a lot of laps over the three days and we ended by setting the quickest lap we have ever done around the circuit.
I was working closely throughout the test with Michael Krumm and it was great to tap into all his experience and learn as much as I could from him. I’m really looking forward to sharing the car with him and fellow Brit Al Buncombe at the race, and we all get on very well.
It’s going to be really interesting to see where we are and I just want to get to the test day now and blast down the Mulsanne straight!
I returned back from the test to attend a press event in London, where the media could get up close and personal with the GT-R LM NISMO and get the lowdown on how everything is going. I think the media is just as excited as we are to see it on track with the rest of the Le Mans grid and I hope the fans are too.
Imola frustration – but another podium
I was back in action for JOTA Sport for the second round of the European Le Mans Series at Imola and it was another rollercoaster race. I love Imola. It is a fantastic track and always poses a great challenge in the traffic, as it is quite tight and twisty in the middle sector with some fast corners thrown in.
We were very confident at the end of practice that we had a fast car and that was proved right in qualifying when Filipe Albuquerque did a stunning job to put us on pole by an incredible 1.5 seconds!
I started the race and while on the grid, I had a good chat with fellow front row starter Mark Patterson who drives for the Murphy team. “See you on the podium,” I said as we went to suit up.
The car was feeling just as good as in practice and I managed to pull a 18-second lead on our rivals during the first half an hour of the race before a Safety Car was called to clear gravel from off the track at the first corner.
It was obviously annoying to lose that precious gap I had built up, but I’d already had some good practice of channeling frustrations this month and I just used the same determination again to pull out a 42 second lead over the second placed car before I pitted at the end of my double stint.
Team manager Sam Hignett had promised me a £2 bonus on the grid if I could pull a one-minute gap before I handed the car over so maybe it was him kicking gravel onto the track, who knows!
Simon took over and was looking racey before contact with a GT car, consistently ignoring a waved blue flag, dislodged the Gibson’s front left fender forcing Simon to pit for a new one.
Luckily for us, another Safety Car was deployed at the same time which meant the mechanics had a chance to fix the car and send it back out before we lost a lap. Crucially, this meant we were still in the race, although now down to P4.
Once the race resumed, Simon held on to the Greaves Gibson car in third place and when he pitted for the final time to hand over to Filipe for the last stint, the crew did an incredible pit stop to get us out just in front of Greaves. Filipe had the bit between his teeth and he pulled away from the guys behind at a rate of knots and set about closing the gap to the leaders.
Not the result we were looking for
In the end they were too far ahead and we had to make a splash on the last lap of the race to see us home in third place. It wasn’t the result we came to Imola for, but considering it was a bad race by our standards, I was very happy with third. Last year a bad race would have seen us finish fifth or a DNF.
I must congratulate TDS who ran out easy winners in the end and they were very strong all weekend and must be one of the favourites alongside JOTA for a Le Mans victory.
And it was great to see the ever-popular Murphy team on the podium for the first time this year. I hoped the order might be different, but I knew we’d see them on that podium!
Next up is the Le Mans test day at the end of this month where I’ll be driving the #22 Nissan, preparing for the big one in the second week of June.
Hopefully some of you Motorsport.com readers will head over.
See you there!