Aside from a brief spell in the British GT championship with Lotus UK, James Nash has spent the last five years in British and World Touring Cars, winning multiple races and contending for titles. But this season he has decided to take his career in a different direction – signing a deal to run the full Blancpain Endurance Series with the ever-competitive Team WRT, alongside seasoned German GT aces Frank Stippler and Christopher Mies.
So with this chance, it comes as no surprise that Nash is enthusiastic and excited about this move, which sees him immediately in contention for the Blancpain Drivers’ Championship and a win at the twice-around-the-clock classic at Spa.
“It’s a massive change for me,” said the 28-year-old Englishman. “I’m just coming out of World Touring Cars, where I achieved some good results, so the next move from that was obviously GT racing and the Blancpain championship. And being with WRT is one of the best things I could have hoped for, getting to be with Audi is excellent and I am really pleased because it should teach me a lot.”
While a move into GT racing was by no means a last-minute effort by Nash, only doing the Blancpain Endurance Series was unfortunately not what he originally hoped for. “Like most things, there has been a lot of planning behind it,” explains Nash.
“For a long time, I have been looking to go into GT racing alongside a touring car programme but sadly that couldn’t happen this year. I think I have a better package this year with GTs, the aim is always to be in one of the main championships. Being with the best team in the best car certainly gives me the best chance of winning.”
While he shows plenty of exuberance for his new chapter in the GT ranks, not competing in touring cars this season doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t see him make a return in the future. Nash has proved himself on a world stage for the likes of Bamboo Engineering, RML and 888 on many occasions in the last few years, so it wouldn’t be wise to count him out for future seasons.
“Yes, of course, [I would still like to be in touring cars] but I need to develop my skills as a driver. I have been in touring cars for the last four or five years and have developed a lot of skill in that category. I need to take what I have learnt from that and move onto GTs and learn these cars with the aim of becoming a better driver. I think that opens the door then to compete in both categories, rather than just being a specialist in one.”
It’s no easy task to jump straight in at the deep end in GT racing after so many years in one category, however, and Nash – with his humble nature – will be the first to tell you that.
“Monza isn’t such a tough track to get on top of, so it’s a good place to start,” observes Nash. But even with his experience at Italy’s temple of speed in World Touring Cars, it is still a challenge in such a dissimilar piece of machinery.
“It’s very different, it’s, well, you can’t even explain it! Touring cars feel lazy, with very little grip, while this [Audi R8] is very responsive, with a lot of grip and a ton of power. There is a big mindset change I need to make to get into this, but slowly I am sure it will happen. Being with Chris Mies and Frank Stippler gives me the best opportunity to look at the data with them and improve my performance.”
But the biggest challenge during his first weekend is not the circuit or the new mentality he needs to thrive in the series: it’s getting to grips to with a GT3 for the first time. “The Audi’s downforce and general grip is way above anything I have ever experienced before,” Nash admits.
“In my early days, I missed out Formula 3, so the closest I have come to this was when I was in Formula Ford, and even that is nothing like it so the learning curve is steep in that sense.”
This has had no effect on his goals for the season, though, as he still likes his chances. “With these team mates?” asks Nash. “We have always got an opportunity to win it! [The drivers’ and teams’ championship]. I just hope I can develop and improve to assist them quickly, but the team and their procedures are far and above most of the other teams. That’s where we are going to pick up some time, so I need to do my job on the track.
Don’t bet against him – James Nash is eager to win a title, get his foot in the door and move up the sportscar ladder to bigger things. Being with WRT is certainly a good place to start.
“Le Mans is on everyone’s radar, so I would also love to be there.” Nash said with his eyes widening. “But I just want to be part of a factory team and winning races, that’s my immediate goal.”
Having only competed in single-seaters and touring cars makes James Nash a stranger when it comes to longer races. And when it comes to those lasting 24 hours, he quickly confesses that “It’s all about learning, and I have no reference, so I don’t know quite how hard it will be, or how amazing the experience will be.”
So it will be interesting to keep an eye on his progress and performance at his first big race at Spa this year. And he certainly will have to, as the team places the Spa 24 Hours on a pedestal, and have clearly already started getting him prepared for what is arguably the biggest race of his career to date.
“It’s my first chance to tackle Spa as a circuit too, don’t forget! But we as a team have looked at it and talked about it, and it seems that most teams put the Spa 24 Hours as the main event. Anything before works up to the event, so there is a lot of build-up and preparation already going on for Spa for us. I understand it’s a fabulous place to be and a great event to be part of.”
“Audi like a big showing at Spa, so I need to be on top of my game, which means getting some track time at Spa. I will be certainly be going there before the race!”