DSC had a brief chat with Nissan’s Darren Cox in the Team LNT garage at the Silverstone Dunlop 24 Hours, the NISMO boss there to keep an eye on the progress of both the Nissan-engined Ginetta LMP3 machine and GT Academy graduate Gaetan Paletou, whose instant promotion to prototype racing after his GT3 debut in Dubai back in January has marked him out as one particularly to watch.
“This is a great event,” said Cox. “I’ve always believed the UK deserves its own 24-hour race, it’s the centre of the motorsport world after all. France, Germany, Belgium all have one, so we really should too. Fair play to James Tucker, I know he can be a divisive character for some people, but he’s put his neck on the line and made it happen again.”
“Gaetan is exceptional,” he added. “The normal path with GT Academy winners is to do GT3 first, but he tested a P2 car last winter and really set himself apart. So we did a deal with Lawrence Tomlinson to get him in the Ginetta LMP3 for ELMS, he’s actually ended up taking Lawrence’s seat! He also impressed me at our testing in Kentucky recently, we were running a P2 car as a benchmark and he was out on a long run when it started raining heavily. He came into the pits without being asked and told me he wasn’t going to learn anything else and the only thing that could happen was he’d bin it. That showed great maturity, most young guys would just want to keep going, push too hard and put it in the wall.”
“With the Academy guys, the difference between the good and the great is the guys who decide straight away on the day they win that they’re now a professional athlete. Gaetan reminds me of Jann Mardenborough in that way, he’s just a taller French version! He’s lost 10kg over the winter and is very eager to learn. He got out of the car after a stint here wide-eyed and told me he’d just been scared for the first time in a racing car. But he’s got that over with now, so if it happens again at a bigger race, he’s prepared for it. It’s nice to have a French guy going to Le Mans for the test and that’ll get his rookie laps under his belt, so he’ll be good to do P2 next year.”
Cox confirmed that sales of the Ginetta LMP3 in Asia for the Asian Le Mans are a priority now – as well as in North America if a decision is made to accept the car in TUSCC. But he also had words of concern about the ACO’s proposed move to a single engine supplier for P2 in 2017,
“That would be a retrograde step, we’re definitely disappointed about this,” he stated. “As an engine supplier, we can spend money on a class, back drivers to race there and so on. We’ll certainly bid for the 2017 P2 engine supply, but it would be on a commercial basis and we wouldn’t be able to brand the engines, so there’d be no incentive to spend money on marketing or other activities around it. It’s the same in GP3, that’s our engine, from the 350Z, but we can’t brand it.
“I don’t normally rush to judgement on things and I’ve been trying to figure out if I’ve missed something, but I really can’t see the logic behind these proposals and I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s a good idea. As the ELMS race at Silverstone shows, there’s really nothing wrong with P2 right now. Okay, it went through a tough time in the WEC, but it’s on the up again and a strong ELMS will give you a strong WEC P2 class as teams and drivers move up. We love P2 – we think we have the three best drivers from there in our P1 car this year in Pla, Tincknell and Mardenborough.”