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Le Mans 24 Hours: A Final Chat With Nissan Before The On-Track Action

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It’s almost time for the cars to hit the track to kick-off Le Mans week, everyone’s eager, especially Nissan, who are gearing up for the GT-R LM NISMO’s true public debut. How NISMO’s three head-turners will fare against the competition remains to be seen, but whatever happens its a year of development, as the true potential of the car is yet to be unlocked.

Darren Cox (3)

Nevertheless, NISMO’s global motorsport director Darren Cox is relieved and excited to be at La Sarthe with his trio of head-turning machines.

“We just want to get out on track, we’re itching,” he said to DSC. “We’ve looked at the data since the Test and the mini test on the Bugatti circuit now, and it’s been the Le Mans three weeks for us. We’ve still got so much more to learn, and after a small breather want to show our cars to the world.”

A session on the Bugatti circuit last week gave the team a little more running in the dry to iron out small niggles, it was another piece to the puzzle for a team that’s learning all the time.

“Harry took the wheel, most teams used the time for a shakedown as you’d expect, but we went out to extend our testing programme. The Le Mans-spec aero kit and brakes don’t last long on the Bugatti circuit, but we were very strong on the run from the pit straight to the Dunlop Bridge.

Darren Cox

“We learnt some more about our brakes and how the car runs over the kerbs, so it was a positive test, and if we get the chance next year we’ll do it again.”

This whole effectively an extended test session for the team and the weather is due to play a part in its plans for the week.

“It’s massively important for us to get some more dry running,” he added. “We’ve got a good run plan, which we will adapt if the weather keeps changing. We just need a good baseline setup, so we want it to be dry this afternoon, dry tomorrow. We can handle changeable conditions but what we don’t want is what is currently forecast which is torrential rain because that causes slow zones and we want to go racing.

“The last few years after since we did Garage 56 have paid off, we know how to do everything behind the scenes now, we know how everything works. Everything has been less stressful than it would have been if we’d come into this fresh. All the hospitality, marketing, setup and media work has been done before.

“It’s all part of a plan, we’re able to focus on what really matters, and that’s taking our three cars out and racing.”

Another man with a smile on his face was Mark Shulzitskiy, who not that long ago, wasn’t part of the P1 plans before being drafted into the #21 car to fill in for Marc Gene.

Mark Shulzhitskiy (2)

“I really appreciate the trust that Nissan and Darren have put in me,” he admitted to DSC. “Last year was great, and this year is so important for me going forward. I love being part of the P1 team, everyone is friendly and since Darren gave me the chance to drive after a test at Bowling Green the transition has been smooth and I feel part it.”

“This is huge for me, last year I was in a team that knew its car was good, this time the feeling is different. Being here is proof that I’m capable, and I’d like to continue my work in the P1 programme after this event. For now I’m soaking it up, I really love it, this really is the greatest race in the world.”

Olivier Pla was also driving in LMP2 last year, and has made the transition to the top class with a factory team that so many people have been hoping to see. The last time he drove in LMP1 was with Quifel ASM in its Zytek, this year is far different.

“It’s the first time I’m here with a manufacturer, and it’s a good opportunity. There’s a lot more attention being with Nissan, there’s so many people who want to ask you questions, but it’s part of my job so I can’t complain,” he said.

Olivier Pla (2)

The biggest change for much of the Nissan squad has been adapting to the front-wheel drive system in the LM NISMO, which takes a bit of time to get up to speed with. That being said, Pla is confident that he’s used to it.

“People ask me this, and to be honest is that there’s no oversteer on the exit of a corner, or if you do, it feels strange,” explained Pla. “You can’t compare driving this car to driving a front-wheel drive WTCC car for instance, because it’s so stiff with a lot of downforce. The car doesn’t behave like a road car. Traction is very important, but once you get used to it, it’s not as big of a difference as you’d think.

“We’re treating the next few days as a proper test, to get more up to speed, we have three cars, so we’ll gather more and more information, and that’s what’s important.”

Stephen Kilbey