Nic Minassian says DragonSpeed is peaking at the right time in 2017, its G-Drive Racing by DragonSpeed-entered ORECA 07 leading the ELMS championship by 12 points over the United Autosports Ligier JS P217, heading into the penultimate round this weekend at Spa.
For the past two races, Minassian has played ‘super-sub’, outside of his role as sporting director of the American-flagged team, helping it score two podiums at the Red Bull Ring and Paul Ricard. Now though, Minassian is stepping back, and Ryo Hirakawa rejoins the team after having to fulfil commitments racing in Super GT with Toyota for the past two ELMS weekends.
“Looking back at Ricard, (where the team finished second) we didn’t have the pace to win the race, we didn’t have good enough tyre degradation. I think in Spa though, we’ll unleash the ORECA again, the Dallara’s performance I think was a one-off,” Minassian said, when asked about the team’s last race.
“At every race we’ve done so far, the Dallara has been good on pace after a couple of stints, and with the lineups SMP have – two pro Silvers – they don’t have a weak link.
“But you’ve got to take your hat off to Elton (Julian, DragonSpeed’s team principal) and the team, they always prepare so well, they put themselves in a good position. Second place, I was happy with that.”
Despite stepping into the team, mid-way through the season, and locked firmly into the title race, Minassian says that it wasn’t difficult to get up to speed and perform at a high level.
“For me it was ok, with experience I can handle any kind of pressure,” the former Peugeot factory driver said.
“I know what my task is, it’s harder for younger drivers. I’ve jumped in the car that’s leading the championship, and those guys like Léo need to win it in the peak of their careers, my job was to keep them in the fight. it’s harder for them because they don’t have the experience. I’m happy, I was good enough, my pace was alright.
If I could drive until I was 100-years-old, I would!
“I loved driving the new LMP2 car,” he exclaimed. “If I could drive until I was 100-years-old, I would! But I have to realistic, I’ll do it if I can, if I get the opportunity. But my future is more in helping DragonSpeed to be the best they can be.”
Minassian has had to take an analytical role this year, helping the team each race weekend, using his experience to help guide them in certain situations and make strategy calls. He’s also had to play a role in helping the drivers. In the G-Drive by DragonSpeed-entered car, the full-season duo of Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel have starred. Roussel in particular over the past two races has shown incredible pace, both in qualifying and during race stints.
At Ricard, Roussel was the ironman, driving for over two hours of the race. It was a performance which Minassian says came as no surprise.
“Me and Elton did everything we could to get Léo before this year,” he said. “We knew he was quick, and not only that, the way he fits in the team. he’s a great guy, a hard worker, doesn’t make mistakes. He’s a good racer, the full package. I’m very impressed, and I’m sure the whole paddock is now too.
“I don’t want to forget Memo either, he’s not the young gun, but he’s great. He’s always using old tyres in the races and always fighting hard. He’s almost a mentor, a team leader. He’s been faultless given the circumstances, because he always gets in with worn tyres. He gets it done.”
The team is stepping into greatness, and I like to see that
With two races left, as well as the pace of the ORECA at Spa and Portimao, the intangibles will play a role in the title fight. The 44-year-old Frenchman feels that a big part of the team’s success this year – with podiums at each race and a 1-2 at Monza – is due to the atmosphere in the garage. And, of course, the ORECA.
“Everyone fits so well together at DragonSpeed,” he said. “The team is stepping into greatness, and I like to see that. It’s a fun place to work, a place for racers.
“I think the ORECA is always the car to have too, if you have the choice, you chose ORECA. Yeah there will be other races where other cars may have an advantage in places, and Ligier’s car has been better than I thought, so I’m happy for them.
“But the ORECA is the car and at Spa I’m sure we will show what it can do.”