Winter break finished and I was back to Silverstone for some lovely heat chamber work before heading out to Dubai. Me and Bryan had 5 sessions x 1hr of heat acclimatisation, including a 3hr driver assessment! To get an idea what a heat chamber is like, imagine getting off a plane in the peak of summer in Spain and you feel that sudden rush of heat as you step off the plane. That’s what it’s like for 1hr whilst running or on a bike. Tough stuff – 37.8 degrees C and 45% humidity was the preferred temperature our coaches wanted us to train in. During that time we had simulator sessions too. My day went like so: 0800-0900 heat chamber, 0900-1000 simulator and 1400-1500 another heat chamber session. We did this for 3 days! After doing some filming with Lucas, Jordan Byran and me, all four of us headed off to Heathrow T5 in our trusty Pathfinder. It was the first time all four of us had travelled together, we spoke about our experiences during GT Academy and some of the cool things we had done since.
Flight was good landed in Dubai early in the morning and straight into filming with the camera crew.
Tried to get a Nissan, but the hire company didn’t have any available, even though the hire car cark park was full of them! The next two days were acclimatisation days, with some light filming in Dubai Marina. The Marina is incredible, modern, new and empty. Its full of massive skyscrapers, with nobody to occupy them. It reminded me of a sci-fi film like I-Robot.
Wednesday 11th was test day and rent a car day which meant we could use our hire car for learning the track. We were meant to go round at a max speed of 100KPH which we managed until Franck Mailleux got behind the wheel! I learnt that 6 people in a 4×4 on a race track doesn’t really work well… ! Testing went well, finding a base balance then improving it. Track was pretty similar to the simulator, so no nasty surprises out on track. All of us decided that more rear wing could be removed as the rear was too stable, and would help with the mid corner understeer we were having at turn 3-4. We had about 3 sessions in total of testing. Nobody was fussed on time at this point because it was irrelevant – nobody is pushing at this stage. We were purely looking to set up the car for the race. More filming later that day for Eurosport, talking about the track and my story so far.
Thursday 12th was taken up with more testing and qualifying. More time out in the car during the day. Though in total, before free practice, I had around 12 laps in the car. I really had to make the most of my time, it was very precious. Lots of time spent looking at the data, then taking time out to debrief myself of the last session to see where I could improve. The days were full on, by the time I was done debriefing, it was time to get suited up to get in and do another 5 laps of testing. More progress was made with the car ahead of qualifying. Bob told us that Lucas would get the role of fresh tires and low fuel to qualify the car. This was purely due to the fact that he had more experience of this track. Of course I would have liked to have done it too, but Lucas was the man to do it. We qualified fourth in class which was great considering we were in too high a class for the car we were using. Dodge Viper GT3, Ford Mustang GT3 and 3 silhouette cars were all in our class. Lucas put in a great time of 2.10.850. The Viper did 2.06.xx which got pole in our class.
Friday 13th, Darren Cox sat all of us down and reminded us how just how far we’ve come and told us do a great job and to enjoy the experience. Christian mentioned to Bob that I would like to do the warm up, as all the previous sessions I hadn’t had a clear lap. I was expecting a no, but was pleasantly pleased to find him say “yes.” Lucas would scrub a new set of tires in and I would get 2 flying laps. I managed to find a clear second lap apart from the last corner when a GT3 Z4 came down the inside of me, but nevertheless the guys came on the radio to tell me I’d done a “ 2.10.670” I was so pleased! It’s weird how I felt I had to test myself and prove to myself that I was capable of such a time. Irrelevant for a 24hr race, but it was still nice to know.
The grid walk at any race always get me excited. I love the fact that the spectators can touch the cars, have photo’s with the drivers, and the atmosphere is great. There was loads of attention with our 100 car – lots of photos and interviews. The four of us were in our sunglasses looking cool in the Dubai heat at 1pm.
My family and friends had turned up so it was awesome hanging out with them on the grid too. I wished the best of luck to Lucas as the crowds were asked to leave the grid. I was in the car 4th Byran 3rd and Jordan 2nd. I watched the start and about 7 laps before I went to get some dinner. I don’t know how other drivers can watch a live video feed of the race whilst keeping relaxed. Lucas was doing great, staying out of trouble which was key in the early stages. Nothing much to do at this point, I just kept drinking water with sodium tablets to keep my hydration levels stocked up.
When Lucas and Jordan had finished their stints they complained about the brakes going off. Byran would be out very soon, so I got myself ready. My stint would start at dusk quickly heading into darkness which I was completely fine about. Driver change went well, the team told me I’d be refuelling at the end of the pit lane (normal fuel pumps.) First 20minutes were tough, brakes weren’t good at all. In the 370z we have a racing pedal box, all 3 pedals aligned together. But the brake pedal was pushed back to a similar position where the accelerator pedal was on full power! Not really what you want when you’re travelling at 145mph. Told the team over the radio, then almost instantly after doing that I found myself not being about to get more than 125mph down the back straight. Got on the radio again and the team told me to “box this lap.” In the pit lane RJN mechanics tried to push me back into the pit box, but couldn’t because the front brakes were binding to the discs. We lost about 20 minutes putting new pads in, and manually adjusting the brake bias, because it had broken thus overheating the front brakes. Still in car I kept calm drinking my water, just visualising laps. Back out on track the car felt good again. I knew we had lost position so I pushed trying to regain lost time. All going well until the last lap I was meant to come in the pit to do a driver change. Arriving at turn 1 shifting down 2 gears, went to get on the gas, and did, but no throttle response… engine still running but no power!! I could get it to coast at idle speed in gear, but no throttle power. Told the team, they gave me instructions to master reset everything, but it was useless, no power at all!! Luckily a tow truck had just recently towed a car back to the pits, and was in my area. We lost about 40 minutes until we got back on track. The problem we had was that the air filter got full of sand and dust, got heavy and it got sucked up into the throttle bodies. Good thing was we were still in the race.
We had a trouble free 18 hrs from then with our car. I did a stint in the spare car with Richard Meadon and Tetsuya Tanaka and Humaid-A l Masaood which went really well. The 120 car really did have a chance of taking the win but was plagued with gearbox trouble. Even JRM running the new GT-R GT3 had some problems. Stints 2-3 were eventless, which was good for a 24 hr race! Quick and consistent. All four of us were putting in lap times within 1 second of each other, which was awesome, as there was no weak link. I remember eating breakfast just after finishing my stint, and missing my mouth as I tried to eat a croissant. I thought it would be wise to get a 1hr sleep before my last stint!
The car was still running 6 laps behind 2nd place which was an improvement on the 15 laps many hours earlier. Bob gave me the honour of finishing the race. I am really happy he let me do that. Just a case of looking after the car, nobody wants to break down 1hr before the end of the race… Bob asked me to push a bit so I could catch up with the 120 car, and finish the race together. Tuesya Tanaka was in the car at the time, a former Super GT driver, a really cool guy. Lots of cars were slowing down on track making it difficult to pick our way through traffic. The sight of two 370z’s overtaking GT3’s as they slowed down for the last 15 minutes looked like something out of a car film! I didn’t even realise I’d finished the race until I passed the flag! My last lap was a 2.15.xxx! One of the quickest times out on track – haha.
We’d done it. Unfortunately there were no champagne celebrations for some reason, rose water would have been fine, but oh well. Lots of photos and interviews after the race. I felt weird during these. Perhaps the tiredness was taking its toll. Up for over 30hrs and 2hrs sleep is bound to do something strange! Thanked people at Nissan, Playstation and Sony for coming and giving us four the opportunity. The four of us knew what we had to do and I hope we made everyone proud.
I was asked to stay a couple of days longer for work, doing instructing, VIP hot laps and some PR work. Well I know a Juke-R is faster than a Ferrari 458, Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 and Mercedes SLS AMG. Filming for a video at the Dubai Marina, a small track was set up to tell the world, that the Juke-R really is quick. It beat all these cars in a 3 lap race. The drivers weren’t no slouch either, all 3 are my mentors, Christian Vann, Rob Jenkinson and Michael Mallock. I did get to help out doing some of the scenes too, using all four cars. Boyhood dream come true!Really fun ten days in total. In those ten days I drove the Juke-R which RML built. That thing is a beast!