The last round of the British GT championship the title was open to 5 teams, whoever out of the top 5 in the championship standings won the race would win the championship. Ahead of Donington we laid 3rd in the standings, 4 points behind 1st.
First practice and practice 2 didn’t go particularly smoothly for us. Me and Alex were really struggling with straight line speed, we were only 3 mph faster than a GT4 in one speed trap! We knew something was up, but at the time we couldn’t find out what was causing the issue. So we both focused on actual car setup, as track time is precious. After both practice sessions and a debrief session, the engineers found out from the engine data that the turbo’s weren’t boosting to what they are supposed to. The team then investigated the issue, they later found out there was a crack in one of the intercoolers. Also when Alex was in the car at the end of P2, he heard a whining noise that increased with speed. We then found out the gearbox needed to be changed! Looking back at it, it was sort of a blessing in disguise. This could have happened in qualifying, or in the race!
Team fixed the issues in time before qualifying. Bob nominated me for qualifying to go second, this would be the first time this year I’d had the chance to do this. Qualifying this year it’s been difficult. At present in race conditions and especially in qualifying situations, we just don’t work the front tyres hard enough. In past races when still learning about the car, we tried to combat this by stiffening the rear, rake changes, different springs and various other changes too. When we did this we unsettled the rear mid corner-exit.
At the races we’ve performed well (Brand Hatch, Nurburgring and Snetterton) the balance of the car in race conditions has been good. So we normally go into the race with a slightly understeering setup as the rears will soon degrade faster than the fronts. Nobody wants a car that wants to oversteer violently mid corner as soon as you come off the brakes! Alex went first and set a 1.29.8xx. I went out second and did a 1.29.5xx, there was I’d say another 2 tenths to be found on my lap, I was wide at T1 on my second flyer which cost me all the way down into old hairpin. Me, Alex and the RJN team then had a debrief after qualifying. Alex was happy with his lap and was surprised how far down we are in quail. We both agreed in qualifying trim we were happy with the rear of the car in medium speed corners on exits, but wanted a lot more front end mid corner. Initial turn in is good as weight is loaded on the front by the brakes, but as soon as you release the brakes the front them pushes on and on. Looking at speed traps, we were second in the first one at 144MPH, which is set in the middle of the craner curvers. The next two we are almost last, we need some more top end speed. But the first speed trap is promising, as me and Alex have said all year, in the high speed corners we feel very confident with the rear. We qualified 14th.
Alex would be starting the race, we know what he can do in difficult situations and he didn’t let us down. He made a storming start overtaking 3-4 cars on the first lap! By the end of lap 4 we were in the lead! Everything going very well, the team had smiles on their faces, everybody was up to the challenge. Time passed as Alex ploughed on steadily building up his lead over the Porsche and McLaren behind us. At about a hour in the lead from second was 10 seconds the lead to the car we were fighting in the championship was 20 seconds. I got ready with my lid and “booster seat” waiting in the pit lane. Alex had done his bit, now it’s down to the pit crew and me. The change over went well, Alex quickly said “the rears last about 5-6 laps.” It’s always valuable to get this information as you get strapped in. We waited for what seemed forever in the pits, we didn’t want a penalty for a short pit stop, plus we had an 8 second penalty to take.
Outlap and everything seemed good, no issues at all. For the race we gambled on a different set of pads, it was the first time I got to use them in the race. Brake pedal felt good, so entering the first flyer I just got my head down. Lap time on the first flyer was good, struggling a bit with mid corner understeer with heavy fuel, but predictable to drive. Starting second flyer the first corner exit was good. So heading down craner flat out, I came over the crest, and the front goes briefly light, as the steering feel comes back as the car compresses through the left, the rear squirms a little. Up until this point throughout the whole weekend it hadn’t done this, my line has been the same all weekend too. So heading very quickly down to old hairpin, I decided to brake slightly earlier than normal just to make sure everything is fine. I braked and the whole car decided it wanted to turn left, I counter steered right while still on the brakes, I knew I wasn’t going to make the corner on the tarmac and bounced along the grass managing not to hit anything! I was on the radio through the next left kink saying “guys either a damper has gone, or there’s a left side puncher somewhere. I wrestled with the car over the next part of the lap. I was praying it was a puncher while plumes of white smoke came into the cabin. Hobbled into the pitlane and was trying to look at the mechanics faces as they took off the left rear. I looked at Geoff our chief mechanics face as he took a look, and knew it was going into the garage.
It’s one of the worst feelings in the world sitting in the car in a garage as your title challenge is fading away… We didn’t have a set of springs mounted to dampers in the truck, we had to take off the current broken damper and spring and mount new ones. We did get out for the last 35 minutes laps down on everybody else.
After the race it was hard. Interviews and quotes to do, but you have to do these kind of things when you’re winning and losing. It’s part of your job. We finished in the standings 6th.
Still it’s easy to forget it’s the cars first year in competitive racing and to be fighting for a championship shows the cars potential. I hope with all the data from our car and the cars racing in ADAC and GT300 in Japan, the guys at NISMO and JRM can produce a faster, lighter and more reliable car for next year. We can then come out of the starting blocks all guns blazing and win races and championships.
For me it’s the last time I’ll be in the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 this year, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in the car this year. I’ve learnt a lot about the car, how to handle certain situations and my own abilities
A big thank you to RJN Motorsport, NissanUK and Europe, Sony, GTAcademy and to everyone who has supported me this year. I’ve had the time of my life.