History was made in Atlanta this weekend when Nissan DeltaWing scored its first ever race finish, taking fifth place overall in the gruelling 1000-mile Petit Le Mans race, despite starting from the back of the grid of 42 endurance racers. The 2012 race produced an incredible run of results for Nissan as the final round of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) also settled the scores in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS). Nissan-powered teams took first, second and third place in the ELMS LMP2 Championship, underlining another season of domination by the Nismo-tuned Nissan VK45DE V8 engine.
Nissan DeltaWing actually had a relatively quiet race compared to the drama of the preceding days. The pioneering car was rather rudely ejected from Wednesday’s test session when it was struck by a GTC class Porsche, which also went on to hit the Championship-leading Muscle Milk car during the race itself.
The race was on to fix the car in time for further practice sessions on Thursday and in true endurance style Nissan DeltaWing was soon back in action and ready for Petit Le Mans, which really is a mini-Le Mans 24 Hours on every level.
“What I am most pleased about is that while the car obviously passed all the virtual and actual FIA crash tests prior to running at Le Mans,” said Nissan’s Darren Cox. We’ve unfortunately tested the car in real world incidents twice now and in both cases the car has done it job in protecting the driver. We’d rather not do it again but we’ve certainly shown the concept works and it is very safe.”
Despite qualifying with a time fast enough for the top 10, Nissan DeltaWing was relegated to the back of the grid for the start of the race. The organisers deemed that the car should start from the back as it was an unclassified entry. While this may sound fair, the reality is that it puts the car in danger again as it has to pass the entire GT field in the opening laps and also suffers in any early safety car periods. With Wednesday’s all-nighter fresh in their minds the team was keen that no more damage should be done!
There was no need to worry though as Nissan DeltaWing breezed through the 1000-mile Petit Le Mans, taking fifth place overall in the tough 10-hour race. Both Lucas Ordonez and Gunnar Jeannette excelled themselves, putting in clean and fast stints throughout and delivered the first race finish for the headline-grabbing car.
The opening stints were a thrill for the team who watched Gunnar climb from the 42nd place right up to eighth, then watched Lucas triple-stint his way to third. Nissan DeltaWing features half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a typical Le Mans sportscar so it was no surprise to then see Gunnar complete a quadruple stint without changing tyres!
“This has been an incredible journey for me,” commented Lucas after the race. “Every time I race for Nissan they give me new challenges and I think this was the biggest one yet. It certainly felt like a huge responsibility but it was also a great deal of fun. The car was fantastic to drive, Michelin did a great job with the tyres and we’ve been working really hard on developing the entire package. We’ve shown everyone in motorsport that the car is really strong and fast. I’m really proud to cross the line at the finish and I’m now ready to celebrate with the guys.”
The European Le Mans Series LMP2 title went to TDS Racing, the strong French team that took pole position and victory at round one and never looked back. Oak Racing grabbed the runner up spot when a recurring starter problem ended their fight for the title, despite the team starting so well by grabbing pole position for the race. Last year’s champions Greaves Motorsport had to settle for third place in the championship after recovering to fifth place at Petit Le Mans after early race contact and a gearbox problem forced them into fight back mode for the rest of the race. Joining them for this race to fill Lucas’ seat was Nissan’s Alex Buncombe:
“It has been an amazing experience doing Petit Le Mans with Greaves,” said Alex. “It’s such a shame we had the gearbox problem in the race as we had a great handling car. Tom (Kimber-Smith) and Alex (Brundle) both drove a great race, and Tom was very unlucky to get taken off at turn one in the first hour. It has been a pleasure to drive for the team and I’m so pleased to have been able to help them secure third place in the ELMS championship.”
“It has been a joy for us to bring an international story to one of the best endurance races in the world,” concluded Nissan’s Darren Cox. “Over 100,000 people turned out to watch this event that truly is a mini Le Mans. The addition of the European Le Mans cars made this into an even more significant international race meeting and we are delighted that Nissan delivered on track and online. Congratulations to TDS Racing whose LMP2 title is another championship to add to the record books for Nissan. Next week all eyes look towards Japan where we hope to add another in Super GT!”