|NISSAN INTERNATIONAL SA|
BRUNDLE & SON: RACING AT LE MANS
Martin Brundle is under no illusions about what lies in store when he returns with Nissan to the Le Mans 24-Hour race on 16/17 June. Having entered the endurance classic six times and won it once, the former Grand Prix driver knows exactly what's needed to be consistently quick and yet be there at the finish.
Brundle will have the rare opportunity this year to pass on his priceless knowledge to his 21-year-old son Alex and Lucas Ordoñez, 27, from Spain as the trio shares a Nissan-powered LMP2 car entered by Greaves Motorsport.
"I still love racing and I really enjoyed competing in the Daytona 24 Hours last year," says Brundle. "I'll be 53 at Le Mans. So, I've got this small window where Alex is 21, he's progressing and going into the world of professional racing where we can share a car at Le Mans. None of this was driven by the romantic stuff attached to other ‘Father and Sons' having done it before. It was purely because I want to race with Alex, particularly in a tremendously difficult and prestigious race such as this."
Much may have changed since Brundle won with Jaguar in 1990 but the challenge of this unique race remains, particularly in the LMP2 category which, this year, is arguably more competitive that the headline LMP1 class.
"This is a privateer effort - which LMP2 has to be," says Brundle. "Whenever I've been to Le Mans before, it's been as the lead driver in a works team. This is going to be very different with a lot less preparation time than I've been accustomed to in the past."
Brundle will fly to Le Mans immediately after working for Sky Sports F1 on the Canadian Grand Prix the previous weekend. Moving from the role of commentator to competitor will begin immediately with the traditional pre-race formalities and, hopefully, end on the podium on Sunday afternoon. Inbetween will have been 24 hours of racing like nothing else in the world of motor sport.
"Up at the front in LMP1, Audi are going to be racing themselves, by and large," says Brundle. "The LMP2 class is going to be the story of the race, along with the fabulous Nissan DeltaWing entry in the experimental class. There will be 20 cars in LMP2 with some very good drivers and teams - and a dozen of them have got the same engine as us. The Nissan is undoubtedly the engine to have. It's going to be manic out there!"
The LMP2 cars may be deliberately designed to be less competitive than the LMP1 entries but, following a test at the super-fast Paul Ricard circuit in southern France, Brundle can confirm that the Zytek-Nissan is by no means slow.
"We're probably about 15 to 17 seconds a lap slower than, say, the Audis around Le Mans," says Brundle. "That's not a lot over a 8.5-mile lap. I can tell you, our car caught my attention at Ricard. Alex and Lucas were saying that Signes, the 90-degree right-hander at the end of the long back straight, should be taken without lifting from the throttle despite arriving there at 295 kph. It took me four laps just to keep the pedal on the floor. I thought: ‘Mmmm.... This is quick!' But once you get used to it, everything starts coming back to you."
Le Mans is not just about being fast. It is also about maintaining speed in an event that, although lasting 24 hours, requires flat-out driving from the start, through dusk to dawn and into what seems a very long final day. This is by no means a Sunday afternoon drive.
"I know what's involved at Le Mans - and it's hard," says Brundle. "In all the years I've been there, I've never known anything other than going as hard as you can. Yes, you might be saving some fuel to eek another lap out of a tank full at some point. But, in terms of your driving, unless you've reached the closing stages and you're not fighting anybody, it's flat out all the way."
Brundle finds himself as the Senior Citizen of the driving team, as depicted by his status as a Platinum Driver. "In LMP2, you have to have at least one Silver grade driver in each car. That's aimed at having a wealthy guy partner a couple of hotshoes who can race. It's all about keeping costs down. So, Alex and Lucas are Silver but, having won Le Mans, I maintain Platinum status until I'm 60. It's slightly amusing because I think the younger guys might be carrying me!"
Regardless of who is carrying whom, the aim is to finish on the podium, something Martin has savoured with Alex in more junior categories of racing.
"We've won races sharing a car," says Martin. "I so enjoyed being up on the podium with Alex and, when the Le Mans idea came up, I thought: ‘Let's take this another step.' I'll learn from it and Alex will learn from it. If we can be on the podium in LMP2, I'll be very happy indeed. It's the most competitive class of Le Mans this year - by some margin. If we win the class, I'll be ecstatic."