Nissan survives a tough 24 hours
The 2015 Spa 24 Hours lived up to its reputation of being one of the toughest endurance races in the world this weekend. The #22 and #23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3s made it to the chequered flag, both finishing the race in eighth place in the PRO AM and PRO classes respectively. The result for #23 means that Alex Buncombe (GB), Katsumasa Chiyo (JAP) and Wolfgang Reip (BEL) now hold fourth place in the PRO driver's championship, 10 points behind the leaders with one race to go.
Over 500 laps of Spa-Francorchamps is hard on cars and drivers but throw in some biblical rain showers and accidents galore and the 2015 Spa 24 Hours turned into a giant slayer of a race, which very many of the runners failed to finish.
Fresh from winning the last round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Paul Ricard, the #23 PRO class crew of Buncombe, Chiyo and Reip were looking for a good result at Spa to bolster their championship hopes. Along with the #22 PRO AM crew of Olivier Pla (FRA) and three GT Academy winners - Ricardo Sanchez (MEX), Gaetan Paletou (FRA) and Florian Strauss (GER) - the Nissans lined up for the race start primed and ready for a competitive showing.
The weather gods delivered a real soaking for the start of the race but this didn't stop Buncombe making up three places on lap one. Olivier Pla had a tougher time in #22 when a small electrical problem stopped his (rather necessary) windscreen wiper from working. The Frenchman had to make a dash to the pits as the race went green, which put him all the way back to 57th place.
Buncombe's progress was slowed by the first safety car period just 25 minutes into the race while the debris from a crashed Ferrari was cleared away. When it seemed the race had only just gone green another crash brought the safety car back out for an hour. The safety car had to be dispatched half a dozen times before nightfall at Spa.
Unfortunately for the Nissans an early switch to slick tyres when the track dried up didn't pay off as the heavens soon opened again sending everyone scurrying back to the pits for wets. The grim weather continued and by the six-hour mark, #23 was in 25th place with #22, resplendent in its new livery, on a fight back drive in 36th.
Just before the six-hour mark the #23 Nissan had cycled through its driver squad so Buncombe was back onboard. He had to pit for repairs after having contact with a spinning Ferrari, which lost him around 20 minutes and meant the #23 GT-R was covered in gaffer tape for the remainder of the race.
The #23 car rejoined the race and began the fight back. In the dead of the night at the halfway mark #23 had recovered to 25th place and #22 was steadily climbing up the order, finally breaking into the top 20.
The next milestone was the 18-hour mark. Pla, Paletou, Sanchez and Strauss had a very strong night and had climbed right up to 12th position overall and fifth place in the PRO AM class. Buncombe, Chiyo and Reip were also running strongly in 18th place overall and 10th in the PRO class but trouble was looming just around the corner.
With just over five hours of the race remaining, Reip stopped on track in the #23 Nissan. What turned out to be a broken fuel relay fuse stopped the GT-R but in true endurance style team boss Bob Neville dispatched a mechanic to the scene, swiftly driven on a scooter by Alex Buncombe, and he was able to give Reip instructions on how to get the car going so he could get it back to the pits. Once back in the garage repairs were swift and #23 was quickly on its way.
Into the final two hours and the two GT-Rs were running well but somebody spoke too soon and #22 pitted from 13th place (fifth in class) with a gearbox problem. The Nissan GT Academy Team RJN crew set to work and changed the gearbox in around 40 minutes so the car could get back out and finish the race.
The two Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3s took the chequered flag after one of the toughest Spa 24 Hours yet, both in the points and both (practically) in one piece.
"When you consider all the events of the past 24 hours I think we got a good result but as always we hoped for more," said Team Principal Bob Neville. "There are so many smashed up cars around here at the moment so to get both of our cars home and in the points is really great. It wasn't easy but endurance racing never is!"
"The Spa 24 Hours is really the biggest test of not only the GT3 GT-Rs but also the winners of GT Academy," said Nissan's Darren Cox. "Every year we enter more of our graduates into a race that breaks the best of the best and every year they shine. Gaetan (Paletou) and Ricardo (Sanchez) are the new boys this year and they both did a professional job, which goes to prove their natural talent and the quality of our driver development programme. GT Academy winners are winning all over the world and it is a privilege to see something that started as a small European programme taking off globally."
About Nissan in Europe
Nissan has one of the most comprehensive European presences of any overseas manufacturer, employing more than 17,600 staff across locally-based design, research & development, manufacturing, logistics and sales & marketing operations. Last calendar year Nissan plants in the UK, Spain and Russia produced more than 675,000 vehicles including award-winning crossovers, small cars, SUVs, commercial vehicles and electric vehicles, including the Nissan LEAF, the world's most popular electric vehicle with 96% of customers willing to recommend the car to friends. Nissan now offers a strong line-up of 23 diverse and innovative models in Europe under the Nissan and Datsun brands.
About Nissan Motor Co.
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., Japan's second-largest automotive company, is headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, and is part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Operating with more than 247,500 employees globally, Nissan sold 5.32 million vehicles and generated revenue of 11.38 trillion yen (USD 103.6 billion) in fiscal year 2014. Nissan delivers a comprehensive range of more than 60 models under the Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun brands. Nissan leads the world in zero-emission mobility, dominated by sales of the LEAF, the first mass-market, pure-electric vehicle. It is the best-selling EV in history with almost 50% share of the zero-emission vehicle segment.