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Nielsen Racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans debut saw them take the chequered flag in P16 – a huge achievement for the Asian Le Mans 2019/20 LMP3 champions, and far surpassing their expectations of their first attempt at the La Sarthe epic.
The #24 Gibson-powered ORECA 07 was shared by Tony Wells and Garett Grist – two of Nielsen’s current European Le Mans roster. They were joined by Alex Kapadia, with previous experience in Le Mans – in both the main race and Road to Le Mans.
Alex was chosen for start duties; in his capable hands the #24 was off to a great start. Alex’s opening triple stint saw him climb three places before handing over to Tony, who did well to maintain Kapadia’s hard work on his LMP2 and Le Mans debut. However, the #24 encountered an antenna issue which also coincided with one of our class rivals swiping off the cars modesty panel. Tony returned to the box for an 18-minute extended stop – enough to put the team in the middle of the GTE Am field.
It was Garett who was nominated to reverse the lost positions. By the end of the Canadian’s triple stint, the ORECA was in front of the GTE Am pack but still needed to tackle to Pro entries. Another telemetry issue meant at half-distance, the Merit-backed LMP2 still had two GTE Pro cars to hunt down – but an admirable P19 in class having run faultlessly throughout the opening twelve hours. As morning broke across the 13.626km circuit, Garett had successfully navigated through the GTE Pro with seven hours left to hunt down the LMP2 rivals.
Just minutes away from the 18-hour mark, the #24 suffered suspension damage which saw brought the ORECA back in to the pit box for 45 minutes. Even an extra push by Garett – who put his fastest laps in at the 20-hour mark – wasn’t enough for the Oreca to catch the rest of the LMP2 field. Following a third telemetry issue and a subsequent trip back to the box in the final hour Tony took the chequered flag, after 24-hours of largely faultless running, P16 in LMP2.
#24 Tony Wells, Garett Grist & Alex Kapadia
Qualified – P19 3:30.897
Race – P16 P28 overall after 338 laps
Fastest lap – 3:30.858 (Garett)
“We entered Asian Le Mans series for the second time in 2019 – but we decided to make it a little trickier for ourselves and change chassis’ and that presented some differences. The guys drove well out in Asia; they made the best of difficult situations and we got super lucky with the weather which allowed us to do our repair. Without it, we wouldn’t have won the Asian Le Mans Series and we wouldn’t be standing here now.
To start with the team five years ago in club motorsport and to be racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – which has been a big ambition for the team – and to finish in such a professional and competitive class as LMP2, all the crew should be proud of themselves in what they’ve achieved in the last few weeks. COVID has not made this an easy thing to do and it’s been hectic to get the last bits together.
This was always going to be a big challenge for Tony to get used to driving in the night and probably the biggest fear for him was night and rain. Fortunately, we didn’t have any heavy rain in the race. So that’s been helpful. They all drove really well. Through no fault of the team or drivers, we ended up spending over an hour and in the pits fixing things that the race has brought to us, but that is the challenge of Le Mans. As much as you want to beat your competitors, you’ve got to beat the race itself and we’ve achieved that – on our first attempt.”
“That was absolute mega! I loved it! My first time to race in a 24-hour race, first LMP2 race – so a lot of firsts! There wasn’t much testing due to COVID and we’re not an LMP2 team and this is so different to an LMP3 car. It’s more of a race car: faster, more downforce – it’s just a better version of an LMP3. A lot of work has gone into this and the fact that we finished the race just shows how good of a job the boys did. We had a couple of issues through the race that cost us – potentially a top 10 result, but they weren’t issues from the team. The antenna has nothing to do with them. It was things that were outside our control that hurt us.
Our pace was on it too, especially compared to some of the gold and platinum drivers out there. I’d do it again in a heartbeat – it was incredible – so a huge thank you to Tony for this opportunity and to Nielsen for giving us a mega car with no issues. I’m off to sleep for a week now.”
“This was never a dream of mine when I started racing all those years ago, and even when we were crowned Asian Le Mans champions in Thailand. To be honest, I forgot that we’d won the entry to Le Mans, but oh my – have I loved every minute of it? It was a super experience. We had a few challenges through the race but we got to the end and that last lap was amazing. Just the winding down with the flags out and that guy in the middle of the track waving the chequered flag, it was like going back to the 60s. It was just incredible.“
“So many teams come into this and don’t make the finish and for Nielsen to do it on their first attempt, despite a load of issues with the ACO telemetry, is awesome. Given that we haven’t ever tested, we haven’t really worked together as a group, it’s amazing.
The thing is, to win in a P2 around here, you have to have done it before and we’ve got the experience now. If we came back again, if we started again next week, we would be so much further up. Even throughout the week, we’ve gained masses of time now to where we were Thursday morning. I’d do it again – 100% if it was a LMP2. We’ve learnt a lot, so hopefully next time!”
Nielsen’s 2020 racing calendar
|27/9||Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio||R5||IMSA|
|17/10||Petit Le Mans||R6||IMSA|