Former GT4 squad AWA became “instantly hooked” to the LMP3 category when it tested a Duqueine D08 Nissan last October, according to Kuno Wittmer and Orey Fidani.
The Toronto-based team led by Andrew Wojteczko is stepping up to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this year off the back of a Michelin Pilot Challenge campaign with a McLaren 570S GT4.
Wittmer and Fidani, who raced the McLaren together, have continued as the core driver pairing and will be joined by Lars Kern for the Michelin Endurance Cup and Matt Bell for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The two full-season drivers explained that a late-season test at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park swung the team’s attention toward LMP3 and set it on course for a packed winter schedule to prepare for the 2022 season.
“To tell the honest truth, we wanted to get out of the McLaren and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do next,” Fidani told Sportscar365.
“Our other teammate who has another car here running under our tent [Anthony Mantella] had an LMP3 back home at Toronto. So we hopped in it for a test and were instantly hooked. We decided to go that route basically instantly.
“We had two days to play around in it and made the decision right there and then. We only had two months until the season started, so we had to get the car ordered and get the team familiar with the car.
“What made up the decision was the fact that there is no BoP: it’s just get in the car and go.
“Last season we had a pretty bad BoP with the McLaren in Michelin Pilot Challenge. It was a little frustrating so we tried to get away from that. This sort of just worked.”
Wittmer explained that the success of the CTMP test hinged on whether Bronze driver Fidani felt comfortable in the car, but in the end both parties came away satisfied.
“When we started talking about this whole program last year during the Pilot Challenge season, it all made sense,” said the 2014 GTLM class champion.
“We said, if we’re going to WeatherTech, where are we going to go? GT3? We all looked at each other and were like, I don’t think that’s the right direction.
“I’ve been there many times and it’s a good class, but it’s not where we need to be. When we saw the LMP3 cars running, we right away clicked: that’s where we should be.
“It was a [final] decision that was going to be based on how Orey enjoyed the car.
“From the moment we did that CTMP test, which was the week after the VIR weekend, it was almost instant. I drove the car and had big smiles.
“It reminded me of the GTLM days: good downforce, big grip, brakes that make sense. Everything made sense, versus coming from GT4 which has a little too much streetcar in it, which is fine in that regard. But when you get into a race car and everything connects and works, it’s a driver’s dream.
“Having done that test, I told Orey that he was going to love it. He didn’t want to get out! There was no seat, he was sloshing everywhere but he was like a kid in a candy store. He knew right away that it was the direction he wanted to go.
“He has the support, with me as a driver coach, and the team supporting him with great data analysis. And of course this week we’ve got Matt Bell and Lars Kern, two veterans who know exactly what they’re talking about.”
The late-season nature of the preliminary test meant that AWA faced a tight preparation window for the 2022 season, resulting in what Wittmer described as “24/7” workdays at the shop from Motul Petit Le Mans in mid-November right up until last week.
Earlier this week, the team shook down its Duqueine at The FIRM, a former World War II airfield-turned local airport and motorsport facility located 120 miles north of Orlando.
“The biggest thing we noticed and the biggest thing we had to face was that there was no off-season testing,” said Wittmer.
“Due to the reason that we were over-capacity at the shop, getting everything ready. We had testing programs in place: two days in Sebring, Road Atlanta, or overseas in Europe. Any type of testing so that we get Orey some lap times.
“It never happened, due to the fact that there was no time and we didn’t have a car, and other elements that fit in there.
“So, what do we do here? How about this: we execute everything properly that we can at the shop, and we get to the Roar prepared.
“The car went through extensive rig testing. We did as much stuff off-track as we could. Fitness levels were brought up a notch as well; everybody has been training differently to lose a little bit of mass so we fit in the seat, and that kind of stuff. It’s been very important.
“Just prior to the Roar we did a two-day test. We wanted to get everything sorted, get Orey some nighttime there, so we didn’t have to come here and do that.
“We’re going to push hard and we’re not here to finish second.”
Wittmer described AWA’s move to LMP3 as a “massive step in the right direction” while Fidani called it a “significant step” but one that the outfit is ready to make.
The core team from last year’s GT4 program has continued, but some additions have been made to fulfill the need for a larger tire change crew and more support staff.
“We have a new tire girl and a couple of extra techs and spotters,” said Fidani. “It’s strictly because we needed more personnel for the LMP stuff, with longer races.
“It’s a totally different car, coming from a car with more mechanical grip and less aero.
“There’s a lot of training your mind to stay on the throttle, and at some corners you don’t even need brakes. To find the limits of the car is a little hard because it’s so stable compared to a GT car, that it doesn’t give you that feeling of being on the limit.
“While the GT4 car moves around in the braking zone when you’re on the limit, this thing doesn’t do that. So it’s just pushing little by little until you find that limit and know where the edge is.”