Austin Dillon admitted that he was “nervous” in his first laps at the wheel of RWR-Eurasia’s Ligier JS P217 Gibson, owing to the significant differences to his NASCAR Cup Series machine.
The 2018 Daytona 500 winner is making his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut this weekend, in what’s been an eye-opening experience for the 30-year-old sports car racing rookie.
“It’s been a blast trying to figure out something new,” said Dillon.
“It’s the first time I’ve been nervous getting in a race car with the speed difference from a Cup car, even going at that pace with the grip level that these cars have, has been really good for me to experience.”
Dillon, who is sharing the No. 51 Ligier LMP2 car with Cody Ware, Salih Yoluc and late addition Sven Mueller, said one of the biggest challenges was just getting acclimated to the number of buttons on the steering wheel, as he experienced during last weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24.
“In the first session I got in, I was driving along and had my thumbs in the wrong area on the steering wheel, got into the braking zone and actually hit the pit limiter and cut the engine right away,” he explained.
“I kind of panicked trying to find the button, and hit the pit limiter back off. Then I hit the full course yellow [button] and it started cutting the engine again.
“It was quite hilarious the first session I had in the car.
“I learned real quick that I make sure my thumbs were inside the steering wheel so when I hit the brakes I wasn’t going to hit something I didn’t need to.
“Trying to learn the steering wheel is a whole other part of the game that I’m not used to in NASCAR.
“In NASCAR you don’t have anything on the steering wheel, just a push-to-talk.
“The high pace and speed of these cars, the grip level and the physical strength that’s needed with your neck… I feel like I’ve been one step behind since I’ve been here trying to learn different things, about doing things right.
“I think by Saturday and the start of the 24 we should be in a good spot.”
Despite some early hurdles, Dillon said the experience has been positive and should translate to a better understanding of road racing in general heading into the 2021 Cup Series season, which will feature a seven road course events.
“Just getting in these things and seeing how aggressive you can be and the difference in driving style, I know why some of my competitors in the Cup Series are so good at Cup racing [on road courses] when they get out of one of these things,” he said.
“I feel like it changes the game a little bit.
“I’m hoping that the ability to switch it up, getting in a different car and coming back to the Cup series, will sharpen my road course skills.”
IMSA Providing “Different Atmosphere” to NASCAR
The Richard Childress Racing driver said he’s been enjoying the experience of being part of a multinational crew in RWR-Eurasia, which has been a conglomeration between NASCAR squad Rick Ware Racing and leading Asian outfit Eurasia Motorsport.
“I’ve got guys from the Philippines, New Zealand and England on my team, not just the drivers, but the guys working on the cars,” Dillon said.
“The 24-hour race is really like the world coming together in seeing different cultures with one common goal to win one of the biggest races of the year.
“I’ve enjoyed the garage as well; it’s a different atmosphere. You get to drive golf carts around. It’s a busy garage; I about gotten taken out by a four-wheeler. I know I got to keep my head on a swivel.
“I walk through the Cup garage and feel like I know where everything’s at. This one is fast-paced and busy.”