While heading in as underdogs, SMP Racing’s Nic Minassian feels they have a chance of victory in the Rolex 24 with the BR Engineering BR01 Nissan, which makes its U.S. debut this weekend at Daytona.
The Russian LMP2 car showed encouraging pace around the 3.56-mile circuit on Friday, with the ex-Peugeot factory driver recording the third quickest time overall.
“It was good because we put it on the ground and the car’s behavior was really good,” Minassian told Sportscar365. “It was nice to drive.
“We had a good amount of speed in it but you never know who is doing what. We did push yesterday morning to see what was going on and we’re pretty happy so far.”
Minassian hasn’t been surprised by how quickly the Paolo Catone-designed prototype has adapted to the Daytona high banks, given its track record last year in the European Le Mans Series.
Two of the Frenchman’s co-drivers for Daytona, Mikhail Aleshin and Kirill Ladygin, scored podium finishes in the final two ELMS races of the season, after nearly missing out on the car’s maiden win on both occasions
For Daytona, the team is utilizing chassis No. 1, the same car that was run in November’s FIA World Endurance Championship season finale in Bahrain, although sporting the Le Mans low-downforce aero kit and Continental tires for the first time.
“It’s a pretty well-built, nicely prepared car,” Minassian said. “I was expecting to be pretty good [at Daytona]. You just have to understand the BoP on how it works and if we’ve got it right or wrong.
“At the moment, I don’t exactly know where we’re going to be. But it seems to not be so bad.
“We’d like to have a little bit more speed because we’re lacking a little bit of torque. But I think it’s because we don’t have a turbocharged engine.
“The top speed is not so bad. The car is very slick. We have the lowest downforce you can put on the car. I was expecting to have a good top speed.
“I think this car works everywhere. For sure there’s a little bit of a point where a high-speed car is better. So Le Mans, here, Paul Ricard, the car is working very well.”
Minassian said the allure of fighting for an overall win at Daytona, in one of the final years of the car’s eligibility, prior to the launch of the 2017 LMP2 regulations, was a major selling point for the Russian squad.
“The decision was made to do the biggest races we could make because the car has a short life,” he said.
“We want to showcase how well the car has been built. SMP is doing things well.
“We’ll do Daytona, WEC and Le Mans, with an extensive amount of testing. We want to win races. So why not?
“We’re not coming here thinking we’re just going to play. For sure, winning the race is in the back of everybody’s head. Everything we’re going to do this year is to try and win.”
Teamed with fourth driver Maurizio Mediani in Daytona, Minassian is hoping to be among the contenders later this month but realizes the challenges that any 24-hour race presents.
“It’s a long race and it’s tough to race against the DPs because they have more power,” he said. “The HPD [engine] has more power as well.
“But I’ve lost races before having the best car. So I know some times you can concentrate on other areas.
“If you’re the best everywhere, you can make a difference. So we’re going to do that and try our best.”