While Gaetan Paletou’s rise to an LMP2 seat at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans has been meteoric, it hasn’t lacked in preparation.
Ten months ago Paletou was merely a gamer, winning Nissan GT Academy Europe in August 2014.
Now, he stands on the precipice of his Le Mans debut in the No. 41 Gibson 015S Nissan he’ll share with Jon Lancaster and Gary Hirsch. He follows Lucas Ordonez (2011) and Jann Mardenborough (2013) as GT Academy winners making their Le Mans debut with Greaves.
Paletou, who got the last-minute call-up to replace Bjorn Wirdheim in the car, has been put through the ringer in the intervening time since his actual car debut last fall.
Between GT club races in a Nissan 370Z in 2014 and now a dual program this year in the Blancpain Endurance Series (Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3) and European Le Mans Series (LMP3, Ginetta-Nissan), Paletou has kept busy.
For the 22-year-old Barzun, France native, who turns 23 later this month, this will already be his third career 24-hour race.
He was part of the lineup that finished fifth overall in the Dubai 24 Hours in January, and also raced an LMP3 in the Britcar 24 Hours at Silverstone in late April.
Surprisingly, this week marks Paletou’s actual race debut in his home country of France. Yet the overwhelming magnitude of the week hasn’t got to him.
“[Race day] will be a special moment for sure,” Paletou told Sportscar365. “I was thinking, when you think it’s my home country, it’s the greatest race in the world, one of the greatest tracks in the world, there’s a lot to take in… but you are just focused on what you have to do. Just go and drive.”
Paletou got his opportunity to do so at the Le Mans test day last Sunday, which marked his second test with Greaves and first at Le Mans. He completed his requisite 10 laps to qualify.
He has thus far adjusted well to the open-top LMP2 car, coming from the LMP3 and GT3 machinery prior to this.
“Visibility is quite the same to be honest. It is a bit easier to see in the open-top,” he said.
“The main difference is the wind. We don’t have wind in the closed-top. You have to sit really really low.
“You feel the sensation of speed, braking, and then the rain… then it rains on your helmet. You feel the rain. It’s cool or hot.”
Paletou said he doesn’t expect traffic to be too big an issue. Having been in the Blancpain Endurance Series in 60-plus car fields, but on smaller circuits, the Frenchman said handling traffic should be more manageable.
“I find that really easy to be honest,” he said. “In GT Academy, Dubai and Blancpain, at Silverstone, with 61 cars on a 5 km track, it’s not that difficult. We have had good training with that before.”
There’s an emotion about Paletou that even if he doesn’t say it in words, racing here truly means something, especially given the circumstances of how quick his rise has been.
When asked to express how he has taken it all in to this point, he didn’t single out any particular element. He maintained an appreciation for everything he has but is not losing focus on the task at hand.
“It’s been so many things,” he said. “First of all, it’s thinking, that ten months ago I was just in my bedroom and now I’m at Le Mans. It’s just mega.
“There are so many things to think about, so many things to learn, so many things I don’t know yet. But I get the week is like that. I have to do the best job I can do.”