Twelve months ago, Nick Tandy left Le Mans as champion. A year later, he is returning to the most prestigious event in sports car racing looking to defend his win, in a completely different class.
In 2015, Tandy and co-drivers Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg proved that a third car, entered for Le Mans only, could indeed win the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
While there’s no extra Porsche 919 Hybrid for the Brit to race in LMP1 with at Le Mans this year, he will be behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 RSR, a car he knows very well.
“I’m looking forward to going back,” Tandy told Sportscar365. “It was obviously a happy place last year and now it means something extra special for me.
With the Porsche Team Manthey full-season GTE-Pro effort dropped for this year, Porsche has instead decided to enter an extra pair of 911s for its most important race, in addition to the cars run by Proton Competition.
In these cars will effectively be Porsche North America’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship lineup. Tandy will drive the No. 91 car alongside Kevin Estre and Patrick Pilet.
“They’re two brand new cars, and they’re not full-season,” he said. “The people from Porsche in Germany, and the crew that will be operating them, don’t run in the WEC full-season.
“But between our programs in the U.S. and the [GTE] Pro entry that we’ve got with Proton, the people who are involved in the two Porsche Motorsport cars going to Le Mans have been fully involved with the program since the start of the year.
“Yes, there are additional cars for a one-off event, but it’s the same main core of people that we use in all of our factory race series across the globe.”
Last year, Tandy competed with KCMG in LMP2 for the rest of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, but this year he has no drive in WEC, but rather is concentrating on the IMSA series in the U.S.
“It’s quite nice to go there and know that you’re not looking to score points for a championship, and the only aim is to go there and to win the race,” he said.
“There’s no pressure from a points-scoring perspective. I don’t think we’re at a disadvantage with the car or the tires for example, because of what we’ve been running in IMSA and also with the Proton car in WEC.
“The crew is sharp because a lot of them have come off the back of the Nürburgring 24.”
It’s easily arguable that GTE-Pro is more competitive than ever for this year’s running of the race, with strong efforts from Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette, Ford and Aston Martin teams.
While AF Corse has won both WEC rounds so far this season, Tandy admits that anything could happen.
“Looking at the results from the previous two races, you can only look at Ferrari and the way that they’ve absolutely dominated,” he admitted.
“Unless we have a bit of help along the way, from wherever it might come from: conditions or the organization at the ACO or whatever, I think all the cars are a big step behind the Ferrari in WEC trim.
“It’s Le Mans, and it’s a different sort of track. The Ford looks like a car that’s been designed for this race, and Corvette is coming as defending champions, so everybody is in it.
“From our point of view, we want to be able to have a chance. If we’re five seconds a lap off the pace, we can’t even race. We’re [hoping for] a better opportunity to race the other cars than the Porsche GTE-Pro car did at Spa.”
The troubles that hit Volkswagen Group late last year led to both Porsche and Audi reducing its LMP1 program to two cars each at Le Mans, with no third prototype set to take to the track.
As Porsche was keen to keep its lineups in the Nos. 1 and 2 cars the same, this left Tandy and Bamber without an LMP1 drive at Le Mans.
“Being defending champions outright, you’d want to go back and defend the title, which is something that we can’t do now,” he said.
“Of course it’s a disappointment for both me and Earl, but we understand the situation and the reasoning behind it, but it’s not like we’re not in the race at all, because we’re still going there in a factory Porsche going for a class win at Le Mans.
“Of course, it’s tough to think about what happened last year and that we don’t have that opportunity again, but it’s not like we’re not going at all.
“We still are going to be involved in the biggest race in the world, in a factory Porsche, so it’s not too bad, is it?”