AF Racing’s Nic Minassian is targeting a maiden victory for the Nissan-powered BR01 LMP2 car in this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship season-ending Six Hours of Bahrain.
The Russian squad has entered the Paolo Catone-designed prototype as a one-off entry in Bahrain, with Minassian being joined by ex-IndyCar ace Mikhail Aleshin and countryman David Markozov.
With an eye towards a full-season attack in the WEC next year, Minassian has been pleased with the rate of development for the car, which is coming off podium finishes in the final two European Le Mans Series races of the season.
“We knew the pace of the car, you just need to find it,” Minassian told Sportscar365. “It’s very competitive.
“Everybody’s known their cars for years. The Oreca  is new but it’s like a continuation of what they’ve done before. It’s the same with the Ligier.
“So when you arrive there, it’s good. You can’t expect you’re better than everybody. You just have to push and try to be better.
“I think we’ve shown the car has got some pace. We’ve got some good setup on it now. We’ve found the right window where the car works.
“We don’t change it very much everywhere we go. That’s proof that the car is working. We put it on track and the car is not far off the pace.”
A mid-season switch to Dunlop tires proved to be one of the significant turning points for the team, which started the ELMS season under the SMP Racing banner and restricted from a contract with the U.S.-owned tire company.
Despite the BR01 never having taken to the 15-turn, 3.363-mile Bahrain International Circuit, Minassian, a former LMP2 class winner in Bahrain, feels they will have the pace to challenge for top honors this weekend.
“We’d be happy to win,” he said. “It’s difficult to predict but we’ve all come here wanting to win the race.
“If it doesn’t happen and we have a podium, we’d be happy with that as well. We just want to be on the pace.
“Once you’re on the pace, then you’re already happy because you show everybody that we have a car that’s competitive.
“I think we’ve already shown that it’s a very good car. I don’t think there’s pressure of doing more than what we’re doing already.
“We’re competitors. Now we just want to finalize the competitiveness of the car with a win. Podiums are OK, but you’re always greedy in this sport. You always want more and more.
“And when you win a race, you want to win championships. That’s just how it goes.”
With BR Engineering not having been selected as one of the four approved LMP2 constructors, the BR01’s days are numbered, with it only being eligible through the end of the 2017 season, on grandfathering rules.
It’s therefore given the team even more motivation to maximize its potential, with the target of stepping up to the WEC full-time next year, while also eyeing programs in both Asia and North America.
For Minassian, a return to the globe-trotting championship would be a welcome development.
“Hopefully WEC is happening [for us] next year,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent but it’s the big talk within the team. We’re able to judge ourselves a little bit in what’s happening in this championship.
“The car doesn’t have a very long life. You want to speed things up and bring it as fast as you can in the top-level championships.”