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Nato: Steep Learning Curve For “Surprise” 24-Hour Debut

F2 race winner Norman Nato on switch to sports car racing, 24H Le Mans debut…

Photo: SMP Racing

Norman Nato says his call-up to drive for SMP Racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans was a “surprise” and that he’s been on a steep learning curve to prepare for his debut.

The Formula 2 race-winner is gearing up for his maiden appearance at the French long-distance classic, which will be only the third endurance event of his career.

Nato made his sports car racing bow in April, when he won the European Le Mans Series opener at Paul Ricard with the Racing Engineering squad, which previously ran the Frenchman in GP2.

He was then added to SMP Racing’s Le Mans LMP2 lineup and met the Russian team for the first time at the Test Day last weekend, racking up 23 laps in the No. 25 Dallara P217 Gibson.

“To be honest, it was quite a surprise because I wasn’t supposed to be doing Le Mans,” Nato told Sportscar365.

“I was doing ELMS with Racing Engineering, and they were on the waiting list, but SMP needed a driver. I didn’t expect it. 

“I’m used to working with the Oreca and not the Dallara, so it’s quite a lot of work, but I’m really excited to see what it’s going to be like.”

Nato used the Test Day to get acquainted with driving the SMP Dallara, which he will share with Victor Shaitar and Harrison Newey.

He reportedly found the transition tough at first, revealing that he needed to make various adjustments to his driving style before settling into the package.

“The most difficult thing to adapt to for me was the power steering,” said Nato, who only decided to switch to LMP2 in February, before Racing Engineering announced him for ELMS in March.

“In F2 we don’t have any power steering – the steering wheel is so hard like people cannot imagine.

“This car is easier for that, but it was a big change for me because it changed my turning points.

“To be in a closed car for me was different as well because you don’t see the wheels. When you lock up, it’s just with the feel on the steering wheel. My experience is to have a look on my steering wheel, but now I’m just trying to feel everything.

“Plus, you have to share the car with your team-mates. In free practice, you will go around for 20 laps and then you have to set up the car for three guys, not only for yourself. You really have to work with your team-mates. It’s not like in single-seaters when it’s your team.

When asked what his aims are for Le Mans, Nato said he has “no pressure” for a top result, despite his winning start to the ELMS campaign.

“I don’t put any pressure on myself, like saying it’s the 24 Hours of Le Mans so I have to win,” he explained.

“Of course, I have to show what I’m able to do, but in terms of results, I don’t expect anything. I just want to learn and bring the car back home with no mistakes.

“That would be a good performance for me and the team.”

Nato Looking At IMSA, Formula E

Having made a winning start to his sports car career, the 25-year-old has reportedly been in talks with teams in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship and the ABB FIA Formula E Championship about potential future drives.

Nato has said that proving his pace in different LMP2 cars at such an early stage in his sports car career should help to pique the interest of some outfits.

“For now, I’m focusing on sportscars, but I’m trying to get into Formula E as well,” he said.

“I’m looking for IMSA in the USA too. I’m really open for everything to be honest.

“We made the choice to move to sports cars because in F2, for me, there was no way I could make it to F1 with the money, so what’s the point in staying in F2 even if I could get a seat for free?

“It’s quite difficult to get a seat in FE because it’s a series that’s really growing up. We are in talks, but I’m really open to things. At the moment, I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.

“If I decide and I get the chance to do LMP1 in the future, or FE, it’s really important that I can quickly adapt to the car and different teams. So, to change between teams during this season is a good experience for me, and it will help for the future.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365 and e-racing365, with a focus on the FIA World Endurance Championship and various electric racing series.

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