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TANDY: Fuji Debrief

Nick Tandy files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Porsche

Fuji was fun, but it wasn’t your normal weekend, all the way throughout, really.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through a complete weekend from Free Practice to the end of an endurance race where it’s been wet every time we’ve been on track.

Obviously, it was quite a different race situation with the red flag stoppages and amount of safety cars periods that we had. It was interesting because it wasn’t like a normal weekend.

We got to experiment with things and different ways of approaching the racetrack from the car point of view for a wet session, and the strategy of going through the race and trying to preempt the stoppages in case it did go red.

We were really evenly matched with Toyota in the wet conditions.

You could see during the race that there were times when the Toyota was quicker than us and times that we were quicker than them but it was never more than a few tenths either way.

You saw in qualifying, the closeness of the top three cars which were super tight. We had to be on our toes throughout and try to maximize everything from a performance point of view.

In the end, the race came down to tire strategy more than anything.

We went for the standard Michelin wet tire which we knew was good for long-run performance and we were pretty sure that Toyota was on a deeper cut wet tire.

It turned out that was a lot better on warm-up after pit stops, restarts and in heavy rain. How the race played out, with lots of full course yellows, safety cars, red flags and restarts, we were normally dropping a little pace at the start of the run.

We never really had a long enough run to really benefit from our strategy of trying to keep the tire performance there for over an hour.

Obviously, you can’t predict what’s going to happen, and when the fog came down, there was no other thing to do but to neutralize the race for safety.

We just missed out and it was really close. It was good to see the performance that we could do again with Porsche, but this time we just didn’t have quite enough and the final red flag came a little bit too early.

Driving an LMP1 car is a different challenge in the rain. We don’t drive a lot in the rain and the 919 is not your typical race car.

The cars are very low to the ground and very stiff, to make use of the high aero loads that we can generate.

Especially in slow speeds, when the rain is out and there is very little grip, it’s really difficult to get the mechanical grip out of the chassis.

It’s a lot more difficult to get energy into the tyres than in a heavier GT car, for example, when you can use a lot of weight transfer to help out in low grip conditions. The very stiff prototype cars aren’t as easy.

Our four-wheel-drive helps a lot out of a corner but we’ve only got access to it for so much of the lap.

It’s another case of distributing this four-wheel-drive energy in different places for a wet lap than where you’d have it on a dry lap. There’s a lot of that that goes into the preparation in Free Practice.

We’ve got Shanghai next and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a great racetrack and I’m hoping that it will play into our car’s strength.

You need to run a lot of downforce there so the car should feel great again – it’s always good when we can maximize the speed of these cars, and when we’re running at high downforce, they feel awesome to drive.

Obviously, the weekend won’t be a lot of fun if we’re not competitive and we don’t win but the plan is to go there and race hard, and the chance of wrapping up the manufacturers’ championship is quite strong so that’s our number one goal.

Hopefully we can carry on our strong run of form and get our car’s first win of the year.

Nick Tandy (@NickTandyR) is the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours winner and Porsche LMP1 factory driver, driving for the German manufacturer in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

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