One of the intriguing storylines at this week’s Gulf 12 Hours at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit is the addition of two-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo to the field.
Lorenzo, the 27-year-old Spaniard, makes his fourth ever car-racing start in one of Kessel Racing’s Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s alongside co-drivers Liam Talbot, Marco Zanuttini and Jacques Duyver.
The No. 99 car immediately stands out for two reasons. For one, it features a fierce, Monster Energy-backed matte black livery that differentiates it from the phalanx of red Ferraris on the grid.
The second is that Lorenzo’s trademark No. 99 design is featured prominently on both doors and in the car number box, as opposed to the standard font used for all other GT3 cars entered in the race.
That makes the car noteworthy on its own, and the fact it’s a MotoGP rider in the car only adds to the interest level.
His first running at the track came with seven laps in Thursday’s night practice. He was out last to end the session.
By qualifying, Lorenzo had improved more than two seconds from the 2:14.8 range down to a 2:12.219, although had a spin on his final flying lap. For a reference point, that 2:12.219 was just 0.018 of a second behind Ho-Pin Tung’s Audi R8 LMS.
Lorenzo explained that trying to get his body, as well as his mind, in the mode of driving a sports car rather than riding a motorcycle poses the toughest challenge when trying to adapt.
“It’s completely different,” Lorenzo told Sportscar365. “You don’t have to balance your body. Your body just has to understand what it’s like to be in a cockpit; when you have to brake; hit the throttle, play with acceleration.
“It’s difficult to understand where’s the point to have the best grip in the corner. It’s a new challenge for me.”
It’s also a refresher course. Lorenzo’s fourth car race, ever, comes after a three-year hiatus since his most recent appearance in the Barcelona 24 Hours in 2011, driving a Seat Leon Supercopa. He finished fifth overall and first in the A3T class.
He managed to win one of his first two races, a three-hour round of the Spanish Endurance Cup at the same Circuit de Catalunya, and also in a Seat.
Lorenzo is relishing racing at Abu Dhabi, at a track unlike most of his MotoGP circuits and one that is a vastly different beast both in terms of style and character to Barcelona.
“It’s very nice to drive, but especially outside the track it’s one of the best places in the world for drivers and everyone else to come,” Lorenzo said. “It is unbelievable.”
Would Lorenzo ever entertain thoughts of racing at Le Mans?
While he does so already at the Bugatti Circuit, the 2.6-mile road course that uses the Circuit de la Sarthe front straight and up past the Dunlop Bridge before breaking off, he didn’t rule out the possibility that one day he could be racing the full 8-plus miles and screaming in a car down the Mulsanne.
“It would be great,” he said. “It is not easy. A long race, a lot of hours, but who knows.”
If not Le Mans, Lorenzo is using this race as something of a toe-in-the-water outing for future sports car appearances. He can’t do too much while still active in MotoGP, but is certainly entertained by the prospect.
“Yeah hopefully, when I retire I will have more time to do these things,” he said. “Until I’m done in MotoGP, you only have the end of the season to do these type of things.
“But to race here, in a Ferrari, with great co-drivers who I’ve learned from and amongst all these racers, I’m very happy to have this type of opportunity and fun.”