Renger van der Zande says that Honda Racing Team JAS is “going into the unknown” in this weekend’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, with a conservative early approach expected for the Honda NSX GT3 Evo’s debut at Mount Panorama.
The factory Italian squad, which joined Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli competition from the second round last year, is tackling its first full-season campaign in SRO Motorsport Group’s global GT3 series.
With his co-drivers Dane Cameron and Mario Farnbacher also Bathurst rookies, it has resulted in van der Zande being the only member of the team with any previous experience of the track or race.
The Dutchman, who is fresh off his second consecutive Rolex 24 at Daytona victory, took part in the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour at the wheel of a Mercedes-AMG GT3.
“From my own personal point of view going into this Bathurst race, it’s a whole different story,” van der Zande told Sportscar365.
“It’s the first time the Honda is here. I don’t know what the car is going to do. My teammates are here for the first time. For me, it’s been a long time since I’ve been here.
“We don’t have any reference. We’re going into the unknown and will be trying to make the most out of it.”
Ahead of Friday’s opening free practice, van der Zande admitted he has “no idea” how the JAS-built Honda will perform, although stressed that the team must take a measured approach.
“It’s not about the small details on the track but it’s more about how to approach the weekend,” he said.
“It’s funny but this is almost like a street circuit to me. But it’s an endurance race on a street circuit; it’s the only one in the world.
“It makes you approach the weekend a little differently.
“It’s the same as in Macau or even in Daytona or Le Mans where if you shoot yourself in the foot in the first practices, you won’t recover. It’s about that.”
Defending IMSA DPi champion Cameron, who made his debut with the factory team in last year’s season-ending Kyalami 9 Hour, said they are all going in with “eyes wide open” in terms of expectations.
“We walked around the place and it looks quite nice to drive but it’s too early to know what it will be,” he said. “I had the same thought in Kyalami. Obviously it was new for everybody and the car was quite strong [there].
“We just need to get comfortable with the circuit. Having good confidence and good comfort in the car will be good. We all know it fairly well so we’ll just get it suited to the track.
“Getting it to attack at the top [of the mountain] seems important so we’ll try to focus on that and see how it shakes out.”
Van der Zande added: “The car rotates very well and it has a good top speed. I think here you need to have a good top speed, otherwise you’d get overtaken.
“I think in the slow corners it’s going to be nice to position the car and drive out of the corner.
“This car does have some features that could be very interesting for winning this race, and that should be the goal.”
Van der Zande: IMSA Drive to Take Priority in 2020
Van der Zande said his full-season WeatherTech Championship commitments with Wayne Taylor Racing will take priority this year, leaving him with less racing than in previous years.
It has resulted in only a three-race IGTC campaign for the 33-year-old, instead of a full season, as the Total 24 Hours of Spa and Indianapolis 8 Hours both fall on the weekends prior to WeatherTech Championship races.
“I want to say thanks to Honda and also [Alessandro] Mariani [JAS team principal] for allowing me to drive in a selected IGTC program,” van der Zande said.
“This is new for me and I’ll be doing less races this year than ever before.
“I’ll see how that turns out and feels.”