TANDY WANTS A DOUBLE
Last year’s winner returns to his roots, but not by choice.
The aspect looking down from that podium gives a great perspective of the Le Mans 24 Hours race. The pitlane, grid and grandstands – all packed to the rafters with smiling, cheering fans. Even rival teams join the party. For the lucky few that get to climb to the winner’s step, they’ll get the best view in world motorsport.
For Nick Tandy Le Mans will look a bit different next weekend. After springing one of the biggest upsets of last year with overall victory for Porsche in its 919 LMP1, Tandy is back at La Sarthe next weekend, but not with the same firepower.
The Volkswagen-audi Group’s decision to scale down to just two LMP1 cars for this year’s endurance classic has forced Porsche’s hand. The third 919 Hybrid LMP1 isn’t entered, nor is the third Audi, leaving Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg no chance to defend their emphatic 2015 victory.
That’s a hammer blow for the career of most drivers, but Tandy, 31, knows there’s a brighter future to come. He’s not out of the race entirely. Instead he’s back on familiar turf, in a factory Porsche 911 RSR alongside IMSA Sportscar Championship team-mates Kevin Estre and Patrick Pilet.
Forced relegation from the top table is a temporary setback, and Tandy is keen to look on the bright side.
“Sure, it’s a decision that hurts as naturally as a winner of Le Mans – or any big race – you want a shot at defending it,” Tandy tells MN. “But I have to respect Porsche’s decision and the fact that the other two 919s are fighting for a championship. But, at the end of the day, I’m still racing. I’m going to the greatest race in the world in a factory Porsche aiming for a class victory. It’s not exactly a terrible deal!
“In truth it’s not just me missing out either. It’s not like there’s one forgotten driver. Both myself and Earl and the technical crew that ran our car last year, we all share the same anguish at not being able to defend the win.”
Last year Tandy went to Le Mans as a relative unknown outside Britain and Germany – where he enjoys a strong reputation as one of the top GT drivers around. This year he returns as the overall winner from last year, something that will naturally draw more attention. That is especially true given the circumstances of his return.
“Last year we went in to the race under the radar,” says Tandy. “Nobody looked twice at us against the full-time cars, and I think being out of the spotlight helped. We simply got on with the job and could concentrate without any external distractions. We knew our potential, and we showed it on race day.
“This year will be very different. There will be more attention on both factory Porsches [Bamber drives the sister car alongside Jorg Bergmeister and Frederic Makowiecki]. So many people know about Earl and myself after last year and stepping back into the GT class will bring a lot of focus and probably scrutiny. But we have nothing to prove because if you’ve won Le Mans outright what else is there to prove to people?
“Going back to GTS doesn’t bring any extra pressure. I’m not approaching this race thinking I have to go and smash every record possible to prove I’m right for LMP1 and Porsche will take me back there immediately. I have a job to do in GTS this year and I’ll go into it like any other race. The target is always to do the best we can and try to win. By doing that, I can put myself in the right place if and when the next LMP1 chance comes about.”
Tandy’s record since joining Porsche’s factory roster is impressive to say the least. Since signing for the Stuttgart marque in 2013, Tandy has notched a win in at least one of the big endurance events in each season. His first came in the GT class of Petit Le Mans, followed by 2014 Daytona 24 Hours class success then the big one in France last season. He even produced one last shock by winning last year’s Petit Le Mans in a car from the lower GTLM class.
“I like to keep a record for each season and so far I’ve won one of the major events every year with Porsche,” he says. “I want to keep that run going. Last year was a total dream winning Le Mans and Petit, but this year gives me the chance to win something different again.
“A class win at Le Mans is still a win at Le Mans. And to find drivers that have won the race outright and in a lower class is pretty rare. That’s certainly something to aim for.”
The latest driver to win Le Mans outright and in class was reigning World Endurance champion Timo Bernhard, who triumphed in the GT class with a Porsche 911 in 2002, and outright with an Audi Sport R15+ in 2010.
Tandy adds that he feels well prepared for this year’s race, but knows the challenges ahead will be different to last season. He has contested Le Mans in the GT class before – in 2011 and 2014.
“The 911 RSR we’re running is identical spec to the car we race in IMSA in America,” he explains. “If anything I feel better prepared for this year’s Le Mans than any other I’ve done as the race is forming part of our American programme. I know the car inside out, I know my teammates well and there’s not much new with the technical package. Porsche also isn’t missing out by not doing the full WEC with a factory team as there’s lots of input to the Dempsey-Proton car, and that data will be shared at Le Mans.
“Our one concern is the balance of performance [equalisation system]. If it’s anything like it was at Spa [WEC round] where the Porsche was lapped by the winning Ferrari 488 and two seconds off the pace, then we may as well not turn up as that’s not racing. Hopefully the ACO [Le Mans organiser], IMSA and the FIA will alter it for Le Mans. Having the fastest car doesn’t guarantee success at Le Mans, but you need a relatively level playing field.
“We know where we stand against cars like the Aston Martins and Corvettes as they have only been modified to fit the new aerodynamic rules, like the 911 has. But with the Ferrari and Ford GT, they’re new chassis with a new engine package too, so it will be a learning experience against them.
“Le Mans in a GT car is much busier than it is in an LMP1. It’s much more physical and mentally draining as you have to constantly watch your mirrors and know what’s around you. You’re in your own race, but you also have to contend with the LMP1S and P2s coming through, and sometimes the speed differential is frightening. Fortunately I’ve done both so I understand what to do in traffic from both sides and how easy it is to get caught up in somebody else’s accident.
“The GTS are also much more physical to drive as they’re 300kg heavier than a P1. You work the wheel more as you’re in the corners for longer and things like the braking distances are longer and harder.”
Le Mans this year will be different for Tandy, but in a way it’s back to what he knows. The GT route still offers a legitimate way to enjoy that Sunday afternoon view. ■
“You want to defend a win as big as Le Mans” NICK TANDY
Tandy will race a Porsche 911 RSR in the Le Mans 24H
...and yielded glory alongside Bamber (c) and Hulkenberg (r)
Tandy’s LMP1 debut came last year in Porsche’s 919 Hybrid...