Last year’s win­ner re­turns to his roots, but not by choice.

Motor Sport News - - Le Mans Preview - By Rob Lad­brook

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

Photos: Jakob Ebrey/ LAT

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...

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