A Hectic Weekend In Italy

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Struan documents the frantic Blancpain opener and reflects on Billy Monger’s accident.

Before I go into the details on a spectacular opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series. I’d like to take this chance to express my thoughts on Billy Mongers’ terrible crash at Donington Park two weeks ago.

I’ve read some articles where Billy expresses his positivity and perseverance which is a humbling thought for me. From time to time, racers talk with other racers about their junior days, that race or that overtake, the fact we just pounded round and round with lots of close racing.

I’ve always looked at racing like my school years, you have your class of drivers and you generally go through the industry together if the journey is able to continue. Every young lad in Billy’s class that weekend got a serious scare, as did the world to see such a talented and loved young man be put in this situation.

It highlights the importance of what Billy’s morals stood for and that’s enjoying your junior days, enjoying the learning process, you have your whole life to prove your talent it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t get that championship win. I wish Billy all the best through his rehabilitation.

The opening round of the Blancpain Endurance series took place in Italy, home of the best cappuccinos, at the much loved temple of speed, Monza. I travelled over there with my team mate Matt Simmons.

Matt Parry was already there coaching the Arden guys in Renault 2.0. We arrived on the Thursday and got through all the admin bits on Friday with no dramas, just 150 drivers all trying to sign on and get equipment checked at the same time.

I have to hand it to SRO though, the poor lady doing sign on was doing 3 jobs at once, they have a great workforce I’m not sure I could cope with the stress.

On the Saturday it wasn’t straightforward for us, we had a few technical glitches causing a misfire and gear shift issues. That’s the love and hate for the limited track time on a Blancpain weekend. If it’s all going west and you need time on the track to solve a car issue then its worrying going into the Sunday. However, if you find the problem and fix it for the Sunday you’re then forced to properly get on it immediately, no opportunity to work into it, you crack on and get to the limit. I managed to get a short six lap run on the Saturday before a gremlin was back, but it gave us a rough idea on seeing how the balance was, we made an improvement and studied the limited data we had.

This weekend was the first time RJN Motorsport had entered the #22 in the PRO category. Come Sunday, the air temp was slightly cold with clear skies. Qually was early doors, Matt Simmons went out first on old rubber and did the job. I went out on slightly fresher rubber and finished P14, seven tenths from P1. The track had rubbered in more, the track temp wasn’t too hot and for the set-up we had I felt that in this session the car had the best balance out of the whole weekend. Slight understeer slow speed, good rear stability on the exits of Lesmo one and two, same goes for the penultimate and last corner which didn’t elevate rear tyre temps to help with traction, it was nice.

And I only had to pass one car in a 53 strong field on my flying lap so it was very clear, what a treat. Matt Parry did such a strong job in Q3 to qualify P6 on the third row. The highest grid place the #22 GTR had ever taken up on the Blancpain grid as a PRO entry, he felt there was a tenth or two in the lap (classic driver comment) so it really was a brilliant start to our campaign as a new pairing.

As for the race, Bob Neville had asked me on Saturday morning if I could do the start, which I was comfortable to do. The track and air temp had gone up considerably in the afternoon. The race started under two safety car laps to maximise tyre and brakes temps. I could visibly see how much the track had evolved, the Super Trofeo and Renault 2.0 races had laid down a thick line of rubber.

Leading up to start the race, we were all very bunched up moving at a slow pace so at this point I knew it was going to probably be chaos. On the green, we unfortunately had an incident where a Lamborghini made contact with a Bentley resulting in the Lambo spinning and coming back onto the track collecting a number of unlucky cars which included my team mate Lucas Ordonez in the #23 car. This left us young drivers in the #22 car the job of putting the Nissan name up there. I lost a couple of positions and went back to P8. I was fine with that, I just wanted to get the first chicane out of the way.

The race was red flagged and we lined up on the grid waiting to be restarted. On the restart I made up one place into the first corner, then set up the next two moves patiently, before setting on chasing down the Lambo in P3. I did 33 laps in my stint and got the car into P3 running behind Bortolotti and Molina. After the pit stop cycle we fell down the order slightly, we had an issue with a wheel nut and then further into the race Matt Parry got a drive through penalty.

We finished the race in P13, but there was potential to be well inside the top 10 so nonetheless it was a promising start. The Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 was super strong this weekend and RJN Motorsport gave us three drivers in the #22 car a package last weekend that was a gift for us to show our abilities.

I’m very pleased we had a weekend filled with positive outcomes that puts us in good stead for the remainder of the season. The next event is the home race for Team RJN and me. We’re very much looking forward to competing at one of our favourite tracks, Silverstone, in two weeks’ time on 14 May.