Signatech Nissan enjoyed a podium finish upon its debut in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) on Saturday, with the team finishing second in the LMP2 class at the Mobile One 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida, the opening race of the 2011 ILMC season.
Sebring marks Nissan’s first participation in international prototype racing in the U.S. since the Nineties, and the Signatech Nissan started the day first in class, and in 11th position on the grid overall, following a qualifying performance on Friday that saw driver Soheil Ayari posting a best time that was a full three seconds ahead of the nearest LMP2 competitor.
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It was Ayari’s team-mate, Franck Mailleux, who started the race at 10:30 am, and he quickly established a good lead in the P2 class before handing over to Lucas Ordonez – an astounding debut for a driver who three short years ago had never raced competitively before being crowned the inaugural Nissan /PlayStation GT Academy winner in 2008.
Ordonez began his session well, but a serious gearbox issue on lap 78 meant that the Signatech Nissan faced a long delay in the pit lane, during which the fellow LMP2 class competitors were able to develop a 15 lap advantage.
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It wasn’t until after the seven hour mark that the car found itself heading up the LMP2 field again, as strong and aggressive driving from all three drivers slowly but surely whittled away the earlier deficit, says Nissan.
With the lead in hand, the Signature Nissan began to press home its advantage, opening up a five-lap lead over the closest of the competition. However, at just past the nine and a half hour mark, on lap 238, further frustration struck as the gearbox problem reoccurred with Ayari at the wheel.
This time, the delay wasn’t as long, but it still allowed the first of the competitors to retake first position in LMP2 – a lead they never relinquished, despite the best efforts of the Signatech Nissan team.
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Carlos Tavares, chairman of Nissan Americas, who was in attendance, stated: “I am very proud of the Signatech Nissan team efforts today to come back from adversity. The team has drawn inspiration from the courage and resilience of our Japanese friends. Our thoughts continue to be with our colleagues and everyone in Japan. We dedicate our first podium finish to them.”
Sebring marked the first start for Signatech Nissan since the announcement of a two-year partnership between Nissan and Signature Racing, part of the France-based Signature Group, last month.
Nissan supplies its NISMO-tuned VK-series V8 racing engines for use in Signature Racing’s chassis, and the partnership is competing under the ‘Signatech Nissan’ banner within the LMP2 class of all seven races of the ILMC series this year.
Lucas Ordonez was delighted with his and the team’s performance at Sebring, stating: “A few short months ago I could never have imagined I’d be racing here at Sebring in the ILMC – today’s race as well as all the other sessions over the last few days have been an incredible experience for me.”
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