F1Weekly podcast # 540

Photo: renaultsport

Fuji Speedway – Nissan GT-R Testing

Stefano Comini shows his poise in the Nissan GT-R

Like the 2010 champion Nick Catsburg before him, 2011 Eurocup Megane Trophy winner Stefano Comini was rewarded for his successful season with a drive in the Nissan GT-R GT1 last week, following an invitation from Renault Sport Technologies and Nissan Motorsport International (Nismo). Receiving expert advice from Nissan’s FIA GT1 world championship-winning duo Michael Krumm and Lucas Luhr, Comini made light of some tricky weather conditions to impress all onlookers, doing his hopes of receiving more test invitations in the future no harm.

The winner of 11 of this year’s 14 Eurocup Megane Trophy races, the 21-year-old Comini jetted out to Japan last week to get to grips with the Nissan GT-R, the car that took Germany’s Krumm and Luhr to the 2011 FIA GT1 world title. Following in the footsteps of 2010 Eurocup Megane Trophy champion Nick Catsburg, who impressed in the snow at Motegi last year, Comini had some wet conditions to contend with at the Fuji Speedway, which lies at the foot of Mount Fuji, about 100 km from Tokyo.

Arriving at the track, the Swiss driver was greeted by Krumm and Ryo Watanabe, the head of Nissan’s Driver Development Program. “Nismo gave me a fantastic welcome,” said Comini. “The first thing that really struck me was arriving in Tokyo, which is an amazing city. What with the time difference and my excitement at getting a drive in a Nissan GT-R, I didn’t get much sleep on Thursday night. The whole team’s been fantastic though, starting with Ryo Watanabe, Michael and Negishi Keisuke, an engineer I’ve worked with before. In spite of the rain, they did everything they could to help me. This is the first time I’ve worked with the team and they were very professional and focused. They take a different approach to things, but the guys in the team are very open and welcoming, and it was a fantastic experience.”

“I felt at ease straightaway because they work in pretty much the same way as we do at Oregon Team in the Eurocup Megane Trophy,” continued Comini. “The only negative thing was the heavy rain. I’ve never been the biggest fan of driving on a wet track.” After taking his time to acquaint himself with the car in the morning and fine-tune his set-up, Comini managed to put 20 laps together in the afternoon. “It didn’t take me long to get used to the car. I didn’t find it hard to drive and it was an amazing feeling to be behind the wheel. You could really feel the power, even in the wet. I was lapping about a second slower than Michael, and all because of Turn 6. The carbon brakes took some getting used to, but working with Nismo has really been worthwhile. We managed to make a few changes to the set-up and I felt more and more at home in the car.”

Comini and the Nismo team were greeted by a downpour on Saturday morning, prompting this year’s Le Mans 24-hour winner Benoit Treluyer and Krumm to declare the track out of bounds. Eventually venturing out at 10.30 am, Comini quick found his rhythm and strung together 17 laps, setting a steady pace and slipping on a new set of tyres towards the end of the session. “The most important thing wasn’t the performance but getting the chance to work with Nismo. They were impressed by Nick Catsburg last year and my aim was to be just as helpful as he’d been. Now that I’ve won the Eurocup Megane Trophy, the GT looks really interesting, and I’d love to do some more testing and try and put a programme together for the event, which is what Catsburg’s done. He’s driven a lot for Nissan this season.”

Renault COO and seasoned racing driver Carlos Tavares put in a surprise appearance at the end of the day to offer Comini his encouragement, exchanging his views with the Swiss on the testing conditions. Just as they had been with Catsburg 12 months ago, Renault Sport Technologies and Nismo were greatly impressed with Comini’s dedication and application in the wet, further proof, if it were needed, that it takes a special kind of driver to win the Eurocup Megane Trophy.

[audio:http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/mp3.f1weekly.com/podcasts/12-08-11f1weekly540.mp3]