My first 24 hour race was a fantastic experience, but ultimately didn’t go as planned - however, I learned a lot. The race week started on Wednesday with a parade of the cars through Spa town, autograph sessions and a drivers' briefing in the town centre theatre. My only previous experience of the track was in the wet at the test day, so I was looking forward to some dry laps before the race. In the first session, I was due in the car last, but because of a minor issue, I didn’t get a run until the pre-qualifying session later that evening. In qualifying, I got in the car fourth, and did my mandatory three flying laps as the sun went down. I had another run in night qualifying (my first experience of night driving), which I really enjoyed. The biggest difference with driving at night are the flashes from the cameras, especially around La Source and the run down to Eau Rouge, blinding me for fractions of a second at a time. I went into the race with just ten laps under my belt in the dry. Unfortunately we qualified a long way down in 50th overall (24th in class) - one place behind the sister number 23 car. We were struggling with setup and lack of grip and would need to make changes for the race.
Race day was hot, sunny and humid and by the start of the race it was 30 degrees which would make it very hot in the cars. Matt Bell started the car and had a great opening stint, picking his way through the chaos up to 25th overall and 10th in class at the hour mark. He came in early at the end of the double stint with a brake issue and after a delay I was in the car for my first race laps since Oulton Park at the end of March! I settled down but soon realised that there was still an issue with the brakes, with the pedal pressure variable. I also had a problem with the cool air that is pumped into my helmet; due to the unusually high temperatures in the car the pipe fell off after a couple of laps, so I resorted to picking up the pipe and blowing the air on my face on the straights, which wasn't ideal! Mid way through the second part of my double stint, with the brake issue not getting any better, I saw smoke in the cockpit. Assuming it was some sort of brake fire, I got the car back to the pits and found out that a piece of plastic had melted onto the exhaust and caused a small fire on the sill (that's how hot it was in the car!). The fire was quickly out but the car would stay in the pits for some time while the brake issue was addressed, and it was clear we would need to manage it for the rest of the race. Humaid Al Masaood went back out and the car was running well, albeit out of contention for a good result - the aim was to get to the end of the race. The car had another couple of issues around midnight, but nothing major, and we cycled through the drivers and were running in 41st place when I got back into the car at about 3.30am, after getting a couple of hours sleep. I settled down quickly, and with the temperature in the car lower, was enjoying my first experience of night racing. I did a double stint and set the fastest lap for the car which was running well. I really enjoyed just driving around this fantastic track, sometimes wrestling with traffic, sometimes completely by myself, in the pitch black, not being able to see any spectators or anything except the small piece of tarmac lit up in front of me. It felt like I was all on my own! I brought the car back in at about 5.30, as the sun was coming up, to hand over to Humaid. About half an hour into his stint, the car stopped out on track with no drive, and in spite of trying hard, he was unable to get the car back, which meant retirement for the number 230 car with drivetrain issues. The guys at JRM had worked extremely hard to keep the car running, so it was a great disappointment to end the race early. The sister PRO car stopped with 20 minutes of the race to run which was very cruel, so a character building weekend for the JRM guys.
I learned a lot and the experience will stand me in good stead. I know my way around Spa now, have experienced night driving, dealing with traffic and all the things that are a part of endurance racing, so will hopefully be back for another go next year! I'd really like to thank everyone at JRM for giving me the opportunity and for working so hard all week and over the weekend.
Jody Fannin, the rising star of British endurance racing, and JRM Racing will join forces for the 24 Hours of Spa, which takes place at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit on 27 – 28 July 2013. Jody will team up with Matt Bell, Charles Bateman and Humaid Al-Masaood behind the wheel of JRM’s #230 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 Pro Am entry, giving JRM a formidable Pro Am line-up for the classic event, which will also be the fourth round of the 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series.
Jody, 19, contested the first round of the Avon Tyres British GT championship at Oulton Park in the JRM Racing Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 and has also contributed to the ongoing development of the car in a number of test sessions. He will also take part in the pre-24 Hours of Spa test with JRM Racing tomorrow to prepare for the challenges of the race.
Team principal, James Rumsey, commented, ‘Confirming Jody for Spa gives JRM one of the strongest Pro Am driver line-ups out there. We know him well from the British GT races and testing and have seen he is quick, committed and fits in well with the JRM mentality, which is to push to the end and polish every area for maximum gain. Thanks to his outings over the past six months, he understands the car and how to get the most from it so I am sure he will complement Matt, Charles and Humaid in the Pro Am Car very well. He also attended the Silverstone race to get to know everyone so Spa should see him hit the ground running. We’ve improved the car a lot since the first race in Monza and have also stepped up our testing for the longer distances, so I’m confident that this combination will achieve a very strong result.’
Jody, who is half South African, half British and named after 1979 F1 world champion Jody Scheckter, made his GT3 debut at the opening round of the British GT championship at Oulton Park in April. He finished in an impressive 12th in race one – even leading the race at one point – and 11th in race two, narrowly missing out on points due to a penalty applied for driving as a solo silver driver. Based in Surrey, UK, he took the British GT4 championship drivers’ crown in 2012 with partner Warren Hughes in a Ginetta G50 GT4, which earned him the rising star award from the prestigious British Racing Drivers Club at the start of 2013. He has also competed in the G50 class Ginetta GT Supercup, finishing third overall in 2011, and the Ginetta Junior championship in 2010, in which he finished the year as the top rookie with two wins.
Jody added, ‘I’m delighted to make my Spa debut with JRM, who I have got to know very well in the past six months thanks to the racing and testing activities I’ve carried out. I’ve seen first-hand how they, Matt, Charles and Humaid work in Blancpain: they are a strong, professional team who know how to get the most of the car, as they showed with the strong performance they put in at Silverstone last month. I feel like I know the car well and this will stand us in good stead for Spa, one of the toughest races out there. The Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 is good on the straights, which should carry over well to Spa where outright power really pays off. I can’t wait to get going.’
JRM has enjoyed a promising start to its debut Blancpain Endurance Series campaign, with the Pro Car claiming fourth position at the second race of the championship at Silverstone and a podium at the last race at Paul Ricard. While demonstrating pace over the ‘sprint’ races, JRM has also been reinforcing the car in 24 hour configuration, with a successful Spa simulation conducted at Portimao in May. Some 70 cars are expected for the Spa race, including the Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren MP4-12C and Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
JRM will also field a Pro entry in Spa with Peter Dumbreck, Lucas Luhr and Steven Kane at the wheel.
It's fantastic to be back racing again and it's good to be in a championship as tough as the Blancpain Endurance Series with a great car and team. JMB Racing are based at Paul Ricard and have a rich history of sportscar racing. They are running the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 in French GT and I'm also doing the Nurburgring round of the BES with them. As I was new to Paul Ricard, I got a few laps in the bronze driver session on Saturday morning to familiarise myself with the track. During the afternoon sessions, we worked on the car setup making progress all the time but still with some work to do. Overnight the engineers worked hard and made some changes to the car which transformed it.
In the first qualifying session, JMB Racing's Nicolas Misslin was fifth quickest which was a great start to the day. I was next up in qualifying 2 and on my first flying lap I went over 1.5 seconds faster than I'd been all weekend. The time came quite easily and I could have gone quicker but for a small mistake on my quick lap which cost me a few tenths. The time was good enough for P7 in the session, fastest Pro Am car by over a second and top Nissan.
Nicolas Marroc started the car in 31st position and made his way up to 22nd when he came in a little early with ominous signs of water under the car. The underside of the car had been damaged by the kerbs and this had in turn damaged the radiator. The team worked hard to get the car back out but it turned out that the damage was worse than it first seemed, so the car was retired. A very disappointing end to a promising weekend but I was pleased with my pace on my first visit to the track, the car and team were fantastic and I’m looking forward to working with them again at the Nurburgring.