Despite their OAK Racing Morgan-Nissan LMP2 machine not being suited to the track Jacques Nicolet, Oliver Pla and Matthieu Lahaye stood on the final step of the podium at the Six Hours of Fuji.
“It was a tough race for us but to be honest we were expecting that after the test,” said Nicolet. “The car isn’t well suited to the circuit, especially the slow-speed final sector. It took a lot of hard work to finish on the podium so the team can be proud of their achievement.”
After Lahaye got as high as second in class Nicolet, the team’s ‘silver’ graded driver struggled against the more experienced Pro drivers during the middle stint of the race, not helped by a brief safety car period that bunched up the field after a collision had spread debris around the track.
Nicolet dropped to sixth place in class before handing the #24 car to Olivier Pla for the final one hour, 40 minute stint. Pla rose up the order – OAK now on the better end of the split between pro and gentlemen drivers with some teams – finally taking third place when Pecom Racing dropped off the podium after dramas during a pitstop.
“Third was the best we could have hoped for I think,” admitted Pla, who also ran the first stint for the team. “The post-qualifying set-up changes worked in this morning’s warm-up so I knew that a clean race was vital if we were to have a chance of making the podium. It’s a good result given the circumstances but I would like to be challenging for the win at Shanghai in a couple of weeks.”
The team chose Japan to return their LMP1 to competition with an HPD engine. However, the car proved fragile in its first race since the 24 Hours of Le Mans, eventually finishing 17th overall with a driving crew of Bertrand Baguette, Dominik Kraihamer and Takuma Sato. The Japanese driver, now a full season competitor in the Indycar Series, was making his first competitive start in endurance sportscar racing.
“Racing a sports-prototype for the first time was a fun new experience even though we still need to improve the car,” said Sato, whose stint was interrupted by the need for a new starter motor. “Coming from a single-seater background you have to change your approach. Traffic management is crucial as it takes one or two laps to clean up the tyres if you run wide onto the marbles. But it was good fun and I’m looking forward to helping make the car faster for Shanghai.”