By his own admission, Lewis Plato will have a lot to learn on his Blancpain Endurance Series debut at this weekend’s Spa 24 Hours. But with several eye catching performances in the British GT championship under his belt, Plato’s no. 71 GT Russia Racing Mercedes, shared with Marko Asmer, Alexey Vasilyev and Indy Dontje, could well be one to keep an eye on.
Whilst the 22 year old motorsport engineering student at the University of Hertfordshire has little to show for his exertions in the RAM Racing prepared Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 alongside Alistair MacKinnon – a fine fourth place at Rockingham the only bright spark in a season blighted by misfortune not of his making – Plato’s race pace has usually been strong, an encouraging sign for a driver in who only last year was racing national-level Radicals. As such, the star-studded line-up assembled at Spa has come as something of an eye-opener.
“I was at the 24 hour test and you’ve got people like Alex Zanardi walking through, your heroes who you used to watch on TV and all of a sudden you’re on the same circuit as them, so it’s massively exciting, I can’t really believe where we are in such a short space of time,” he says. “I’ve never had any experience in a 24 hour race, not even in a 12 hour race; the longest I’ve ever done in the car is an hour and a half, but it’s always good to throw yourself in at the deep end because it forces you to learn quicker.”
As a learning experience, going twice around the clock at Spa will be right up there with the best. Although the recent British GT round will have provided him with some useful circuit knowledge, Plato will approach the event without any expectations and hopes to glean as much as possible from 2007 British F3 champion Asmer, one of the few English-speaking team members.
“I’ve got knowledge of the circuit from the Test Day and the British GT race, and obviously the benefit that I race the Mercedes usually, so the main thing for me will be learning the Pirelli tyre. It has a much better one lap pace compared to the Avon but they also seem to drop off quicker as well, so tyre management and degradation will play a lot bigger role than I’m normally used to. Generally though the SLS is good on its tyres, so I couldn’t wish for a much better car for my first 24 hour race.
“We’d love to come away with a good result but we’ve got to be realistic; first of all you’ve got to survive the whole 24 hours to be in position for a good result. The trick will be not to have any unscheduled pitstops – if you can go throughout the race with no issues then you’re bound to be on for a fairly good result. You’ve got to keep as calm at the end of the race as you were at the start, you can’t start over-driving and working the car too hard, because that’s how you make mistakes. I’m just going there with my eyes open and trying to enjoy every moment that I can.”
That said, Plato won’t be a passenger and with so many components that can (and do) fail over the course of 24 hours – the sight of Adam Christodoulou frantically battling to re-attach the wheel on his SLS at the roadside made for one of the more enduring memories of the Nürburgring 24 – his grounding in engineering could be a useful asset to the team.
“From what I’ve seen some drivers have a very good understanding of the car, others less so, but it can only be a positive to understand exactly how that car works inside and out,” he says. “The lecturers there being motorsport people are always happy to help and they’re flexible with me getting the time off if they need to; of course they really like the fact that they’ve got a student who is currently racing!”