One of the big stories leading up to the 84th running of the Le Mans 24 Hours is the return of Nelson Piquet Jr. with Rebellion Racing in LMP1, ten years after his first attempt at the race as a wide-eyed 20-year-old in 2006. In a Racing.GT exclusive, the reigning FIA Formula E champion looks back on his first experience of endurance racing, sharing the Russian Age Racing Aston Martin DBR9 in the GT1 class with Antonio Garcia and David Brabham. It was an event he won’t forget in a hurry…
I was actually very sick during Le Mans week because I had just developed a very strong allergy to pollen. It started that summer around the Silverstone GP race and I didn’t know what was wrong with me; I thought I had the flu, I had no idea what it was. My nose kept running and I really couldn’t breathe well, it was a nightmare! It was only around a month afterwards I found out I had this really strong hayfever.
The whole Le Mans night I didn’t sleep properly, my eyes were swollen and I couldn’t really see. Only when I sat in the car and the adrenaline kicked in could I really function. Outside the car I was a mess!
So all of that meant it wasn’t easy at all. Le Mans is a difficult event anyway, but being in the main GT class meant we had a lot of faster cars overtaking all the time. At that point I had done only open-wheels, so it was an enormous step for me to drive the GT car, I rate it harder than driving LMP cars.
I just wanted to do a good job and not screw anything up. That was the main thing because I’d never done a long race, I’d never been in a GT car before. I was only 20 years old, so it was a big challenge.
But in the end everything worked out, I didn’t do any silly mistakes, everything was done properly and we finished fourth in the race which was something we didn’t expect being a private team. I did a lot of driving during the night because Antonio got hurt half way through, so it was between me and David Brabham after that. Antonio is still a friend of mine and he was my team-mate in Formula E for a race, but David I only worked with him that race.
It was an amazing experience, I absolutely loved it in the end. With Le Mans it’s always difficult to give advice, but the most important thing is just to take it easy, enjoy it and don’t put too much pressure onto yourself.