Words & pictures: Nick Holland.
At Silverstone on the Friday of the FIAWEC 6-hour race, I had the pleasure of bumping into Marc Gene.
We walked along to the Becketts complex with me gently trying to ask pertinent questions about the GTR-LM, and then we stood in awe at the spectacle on a cool early-spring day of drivers throwing 1000+hp at the twists and turns of that section of the Silverstone circuit.
Marc broke the silence and asked what an F1 car lapped in, I confessed to not knowing but being surprised if they could complete this section any quicker than these current LMP1 monsters. Marc returned to what seemed a deeper, inner conversation..
On reflection my probing had revealed little, the car felt fine, no, we have not run with hybrid yet, yes its a steep learning curve… All the responses you’d expect from a true professional faced with an amateur sleuth. But there were those moments of silence that perhaps spoke volumes…
Marc Gene has been there, done it, scored points in Formula One, gained a reputation as a test driver with Williams and spent 6 years on the books at Scuderia Ferrari. In conjunction with that he was part of the Peugeot 908 HDi programme at Le Mans from 2007 culminating in a win with Alex Wurz, and David Brabham in 2009. Notably, when Peugeot folded, it was Gene that was drawn into the ‘Auld Enemy’ tent not Wurz, Davidson or Brabham. In the last 3 years at Le Mans Marc has been on the podium twice, call it luck or judgement, it is fact. So very much a desired resource to have at your disposal, and with that pedigree not a surprise to see him at Nissan.
Now I’m not one to doubt the view shared that Marc has not had sufficient time in the car, but as someone (Steven G) privately suggested to me (and I agree) surely the same is true of the substitute, Mark Shulzhitskiy. Perhaps the difference is age (41 vs 25), appetite or searching for a new challenge? I’d suggest it is clearly a team decision as to best use of resources and in so doing achieving multiple objectives.
Shulzhitskiy (GT Academy winner 2012) stood out last year at Le Mans not necessarily in what he did but in what he did not do. Partnered with Alex Brundle & Jann Mardenborough he was very much the novice in the team, with everything to loose, this was perhaps GT Academy’s biggest and boldest step, the weight of the programme rested on him, and he performed. As a team they brought the Onroak Oak Racing Ligier JS P2 powered by Nissan home in 9th overall and 5th in class on its debut!
Marc Gene went straight from Silverstone to a US test of the GTR-LM, but gremlins got in the way and little running was indeed possible for him. Ferrari commitments have since seen him in Japan, hence his schedule has limited opportunities to get miles under his belt agreed.
Away from race experience Gene as noted above has been involved in engineering programmes all his motorsport life. Williams, Ferrari, Peugeot and latterly Audi, hence I suggest his value to the team is far greater than any of the other contracted drivers (except maybe for Krumm) as he knows what should be happening, he can highlight small things that may lead to larger gains than just a slightly quicker line through a particular corner, or query with regards to the one car he has just driven.
Marc will also be aware that if success is to come it is most unlikely this year, Nissan’s first. We have seen two fascinatingly frantic 6-hour races this season, that have put the World Champions Toyota in the shade, so what chance does a Year-One newcomer stand? Even in the days of bottom-less funding, it took Peugeot (& Marc Gene) 3-years to come up with the goods in 2009, and it was bumpy along the way most significantly Marc’s fin-less flight in testing at Le Mans in 2008. Having worked in a Japanese organisation, I know that the culture does tend to have a longer term view so I hope that the Nissan Board is committed to this programme for a suitable period.
So in conclusion, a surprise decision? Yes; a smart decision? Yes I expect so, and surely that is what we are coming to expect from Nissan & Nismo, Surprisingly Smart People!
Go Well Go Nismo !