BRASELTON, Ga. – If you don’t think your life can change completely in the span of four years, meet Lucas Ordoñez. In 2008, the young Spaniard was a full-time college student and avid gaming racer.
Today he is one of road racing’s brightest young talents with a seat in the Nissan DeltaWing – the most revolutionary race car of his generation.
“For me it’s a fantastic opportunity,” the 27-year-old admitted. “My background as a race driver is completely different coming from the Nissan GT Academy. Now four years later I’m racing one of the most innovative, exciting and revolutionary programs in the world. It has been a fantastic experience so far.”
Ordoñez will drive the DeltaWing with Gunnar Jeannette at the 1,000-mile/10-hour Petit Le Mans powered by Mazda at Road Atlanta. It is the car’s first race in North America and first since making its highly acclaimed debut in June at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The unique car features half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag but all the performance of a typical Le Mans prototype.
Ordoñez, Jeannette and the rest of the Nissan DeltaWing team tested at Road Atlanta in late September and returned for early-week testing for the finale of the 2012 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón. Driving the car was a completely different experience, Ordoñez said, due to the design and aerodynamics of the dart-shaped prototype. Of course the main question he had before his first laps were – not surprisingly – how well does it turn with four-inch front tires that are only about a foot apart?
“I was asking Marino (Franchitti), Michael (Krumm)… all the Le Mans drivers on how it is to drive and does it turn well,” he said. “They all told me I would be really impressed with how it turns, the downforce the car generates and its top speed. The first time I drove it was a fantastic feeling. The steering was very sensitive and very precise. The cars I like are very sensitive like that and are ones where you can feel the steering wheel working.
“It was definitely different though,” he admitted. “I did have to change my driving style, how I brake and when to be on the throttle through the corners. In LMP2 cars you can brake deeper into the apex of the corner. With DeltaWing, you have to brake a little earlier but with the same speed and be on the throttle before reaching the apex. That’s how to make the car a lot faster. I worked hard for two years to be very fast in a P2 car, but now with this innovative car I’ve had to go back to a style that is not a GT but also not a P2 style. But you have to find that style and work with the engineers and data collected to make the car faster.”
As it did at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Nissan DeltaWing is set to run unclassified at Road Atlanta as a factory-backed entry. That changes next season when it becomes eligible to compete as a championship-contending customer car in the ALMS. That’s good news for Ordoñez who hopes that means more races in the U.S. for the car – and himself – in 2013.
“The car is really fun to drive over the ups and downs and fast corners at Road Atlanta,” he said. “Our car is very efficient in high-speed corners, and we are working on more improvements to have a very fast car. We are really happy with the car and what we have achieved so far. Hopefully there is more in the future in the U.S. for me, Nissan and DeltaWing. But for now we are enjoying this time and focusing on doing a good job in the race.”