Lando Norris got his 2018 off to a busy start with two international events in the first month of the year.
The 18-year-old makes his sports car debut at the end of January when he takes part in the Daytona 24 Hours, the race that kickstarts the USA’s international motor racing calendar. A nighttime race might be intense, but being partnered alongside Fernando Alonso – arguably the best racing driver in the world – must make it even more stressful!
A week later, he’ll be on the other side of the world, taking part in the annual Race Of Champions, held this year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
It might look like an ominous schedule, but for someone so young and enthusiastic, it’s the best possible way to start the year.
Lando gives us the lowdown:
What were your first experiences of jumping from single-seaters into the United Autosports’ LMP2 car? Did it take much time to adapt?
“Driving a car with a roof felt odd for the first two or three laps. This was my first time driving a car with a roof since I raced in Ginettas back in 2014. Compared to single-seaters, you obviously can’t see the tyres; so you can’t see when you’re locking up. You have sensors and lights in the cockpit to tell you when you’re locking up, but you don’t have that natural ability to adjust for a lock-up that you do in a Formula car.”
What was the biggest difference jumping from Formula 3 into a sports car?
“Probably the weight. I think the LMP car was about twice the weight of the Formula 3 car I raced last year, and that’s a lot. The power felt pretty good, it’s got more power than an F3 car. I think I got to grips with it quite quickly – we were testing the car at Paul Ricard, in the south of France, and I tended to have a better feeling for the car in the high-speed corners. The cars may be heavier, but they develop more oversteer, so they’re balanced. In the slower corners, it’s harder to feel the car when it starts to oversteer or roll mid-corner due to all the extra weight.”
You drove at the Daytona ROAR – the preliminary practice days for the 24 Hours – what was it like driving on a big, banked oval?
“The Daytona banking is a lot steeper than it looks on TV. We tried to go walk up it during our track-walk, and it wasn’t easy!
“But the infield section, which is twistier, isn’t too difficult. We have to trim the car down for the banking and the straights, so there’s a compromise going on to find the best compromise set-up that works for the straights and the infield.
You’re driving alongside Phil Hanson and Fernando Alonso. Has Fernando been a useful team-mate – are you working well together?
“Fernando’s been really open to helping Phil and me, yeah. I don’t think he’s too worried about whether we’re particularly fast or slow. Obviously, he wants to be the fastest, but he knows it’s a team game.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot from him – not really the driving side, but more about how he approaches the test, the laps he does; how he gives feedback to the engineers.”
What’s the biggest challenge for you in your first 24-hour race?
“I haven’t really done any long stints yet – that’s the major challenge. In Formula 3, races were around 45 minutes, so it’s a big step up to be doing a three-hour stint. In the night. We have tested in the darkness, so I’ve already had a taste of that. At first, you lose some of your braking markers, but you adjust. It’s a pretty cool experience to drive at night.
“I think we struggled to find a set-up during the ROAR weekend. Hopefully, we’ll go into the race weekend having made some progress in that area, so I think we’ll look better than we did at the test.”
After Daytona, you’re going to Riyadh, for the Race Of Champions. How are you approaching that?
“I’m just treating it as a fun weekend. I’ve watched the ROC before – the one in London from a few years back – so I know the format of the heats and the finals. Obviously, I want to do well, but I aim to enjoy it and just how things go.
“Jumping between cars that I’ve never driven before will be quite tough, so I’m at a slight disadvantage to those who’ve done the event before, but I’m on the same level as the other new drivers, so we’ll just see how it goes.”