Twelve months ago Gunnar Jeannette was on his way to clinching his first American Le Mans Series championship at Petit Le Mans – the same weekend the sportscar version of the unique car that has captured the imagination of fans around the world was revealed.
Now, Jeannette and the Nissan DeltaWing will come togther at the 2012 Petit Le Mans where the young American star will team up with Spaniard Lucas Ordoñez for the car’s American debut.
The 30-year-old Jeannette is a race car driver and adventure sports enthusiast with vast experience at Road Atlanta. He is a former factory driver for Panoz Motorsports in LMP1 and GT as well as a past instructor at the Georgia circuit.
Jeannette is the youngest man ever to finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He drove a Porsche GT car on debut in 2000 – the same year he made his professional sportscar debut at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with a famous teammate by the name of Paul Newman.
Last year he clinched the PC class driver’s championship in the ALMS in a nail biting finish – he and CORE autosport teammate Ricardo Gonzalez tied for points and shared the driver’s championship with rival, Eric Lux.
When away from the race track, Jeannette is an avid base jumper and sky diver. He was recently part of the team that broke the vertical sky diving record when 138 jumpers grouped together in free fall formation near Chicago.
Jeannette and new teammate Ordoñez will hit the track at Road Atlanta in the coming days for testing as the team evaluates updates for the Nissan DeltaWing’s assault on the 2.54 mile Road Atlanta circuit. Team partner Michelin will also be on site to further develop the unique tire package for the car which features front tires that are only four inches wide.
The Nissan DeltaWing hasn’t raced since this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans where the unique car which features half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a typical Le Mans prototype became a fan favorite.
GUNNAR JEANNETTE Q&A
Q: HOW EXCITED ARE YOU ABOUT BEING SELECTED TO DRIVE THE NISSAN DELTAWING?
A: “It is a huge opportunity to race the Nissan DeltaWing at Petit Le Mans. I’m very excited to be the first American driver to compete in the car when it makes its debut right here in the USA.
“I’m joining forces again with Don Panoz who gave me a big break back in 2002 when I got to drive the Panoz LMP-1 roadster.
“It is a bit of a homecoming for me in that regard but also the chance to work with Ben Bowlby and everybody at Nissan is an incredible opportunity that I am really looking forward to.”
Q: YOU RACED AT LE MANS THIS YEAR, DID YOU SEE THE NISSAN DELTAWING ON TRACK?
A: “I was driving a Ferrari 458 GT car at Le Mans this year and I got to see the DeltaWing up close.
“I remember coming out of Tertre Rouge, accelerated up to sixth gear and saw some lights in my mirror which I didn’t recognize.
“It was a bit like a UFO experience – I couldn’t quite work it out. It wasn’t until it was alongside me and went flying by that I realized it was the DeltaWing.
“It was a pretty unique moment for me because there definitely hasn’t been car like this in a long while that is so unique.”
Q: WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING THE CAR WILL BE LIKE TO DRIVE?
A: “I’m looking forward to driving it for the first time at Road Atlanta soon. I’m expecting it to be very different from most other cars that I have driven before.
“I always love new challenges and I can’t wait to leave pit lane for the first time and see what the Nissan DeltaWing is like.”
Q: WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE TO WORK WITH THE NISSAN DELTAWING DESIGNER, BEN BOWLBY?
A: “I got to meet Ben Bowlby for the first time at the Nashville launch on Monday and I am really excited to work with him.
“The DeltaWing program is such a new thought concept that a lot of the preconceived notions that we have about what a racing car does and should do are really thrown out the window.
“The sensations that car gives you should be quite different as well. I really enjoyed talking to Ben about it on Monday and am really looking forward to working with him in the weeks ahead to help further develop the car.”
Q: HOW MUCH ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO WORKING WITH LUCAS ORDOÑEZ?
A: “Lucas has obviously come into the sport from a very different background through the Nissan GT Academy program. While he may have started as a PlayStation gamer, he has been getting the scores on the board as a bona fide racing driver. He stood on the podium at Le Mans on his debut so he certainly knows what he is doing.
“He already has a lot of miles in the Nissan DeltaWing and I have a million miles around Road Atlanta – we’re both going to learn a lot off of each other in the weeks ahead.”
Q: WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE FOR YOU TO JOIN THE NISSAN “FAMILY”?
A: “What Nissan has done in sportscar racing in the past couple of years has been very impressive, particularly in Europe. The DeltaWing at Le Mans this year really captured everyone’s attention and Nissan has certainly gotten behind a really cool project.
“The launch we did on Monday in Nashville at Nissan’s North American headquarters has fantastic. There were a lot of people there who were very excited about the project and proud to be a part of it.”