Currently reading: Nick Tandy: How to be an endurance racing driver
We spoke to Nick Tandy after winning Le Mans in a stellar 2015 season that earned him the Autocar Motorsport Hero Award
Doug Revolta Autocar
5 mins read
23 July 2016

Nick Tandy’s Le Mans win last year catapulted him from obscurity to motorsport stardom and his journey has been nothing short of remarkable.

Forgoing the usual motorsport route of kart racing, Bedford-born Tandy began honing his skill in grassroots short oval racing. He worked his way up through to Formula 3 single-seat racing before changing to sportscars and was eventually signed as a Porsche works driver in 2013. Now, at the age of 31, he’s the 32nd Brit with a Le Mans title to his name.

This year the Porsche driver has faced two 24-hour endurance races in a month. Such a physically gruelling challenge would require detailed and strict preparation, you would assume, but Tandy makes it sound more relaxing than that.

“I had a burger and chips last night,” he tells me, two hours before he’s due to get into a Porsche 911 RSR for his first stint at the Le Mans 24-hour race.

We’re in the Porsche pits just as the race gets under way in the rain behind a safety car, meaning the 911 – which is strong in the wet – can’t use the weather to its advantage.

Tandy, visibly agitated, stalks around the pits, but I present him with the Autocar Motorsport Hero Award – deserved recognition for his outstanding 2015 season – and he relaxes, grateful for the gesture.

“Life didn’t really change,” he says about the response to his Le Mans win last year. “More people know what you do, but it’s quickly forgotten. It’s all about the next race.”

Tandy doesn’t have the chance to defend his Le Mans crown this year. Dieselgate hit the VW Group’s budget for motorsport so, with Porsche running only two cars in the LMP1 class, he’s racing in GTE Pro.

“What you do as a person – physically, mentally – is all designed to win,” he says. “It’s exactly the same, even if the machinery is different.”

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He downplays the work he goes through to get himself racing fit and his modesty masks his talent behind the wheel, but our discussion reveals there is a lot more to it. There is, though, one recurring theme: simplicity.

“The more simple you make it, the less complications there’s going to be if something’s not available that you’re used to.”

So pre-race rituals are out of the window. It’s the work you do before race day that counts.

“The biggest thing is your weight. Millions are spent shaving off any grams or kilograms from the car, so that does mean that you can’t go crazy with your diet.”

But burgers and chips? “Come race week, you eat when you’re hungry and you eat what you want,” he smiles.

Calorie counting and intense training come before, but when Tandy arrives at race week, it’s clear that he likes to relax. He has been bowling with his team-mates in Le Mans twice already.

His Porsche crew had a chance to gel at the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring just three weekends previously, but there’s only so much you can prepare for. Disappointment comes with the territory. Tandy’s 911 GT3 R crashed out on the second lap at the Nürburgring due to a technical fault.

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“It’s easy to switch off from the disappointment, but it’s hugely frustrating,” he says. “Six months of work for the team, the crescendo starts, then it’s over before you’ve even started.”

In endurance racing, the highs are never far from the lows and it’s crucial that the driver switches focus to the next race as soon as possible. Doing two races in such a short space of time doesn’t faze Tandy, but he says it’s not ideal for his physical training.

“I like to have an intense, physical two-week period with the trainer before we arrive for race week, then you relax and have slightly easier training, but N24 [the Nürburgring 24 Hours] makes that harder to fit in before Le Mans.

“We don’t specify one aspect of the body, or one aspect of how to be a race car driver. It’s endurance for the whole of your body. You ramp it up towards a 24-hour race, but you do it throughout the year. And obviously the more driving you do, the better you’re going to go.”

The physical side is one thing, but it’s endurance of the mind as much as the body, battling exhaustion. It all comes naturally to Tandy, though, and his night drive last year was pivotal to Porsche’s victory.

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“Mentally, the preparation is done years in the past. Now, at the race, I’m in my normal zone. When I’m tired, I’ll sleep. If I’m not, and it’s 5am, I’ll stay up and watch the race. I’ve stayed up through the course of a race before, and I’ve never had more than one hour, in total, for a 24-hour race.”

Even if you did want to sleep, it’s impossible to plan in advance. Each car has three drivers who rotate throughout the race, but you can’t predict what time you’ll be in and out.

“It’s determined by fuel in the car,” Tandy says, glancing at a monitor to watch his Porsche team-mate navigating his way around the circuit in the streaming rain. “Typically, we do two full fuel tanks, which should equate to 14 laps at Le Mans. But you’ve got to be flexible.

“There’s usually a four-hour gap between your stints. Once you’ve finished, you have 30 minutes out of the car for the debrief and to see the physio if you want.

“You’ve got to be here an hour before so if something goes wrong, you can go straight in, so that leaves an hour and a half before you’ve got to be ready.”

Is there more pressure going into a race as last year’s winner?

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“There is a bit more pressure from that side, but I’ve got nothing left to prove to anybody,” he says before he’s ushered back into the control room.

Unfortunately, later in the race, disappointment strikes again and his Porsche 911 RSR withdraws with engine failure after 135 laps.

“It’s so difficult to achieve what you want,” he says. “When you do win, that’s why it is great. “The preparation is simple. But trying to be better than the rest: that’s a really difficult challenge.” 

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