2015 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy winner Matt Simmons will mark another major career milestone on the weekend by competing in the 24 Hours of Spa at Belgium’s famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Simmons and his co-drivers Romain Sarazin, Sean Walkinshaw and Ricardo Sanchez will share the #22 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in the endurance classic, the fourth round of the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup.
Simmons, Sarazin, Walkinshaw and Sanchez head into the race weekend well prepared following a test day earlier this month at the daunting 7km circuit that weaves through the Ardennes forests. Simmons and his Nissan GT Academy Team RJN team-mates completed 90 laps of the Spa circuit, with Simmons getting 25 trouble-free laps under his belt.
While the #22 GT-R will be aiming for Pro-Am Class honours, the #23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of defending Blancpain GT Endurance Cup champion Alex Buncombe, inaugural GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez and young Japanese ace Mitsunori Takaboshi will be pushing for outright victory.
This year’s race is 25 years since Nissan’s first and only victory in the 24 Hours of Spa. In 1991, Swede Anders Olofsson, Japanese driver Naoki Hattori and Australian David Brabham took victory by a dominant margin of 21 laps in the all-conquering Nissan GT-R R32.
The GT3 cars hit the track for the first time on Tuesday with a practice session for ‘bronze’ rated drivers such as Simmons. Thursday will feature free practice, pre-qualifying and qualifying. Super Pole will be held on Friday ahead of the twice-around-the-clock race kicking off at 4:30pm Saturday (local time). GT3 session times are below, with full event timetable HERE.
2016 Blancpain GT Endurance Cup Points Standings are available HERE, with Simmons currently in 18th place in the Pro-Am Drivers Championship. The Spa 24 Hour, the premier event of the Blancpain GT Series, is crucial to Simmons’ Pro-Am Championship chances, with double points available. Points are awarded at the six (half points), 12 (half) and 24-hour (full) marks.
Simmons earned his place as a NISMO Athlete after winning the 2015 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy International competition, switching from his job driving a courier van for Australia Post to driving a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 for Nissan GT Academy Team RJN in the 2016 Blancpain GT Endurance Cup.
CLICK HERE for more details on the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy.
Q&A with MATT SIMMONS – 2016 Spa 24 Hour Preview
QUESTION: You are three races into your international motor racing career. Has it become more ‘real’ or do you still have to pinch yourself?
SIMMONS: I still pinch myself everyday that I get to live my dream of being a professional race driver. But when I get back behind the wheel of the GT-R, it wakes me up very quickly!
QUESTION: The last event at Paul Ricard was disappointing after you were involved in an early race incident. How frustrating was that?
SIMMONS: The Paul Ricard race was a tough result for myself and the team. It was definitely not the game plan to be out of contention so early on. The battle pack was fierce and things just didn’t go our way. These things happen in motorsport and we have learnt from what happened. Despite not being able to race for a result, all three of us were able to get a lot of laps in the GT-R NISMO GT3 and we’ve taken positives away so we can be ready to fight at the Spa 24 Hour.
QUESTION: How would you rate the progress you have made so far, both on and off the track?
SIMMONS: My progress as an international racing driver has been steep. Each race weekend has been full of new challenges and when we leave the track, I am more motivated than ever to work harder before the next race so I can give everything again. I’m really focused and I’m continuing to evolve into the best racing driver I can be.
QUESTION: You had a test at the Spa Franchorchamps circuit recently in the #22 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3. How did you find the track and how much of an advantage was it to get some miles under your belt prior to the race weekend?
SIMMONS: One word for this track … awesome! This track is unique, very fast and challenging. To get a chance to feel that and get up to speed as quickly as possible will be a massive advantage come race week. Our test day was very productive. We did about 90 laps in total. I got 25 laps and we ticked all the objectives so I feel ready to hit the ground running at the bronze test session.
QUESTION: Spa is a world-famous circuit. What is your favourite part of the track?
SIMMONS: Spa is special, for sure. You feel it when you arrive to the circuit and see it all. My favourite section is easily Eau Rouge. This is as raw as it gets, feeling the force on your body at the bottom and then wanting to take off over the top – it’s an incredible feeling. It literally took my breath away the first few laps but I kept my eyes open!
QUESTION: Qualifying for the new batch of GT Academy hopefuls is about to kick-off in Australia. What would you suggest to those considering entering the same competition that changed your life?
SIMMONS: It’s so exciting to see GT Academy return to Australia this year to give another chance to change someone's life. The main thing for those wanting to enter is to prepare well and give it 100 per cent every chance you get. Most importantly, enjoy every moment that this incredible experience can offer.
2016 24 Hours of Spa Schedule
Tuesday 26 July 2016:
Bronze Test: 2:55pm (10:55pm AEST)
Thursday 28 July 2016:
Free Practice: 1:20pm (9:20pm AEST)
Qualifying: 8:00pm (4:00am, Friday AEST)
Night Qualifying: 9:45pm (5:45am, Friday AEST)
Friday 29 July 2016:
Super Pole: 6:00pm (2:00am, Saturday AEST)
Saturday 30 July 2016:
Warm-Up: 9:05am (5:05pm AEST)
Race: 4:30pm (12:30am, Sunday AEST)