MOMO NGT Motorsport gears up for season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona
MOMO NGT Motorsport will feature an impressive GT driver lineup, including the full-season pairing of Henrique Cisneros and Kuba Giermaziak.
The Miami-based MOMO NGT Motorsport team is ready for the start of the IMSA TUDOR United Sports Car Championship season at Daytona International Speedway this weekend, kicking off the new series with the 24-hour endurance race.
For the 52nd Annual Rolex 24 at Daytona, MOMO NGT Motorsport will feature an impressive GT driver lineup, including the full-season pairing of Henrique Cisneros and Kuba Giermaziak. Christina Nielsen and Porsche Supercup champion Nicki Thiim will join the team for driving duties at Daytona, and though neither one has raced here before, both have plenty of experience competing in Porsches.
MOMO NGT Motorsport knows the challenges this event can hold, having been forced to retire last year after 19 hours of racing. The team had come back from many laps behind to lead the race before having to withdraw due to an exploded brake rotor.
With an expected field of 67 cars from four different classes, the only 24-hour endurance race on the 2014 IMSA calendar is sure to be an eventful one. While traffic will be a huge factor in any team's strategy, MOMO NGT Motorsport is focusing on having their car leading at the end of the race. With a podium finish just hours out of their grasp during last season's Daytona enduro, the team is banking on using what they learned to make it to the finish and onto the podium.
Photo by: Action Sports Photography
Henrique Cisneros, No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport driver/partner: You competed in the Daytona 24 last year and led in class before an issue took you out at around the 19-hour mark. What did you learn during last year's enduro that you're bringing to the race this year? "In endurance racing, anything can happen. You have to keep fighting until the checkered flag, regardless of how futile it might seem. A brake rotor exploded due to the high stresses of the race last year. In the future, we will be more conservative and take the extra pit time to change the necessary components rather than rolling the dice on the longevity of our braking components."
Having a standout lineup signed on for the race, how do you think the abilities of each driver will fit into the team strategy? "Our lineup is perfect for this race. Christina Nielsen is extremely competitive and consistent with a lot of endurance experience, which will be key during the first 20 hours of the race. I will provide a similar role as Christina by keeping the car intact, out of trouble, and on the lead lap. Finally, the last 4-6 hours belong to Kuba and Nicki Thiim. Both drivers are Porsche Supercup veterans, and can turn into wild animals when they hear "push, push, push" on the radio, so it will be exciting to see our strategy fall into place."
Traffic is always an issue at Daytona and with multiple classes competing together. How do you manage to stay focused and battle within your class when there are so many cars on track? "Luckily, we have an advantage over the Grand-Am racers as we have just come from the ALMS. We are used to having five classes racing at once, and we feel very comfortable managing traffic in our mirrors. Since we are the slowest class, it's easy to know that if a white light is in your mirrors, they are faster. Yellow light means do not let them pass at all costs!"
With this being the only 24-hour race on the 2014 IMSA schedule, how do you prepare for such a big event and make sure you are mentally and physically ready? "Endurance racing is extremely physical and it's very important to properly train for the event. The sustained g-forces of Daytona are a rare force to train for, so you have to be in extraordinary shape to last six stints. Luckily, our Porsche GT America has a paddle shift system to aid in driver fatigue. This is a huge improvement over last year's sequential manual, which had a 5-pound pull for every shift. Multiply this by 50 or so shifts per lap and six hours, and you get the idea of what the body has to endure."
Kuba Giermaziak, No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport driver: You raced with MOMO NGT Motorsport and Henrique last year at the Daytona 24 and Petit Le Mans. Talk about leading the race at Daytona and what happened around the 19-hour mark that eventually caused the car to retire? "That was one of the most disappointing experiences of my racing career. It was my second race with NGT, and we had an absolutely amazing driver pack. Everything was going great until the 12th hour of the race. We had a little pit stop issue and we lost two laps to the leader. After that, the race was really like a long qualifying for us. After 16-17 hours, we managed to get back to the lead lap and another hour and a half later, we were leading the race. We thought that the entire nightmare was behind us, but with the high speeds, I had a brake disk explode just before the braking zone at Turn 1. Luckily, I managed to bring the car to the pits, but the race was finished for us, as we didn't just want to get to the checked flag - we wanted to win it."
Heading into the race the 2014 season as a fulltime MOMO driver with Henrique, what are you most looking forward to? "Definitely this is going to be the most interesting season in my career. I hope to finally manage to drive in two strong series with the Porsche, the IMSA TUDOR Championship and Porsche Supercup. I think this should really help me to have a consistent pace during the season, especially because we have a top driver pairing. Henrique proved many times last season that he is able to compete against professional drivers and be successful. With this package and a great NGT Motorsport team, we just have to look forward and focus on ourselves - the results should come naturally."
With such a competitive and large field of GTD cars, how are you expecting to manage the traffic and stay ahead of your competition? "I think this is going to be one of the hardest challenges during the race, especially since we saw during testing that our cars were much faster on the straight line than the GTLM cars. We have more then 20 cars in our class, and in each car, there is at least one very experienced driver, which is going to make it very interesting. Like always, the goal should be to stay out of trouble until the last three to four hours. There the race will really begin!"
Christina Nielsen, No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport driver: Having never raced at Daytona before, what are you expecting for the 24-hour enduro? "I believe that we have strong line-up, so a Top 10 finish would be very nice. As long as we run the race without major problems, it should be possible. A Top 5 result would be unbelievable, but right now our first focus is on just making it through the race. It will be interesting to drive during the night, but what makes Daytona "beginner-friendly" are the spotlights on track so that the drivers are not driving in complete darkness. One of the biggest challenges is going to be to cope with all the faster cars out there. It takes away your focus as a driver but hopefully we will all manage to create the needed overview."
You were able to get a good amount of seat time at the test at Daytona in the beginning of January, what did you learn about driving there that you will take into the race? "It was great to get to know the track better and to find my own reference points out there. A racetrack is constantly changing, but you, as a driver, should be able to keep your reference points more or less. These points makes it easier to stay focused through long distance races, so the test days have been great preparation. Again, the seat time gave me the opportunity to learn more about the car as well as working on coping with the amount of traffic that we have to deal with."
You competed with MOMO NGT Motorsport last season, what do you expect from the team and the car for this event? "I expect nothing but the best from this team, and I know they can deliver. As long as everyone does their best, I cannot ask for more. It's great to have some strong drivers on your team, because you automatically have more trust in them. You feel like it is safe to hand over the car to them and you believe that they can make things possible. Also, everyone can help each other and learn from each other, which should only strengthen us as a team."
Nicki Thiim, No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport driver: You've competed in 24-hour endurance events before, and last year you won in class at the 24 Hours of Nurburgring. What does it take to make it to the podium in such a challenging endurance race as Daytona? "I'm really looking forward to this event, which is a highlight of any racing driver's career. Endurance races, whether it's a 6, 12, or 24 hour race, puts the driver to the mental and physical maximum. The key in all this is to be well prepared. The team, as well as the drivers, has to be one hundred percent concentrated and keep cool over all 24 hours. One mistake can end everything, and that's what makes these races so special. It's really a team effort!"
Having not been able to test with the team earlier this month and having never raced at Daytona before, what are your general expectations for the event? "Of course it's a small setback in the preparation, not having to be in attendance at the test. But you have to get the best out of what you have. With good teammates and crew, I don't see that as a problem. I got some good material from drivers who have raced there, so I'm just going to really try to get into the pace as fast as I can when I get to my first run."
You raced with MOMO NGT Motorsport in 2012 at Sebring, so you're familiar with the team. How will the Porsche experience you have help bring a successful finish for the No. 30 car? "That's really an important thing when you go to a race like this. You need the trust in the team and they need to trust you. I know what the team is capable of, so I really see a good chance for us in this race. I'm sure that with only a few people knowing the new 911 as well as my teammate, Kuba, and I, so we have a really good basic understanding compared to the other Porsche teams. But in the end, it's 24 hours and anything can happen."
Ramez Wahab, NGT Motorsport Owner/No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport Team Manager: At the Daytona test, the team tried a number of different setups for the car. Do you feel you found the setup that you think will work best for the 24 hour race? "At the Roar, we tested different types of setups, but didn't go for a qualifying setup. We focused on having a fast car for the long run, mainly to preserve tires and give the drivers a relatively comfortable car. Since the Roar, the rules and regulations have changed quite a bit, so we have to pretty much start all over again and don't have a lot of track time to do so.It's not as bad as it might sound, since these new rule changes will favor us for the rest of the season."
Knowing the car you have, your driver's talents, and the team you've put together for the season, how do you feel about the chances of running up front like MOMO NGT Motorsport did last year at Daytona? "We have a very strong driver lineup. Christina, Kuba, and Nicki all raced a Porsche 991 for the full season last year in Europe and the Middle East, and Henrique adapted very quickly to the new car. Our crew is stronger than ever and having Roger Reis as a Crew Chief and Beaux Barfield as our Strategy Engineer joining us this Season is a big asset for MOMO NGT Motorsport."
From a technical standpoint, how do you feel this new Porsche 991 stacks up to the competitors in the new GTD class? "According to IMSA, the Porsche 991 GT America is the benchmark in GTD, so they have to adjust the Balance of Performance accordingly. They did this in the past, and it seemed to work out for us pretty well."
With any endurance event, one of the main goals has to be to make sure the car is in one piece at the end. What else is the team focusing on to make sure this event goes well for MOMO NGT? "Preparation is a big key factor in endurance racing. During the race we have to be ready for anything, avoid any unscheduled pit stops, and stay out of trouble. As for the rest of what goes into any endurance race, especially Daytona with such a large field of cars, only time will tell."
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