Ronnie Quintarelli is tackling his 14th Super GT season behind the wheel of a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT500. Both the car and the driver have been icons of the sport for many years. Is this duo running on its last legs, or does the old dog know plenty of tricks?
Ronnie, hopefully we’re looking ahead to a Covid-free season. How was the start?
Last season was not our best. I think it was a bit of an off-season for all of us. We had multiple races at Fuji Speedway, a track that was very good for us in the past but now seems to lie in favor for the rivals. So, it was very hard for us, especially since we had focused all our preparation on technical tracks. The season ended up being all about straight-line speed. Anyway, that was last year. This season should be more interesting. The first race of the season was in Okayama. It’s a circuit we haven’t been to in a while and, historically, it’s not our best. However, we were very pleased with our pace and the race was running smoothly. Unfortunately, we had a collision with a GT300 car, which put us out of contention. But, it’s a long season ahead and we’ve always got something up our sleeve.
It’s been quite a long off-season. How do you prepare for the race and stay in shape?
Racing a GT500 car is very physical so I have to be well prepared. I have a team that supports me and keeps me in check. The point is that I have to prepare in such a way that I peak in the middle of the season. You can’t peak for six months - that would be physically impossible. I focus mostly on cardiovascular endurance, because this trains me to cope better with the hot conditions in the car, meaning I can concentrate better. The biggest thing I had to change this year is that I could no longer afford to take a two-week break from training over the winter. I’m getting a little older, which means that if I stop training, I lose condition that is harder to regain.
The Nissan GT-R is one of the longest-running sports and race cars the world has ever seen with over 13 years of service. How has the car evolved?
Around the world and especially in Japan, the GT-R is a true icon. When I started in Super GT with Nismo, it was 2008 and the Fairlady Z had just been replaced by the R35 GT-R as a GT500 car. Right off the bat we were very competitive. We won two titles in 2011 and 2012, the GT-R also won the title in 2008 driven by the duo Motoyama and Treluyer. In 2014 Super GT and DTM forged a strong partnership. This also means the rules changed drastically. All cars needed a specific carbon monocoque and gained a lot of aero. Again, the Nismo team adapted and overcame these challenges, and we won another two championships in a row. In 2017, a new regulation was announced reducing all engines to 2.0-litre turbocharged engines. This means more changes, but we always stayed competitive.
Do you feel a difference in competition compared to a few years ago?
This season might be our toughest yet. The biggest difference between us and the competitors is that the base design of our car always remains the same, as it’s based around the road car. It also means that our competitors had the opportunity to build a car from scratch. Whereas we have always been modifying our car. Luckily you can still evolve the engine and Michelin does a great job at improving the tyres.
Is there something you do before every race? A tradition or something to bring you good luck?
[Laughs] That’s a funny one to be honest. I change the color of my underwear regarding what I believe will make the most difference during a race weekend. If it’s the tyres, I wear blue because of Michelin. If it’s the engine, I’ll choose red, like Motul. It’s funny but it’s true.