Newly crowned WEC LMP2 Driver champion Roman Rusinov has been part of the FIA World Endurance Championship almost from day one, only missing the opening race, the 12 Hours of Sebring, in March 2012. Since then Roman Rusinov has stood on the LMP2 podium 17 times, 12 times on the top step, from the 31 races he has started.
His record of race wins is only equalled by AF Corse’s Gianmaria Bruni but, while the Italian has scored all of his 12 wins in a Ferrari 458, Rusinov has taken victory at the wheel of three different cars – an ORECA 03, a Morgan and a Ligier JS P2.
The Russian driver made his WEC debut at Spa-Francorchamps in May 2012 driving a Nissan-powered Signatech ORECA 03 with Nelson Panciatici and Pierre Ragues for the rest of the year. The Franco-Russian trio narrowly missed a podium finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing 4th but then scored a maiden WEC podium at Silverstone in August with a 3rd place finish. This was the high point of their 2012 season which saw the Signatech Nissan team finish 6th in the LMP2 category.
In 2013 Roman Rusinov switched to G-Drive Racing, the new Russian team running an ORECA 03 with Australian John Martin and Britain’s Mike Conway. A slow start saw a 7th place finish at Silverstone, a 5th at Spa and zero points at Le Mans following a technical infringement which saw the no26 car disqualified from a 3rd place finish. The first of Rusinov’s 12 victories came in Brazil, the Russian-British-Australian crew taking the win from pole position to claim maximum points.
The clean sweep was repeated in Texas as the Russian team took pole and the win at the first running of the 6 Hours of Circuit of The Americas. The team were classified 2nd in Japan after the race was cancelled due to heavy rain but they bounced back with wins in the final two races in China and Bahrain, the Chinese victory also from pole position. The G-Drive crew finished 3rd in the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2.
In 2014 G-Drive Racing switched to the Morgan chassis for the first part of the year before taking delivery of the new Ligier JS P2 to finish off the season. Mike Conway and John Martin were replaced by French drivers Olivier Pla and Julien Canal. Unlike in 2013 the 2014 season got off to a great start with wins at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps. However the team didn’t take the chequered flag at Le Mans after starting from pole position and in the USA they also started from pole but could only manage 4th.
The Russian team bounced back with maximum points in Japan and China, their 3rd and 4th wins of the year. After finishing 4th in Bahrain they looked to be heading for the title in Brazil and started from pole position for the 7th time in 2014. However a brake failure saw the Ligier crash heavily at turn 1 at Interlagos and they ended up 2nd behind SMP Racing.
The 2015 season saw Olivier Pla move to the new Nissan LMP1 project and he was replaced at G-Drive by highly talented British driver Sam Bird who would join Roman Rusinov and Julien Canal in the no26 Ligier. The G-Drive Racing team also entered a second car for the first time, the no28 Ligier of Latin American trio Pipo Derani from Brazil, Ricardo Gonzalez from Mexico and Colombian Gustavo Yacaman.
The 2015 season saw Rusinov, Canal and Bird claim four wins and three further podiums, only a problem at Spa-Francorchamps denied them a clean podium sweep after starting from pole position. The season opener at Silverstone saw the no26 Ligier take the first win of the season. The Anglo-Franco-Russian trio had to wait until Texas before they could stand on the top step of the podium again but once they did they followed it up with another win from pole in Japan, a second place finish in China and then victory in Bahrain to claim the LMP2 title.
With an enviable record of finishing on the podium in 55% of the WEC races and a record of 39% for race wins, what does Roman Rusinov hope to achieve in 2016? We talked to him about the past four years and what his plans are for 2016.
Q&A WITH ROMAN RUSINOV
Q: You have competed in all but one of the WEC races since 2012. What attracted you to race in the World Endurance Championship?
RR: “Racing is life! We are travelling the world to take part in magic battles on the best circuits around the globe. WEC has become a reference in motorsport and I love the spirit of these races. Six hours endurance races have now become an incredible sprint. It’s always a challenge and full of intrigue. Anything can happen at the last minute and it certainly makes it even more interesting. If we take LMP2 at the 24h of Le Mans, we have nearly twenty cars which theoretically can fight for a win in the biggest and the greatest race in the world with more than 300,000 people watching live from the side of the track and millions more on TV. It`s an incredible feeling to be part of it and, from my point of view. No other championship in the world can offer that.
“I love World Endurance Championship and I really think it’s the best championship for the driver and for his sponsor. In WEC you can easily create a great marketing platform around a project. For sure, it’s not easy, but in WEC all is very clear and you have to find you way. When I arrive at Gazprom Neft in 2011 I clearly defined the key elements for a successful marketing platform. Gazprom Neft bosses are only interested in business development and G-Drive Racing is a marketing platform to promote our premium branded fuel – G-Drive. So we are using WEC to promote G-Drive fuel which is sold in Russia at the Gazprom Neft petrol stations, following all marketing and PR activities on the mass media, 1800 petrol stations we clearly see large growth of G-Drive each year. The most difficult part is to do PR as you have LMP1 for the world press and we are running in LMP2. In order to have an impressive ROI on the project we are promoting WEC, but only LMP2, as we are Russian team and in the local market we became a sort of national icon.”
Q: You scored your first podium at Silverstone in 2012 with Nelson Panciatici and Pierre Ragues in the Signatech Nissan. What is your memory of that race?
RR: “2012 was a very difficult year for us as we had a lot of mechanical problems, our podium in Silverstone was a small victory in the global plan. It was was definitely a good feeling but for 2013 I had to change a lot the approach preparing for the championship. In reality I would say 2012 it was a test of what we can do and real game for championship for G-Drive Racing began in 2013 with Mike Conway and John Martin.”
Q: You have finished on the podium 17 times, including 12 wins, in the 31 races you have competed in. Which race gave you the most pleasure?
RR: “Winning in COTA this year and in 2013 was definitely the best feeling and for sure our first win in Brazil 2013… Yeah crazy feeling! Hard to explain but definitely so cool to stand on the first step of the podium with the Russian national anthem playing.
“I think the most difficult was 2014 we had a very fast car, which is the Ligier. In the beginning we had reliability problems, which did not help us for the championship… But we had 7 pole positions out of 8 races, G-Drive Racing have a record of pole positions and wins which ever car we race and what ever the team give us support. I think it demonstrates the great performance of the people who manage the team and who work in the team. As with all our victories ,it’s a reflection of the perfect team work and management.”
Q: You have finished on the podium at Le Mans but never won in the past four years. Is it frustrating for you not to have won the LMP2 class at the biggest race in the world?
RR: “24H Le Mans – it’s our ultimate goal! We must win this race… Yeah it’s easy to say but it’s really so hard to do. Even if everything is perfect, it does not give you a guarantee that you can win it. So for the 2016 I would say that I like to finish this race without any problems and then we will see where we will be. What I can tell you I start to prepare Le Mans 2016 the day after Le Mans 2015 – I hope it will pay off:)”
Q: You are a Russian driver (now a Russian world champion) racing in a Russian team. Is your success helping to promote motorsport and more specifically endurance racing, at home in Russia?
RR: “G-Drive Racing became an icon in Russian. We are a Russian team winning races and title in the best championship on the planet… What else is better to promote G-Drive?”
Q: You have raced and won in three different LMP2 cars – the Oreca 03, the Morgan and the Ligier JS P2. Which was your favourite car to race?
RR: “It’s hard to say as with all cars we had some special moments. Oreca is fast car, Morgan was really nice to drive on the rain and the Ligier, it’s just a different world… You can’t compare the Ligier to anything else as this car is so nice to drive and has so much downforce that you want to be in this car every time. I really love this car and it will stay for ever in my heart. I remember ever single mile with this car. From the first test in Spain in 2014, in black carbon with aluminium tape on the development aerodynamic parts, until the championship win in Bahrain. Such a good feeling to be a part of a great human adventure in winning project – it’s exactly for those moments I love racing in WEC.”
Q: In the final race of the 2015 season in Bahrain you had a 16-point advantage over the no47 KCMG so you didn’t need to win the race, you only needed to finish 4th to take the title. What was the feeling in the team? Was it decided before the green flag that you were going to race for the win or was it just the way it happened once you got behind the wheel?
RR: “In reality we really wanted to win this race! But in the briefing before the race we had a very clear orders “no risk”, and to be honest it was the case for the first 1-2 hours… But we are all racers and nothing gives us better pleasure that a race win! To win the championship with a race win, it’s G-Drive style – at the same time each member of the team became really strong do it became “must” to win it. Thanks to Sam, Julien, Bruno, Philippe and all the mechanics for a great adventure.”
Q: What are your plans for the 2016 season?
RR: “My main goal was to sign again with Ligier and Jacques Nicolet for the new season as we had two incredible years. I do appreciate a lot my relationship with Jacques and the all the team perfectly managed by Philippe Dumas, but unfortunately OAK sign with Tequila Patron. As you know business is business and nothing else, I am happy for OAK and would like to wish them a good year in 2016.
“From my side I had to work hard to find a new way to put all together. I have now signed a contract and we are working vey hard to be even stronger than we ever have been before. We have already signed one driver and one seat is still open in my car. In reality, for me It was really a tough time after the last race and I can tell you it was never so hard – but it’s even better as you work even harder when you see the results.
“For sure I would like to continue with Sam Bird in 2016, but I think it will be difficult to put the deal together. He has a very good opportunity which I believe he must take. We are working hard on the third driver and it should be someone with a lot of talent. I would even say it will be a future star of Endurance, as is already the case with Mike Conway, Olivier Pla and Sam Bird.
“Now I am happy and ready for a new challenge and I would say we never have been so far advanced in the development, planning and realisation of the project so early….we will be tough to beat in 2016! We will announce it very soon!”
Jeff Carter (FIAWEC)