crankandpiston.com catches up with Salman Al Khater, the first Nissan GT Academy Middle East winner, after taking class victory in the Britcar 1000km at Silverstone. At his first attempt.[Not a valid template]
The last time crankandpiston.com caught up with Salman Al Khater, we were interviewing the first winner of Nissan GT Academy Middle East. Now, some four months later, we are sitting down with a bona fide endurance race winner following Salman’s class victory at the Britcar 1000km at Silverstone. His first ever race.
“It was amazing!” Salman begins. “When the weekend started that wasn’t what we had expected. But then after we saw our pace in practice and qualifying we really thought that P3 class victory was possible.
“It was just an incredible experience to be on the podium in my first main race. The result shows how well the Nissan GT Academy works, since it gave me the right mental preparation and fitness for endurance racing. I’m so happy!”
Silverstone 2013. After the best part of a year chasing his dream, here was the Nissan GT Academy Middle East winner about to take part in his first ever-competitive race, and on ‘home’ soil too no less (“Silverstone is my home track, in the sense that this is where I trained.”) Thrust into a competitive environment, with a 32-strong field boasting Aston Martins, Moslers, Porsche 997 Cup cars and Audi R8 LMS’, using a Nissan 370Z GT4 he had never driven before and on full Silverstone’s Grand Prix layout on which he’d never competed, the pressure was enormous.
“In first practice, I was putting my racesuit on and was just thinking ‘this is real’,” Salman explains. “The whole of the national pits at Silverstone was full, and it made a challenge for both Ashley [Oldfield, teammate and 2012 GT Academy South Africa winner] and I: y’know, can we be at the same pace as Tomas [Scheckter, teammate] and the other cars?
“When we started off, Tomas was quite obviously quite a bit faster than us, because he’s got a lot more experience than we do: he’s done IndyCar” – winning twice for Team Cheever and Panther Racing – “and he was a Formula 1 test driver for Jaguar. He has a lot of experience and we learnt from that, so that by the end of the weekend we were probably only a couple of tenths off Tomas’ pace. That was a great feeling.”
For a man so used to working to better his own interests (justifiably, given the Academy’s knockout tier system), one would think that working together as a team would be completely alien for the Qatari. Yet as former Formula 1 pilot Karun Chandhok explained to crankandpiston at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, working as a team is vital for an effective endurance run.
“Even in terms of the development program I think it’s crucial to work as a team,” Salman continues. “Getting feedback from our coaches was very important. And for Ashley Oldfield and I, it was really important to work together, especially when comparing data. One of us might start off one second faster than the other, but then we’d learn from each other and we’d soon be running at the same pace.
“And during the Britcar 1000km Tomas was with us, and that was really great. His feedback to the engineers and the setup of the car… we learnt so much from him, and that meant we could communicate between ourselves how the car felt during the stints to make sure we had a good setup.”