Nic Minassian – “Big Ambition” At Creation

With the personable Frenchman having won our “Spirit” award for European racing in 2004, that was the only excuse we needed to meet him at his cottage in a Sussex village. Then he donated one of his helmets to the DEC Tsunami Appeal – so there was the second reason to meet up, and find out more about this charming fellow from Marseille.

“My wife Jane and I were having dinner in a restaurant after Christmas, and I came up with the idea of doing something for the people in Asia – and Jane suggested putting something on e-bay. A helmet was the logical thing to auction, and I think it went very well.”

£735 well, as we know. Here’s Nic in front of his fireplace, with the helmet – which will be presented to the top bidder at the NEC on Friday (January 14).

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dailysportscar.comSo where do we start with the Nic Minassian story - which so far ends at the front door of he and Jane's cottage?

It’s a very full one of course, and full of adventures, the culmination, so far, being the 2004 season in the Creation Autosportif DBA-Zytek. So what’s a former single-seater man doing in prototype racing, and why is this Frenchman living in England?

“I met my wife Jane when I was racing in British F3: she ran the motorhome and the catering for the team, and for the Williams Renault Laguna team in BTCC. I’d met Jane of course, but I’d never ‘tried anything on’! At least not until at a party at the British GP meeting. I was very shy, because my English wasn’t very good at all. Fortunately, there was a case of about 200 cans of Fosters outside the motorhome, so I proceeded to get ‘hammered’ – and then things were much easier!

“Basically I got pissed and Jane became my wife!

“We were engaged in 2000, and after testing at Homestead in February 2001, we flew to Las Vegas and were married there. After that, Jane didn’t have any problems with a visa!”

We don’t think for a minute that Nic is implying that’s why he and Jane were married.

He was racing in the states then of course, for Chip Ganassi, but it was one of those projects that didn’t come together as everyone wanted it to. Nic Minassian was quick of course, but a series of accidents – “I had four big ones, none of them my fault” – took their toll, one of them, at Indy, giving Nic concussion, after which he should have taken a break.

He’s still on good terms with Ganassi: “It just didn’t happen right.”

So that left him in an unfortunate position. “Montoya, Webber, Alonso, Heidfeld – I’ve beaten them all at one time or another. But I’m not unhappy not be in F1. Nobody there has the balls to be himself. In sportscar racing, we can say things that are interesting, I hope.”

Nic acts as his own manager, so he was in a position of having to make things happen himself. That included some prototype drives with Henri Pescarolo’s team, which included a race which saw the maiden win for the John Nielsen-run DBA…. Nic raced for Oreca too, at Le Mans in 2003, so he was accustomed to racing for top sportscar teams, and producing top performances.

So how did the tie-up with Mike Jankowski’s and Ian Bickerton's Creation Autosportif happen?

“I knew the potential of this car, because I’d raced against it. I’d seen the announcement in AUTOSPORT, that BV-R was going to race the Creation Lister, so a few months later, I looked up Mike’s phone number on the Creation website, and I called him.

“We talked for maybe 20 minutes, and I promised to keep in touch with the team. I spoke to Bicks (Ian Bickerton) as well – and by September of that year (2003), Mike was telling me that his team might race a prototype in 2004.

“They bought the DBA in November, and I thought ‘flippin’ eck, they’ve bought the right car.’ “

Nic is getting the hang of the language, isn’t he?

“I met Bicks at the AUTOSPORT Show, and I told him that any time he wanted me to try the car, I would do ten laps and he could make his decision. He called me a week before a test at Valencia, then we did three days at Estoril, at the Dunlop test. I was told that I would be in the car for a few laps at the start of each day there, but I ended up driving the car almost all the time.

“And we were very quick – big motivation!”

See how he’s mastered the language?

How about… “We were kicking asses – there were some good cars there.”

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And so it came to pass that Nic Minassian, partnered by Jamie Campbell-Walter, would be racing the DBA at Monza, in the other three LMES races, and in the final two ALMS races.

“Jamie and I get on very well together: he’s a great guy, and a great driver.

“Creation is a very good team – there’s something about them. Everyone wants more, they’re greedy for success – and you English people, you know how to work ‘ard.”

So it was a season of racing against the three Audis, and Minassian was up for the challenge.

“I’m excited when I’m racing against them – it’s even better when I see them in my mirrors!”

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Monza and Silverstone saw the DBA encountering problems that needed to be addressed and solved with this unique car, but the ‘Ring and Spa saw the Minassian / JC-W pair earning something like the results they deserved.

“But we had a puncture at the ‘Ring, and then again at Spa, at Eau Rouge, on lap 1.”

So what happened at Eau Rouge?

“The Audi is quicker than us on the straights, so from the lights, Kaffer had an advantage. But I knew our car would be flat through Eau Rouge, so although the Audi got its nose ahead of me, I had the line – and I was flat. But either at the first apex, or as Kaffer pulled in behind me, we touched, and the tyre went down very fast. I was still flat though – at first I thought it might have been the cold tyres, so I had a big moment. I was really pissed off!”

He and JC-W then charged back through the field, to another third place – having been two or more laps down, after Nic had to trickle round the whole of that first lap. It was a stunning performance.

That set the scene for the two ALMS races.

“It’s hard to go and take the American teams on in their back yard, but we nearly had two pole positions, but we did hang onto the one at Laguna Seca. I was confident that we were going to take that pole position there – but after the disappointment of Petit Le Mans, it was even more disappointing not to finish the shorter race at Laguna Seca.”

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dailysportscar.comAnd your thoughts on the ALMS, and the American way of doing things?

It’s the little things – everything is more entertaining, the Americans are full of gadgets, and they’ve got their motorbikes and their historic cars, their hats, their t-shirts, their flags, the fireworks. There’s more colour for the fans, and it’s cheaper for them. You don’t forget being at an ALMS race meeting.”

There will be more ‘Creation 2005’ news shortly – Nic is at the NEC on Friday (January 14) for another reason too – but for now, his life is based at he and Jane’s English home. Jane’s parents live nearby, which is how they have arrived near the south coast, having moved away from the Silverstone area, where they formerly lived.

“We wanted to put our feet down, so this is where we live: the house was available to rent, and it’s perfect for us.”

Not for this man the conventional photograph... how do these athletes make it look so easy to clamber up a pergola?

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Soon enough it will be time for a 24 hour test with the Creation DBA – “those tests are very tough” – and then it will be off to Paul Ricard for the official LMES test, ahead of Spa in April.

The man with “big ambition” is going to create even more of a stir in 2005.

 

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