Webber’s protege, GP2’s Evans, adapting well to sports car world ahead of Le Mans

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LE MANS, France – New Zealand hasn’t had a top-flight Formula 1 star in many years.

One day, 20-year-old GP2 driver Mitch Evans of Russian Time might become that man.

But for now, he’s making a brief side step into sports car racing and has already delivered on debut.

Evans shared the No. 38 Jota Sport Gibson 015S Nissan with Harry Tincknell and Simon Dolan at the FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps last month, and won in his first ever sports car start.

“It was quite bizarre to be honest,” Evans told MotorSportsTalk at scrutineering in Le Mans this week. “It was my first WEC race I was at. I know Spa very well, but it was a new environment with teams and cars. It’s all a bit strange.

“But to come home with a win was fantastic. I didn’t expect it, didn’t have any reference to have a great debut. It’s the whole team that did it. Hopefully we can continue that into Le Mans.”

With Tincknell moving into the factory Nissan GT-R LM NISMO for Le Mans, Oliver Turvey will rejoin the team’s lineup for Le Mans. For Evans, another single-seat rising star branching out, he’s adapting well to the multiple driver, multiple class format.

“Fortunately I’ve had a lot of experienced people tell me the differences,” he said. “I was sort of anticipating that type of change to adapt to. A lot of drivers struggle with sharing cars, with the compromise of sports car racing. In Spa I found it was pretty straightforward.”

Evans didn’t hide his impressions of how much he appreciates the sports car paddock.

“It’s a lot more positive, with a lot less egos. It’s very friendly,” Evans said. “With the manufacturers involved, that makes it great.

“It’s all the top manufacturers in the world. There’s such a different vibe. There’s much better interaction with the fans.

“We don’t have that in GP2. We’re sort of locked away in our cage. In a way, it sucks a bit to be honest. The vibe in sports car racing seems to be very positive at the moment.”

Evans draws much inspiration and support from Mark Webber, his mentor. Webber has played an integral role in Evans’ development as he transitioned from New Zealand into Europe.

“It’s been huge. It’s my fifth year here,” Evans said. “When I first made the transition to Europe from New Zealand, it was huge for his experience to give it to me.

“You fast forward all the preparation for the transition, GP2 when he was in F1, and now sports cars when he was in LMP1, I have so much experience even before I’ve driven in the championship. It’s been great. He’s one of the top guys and he’s very professional. I’m very fortunate.”

They’ll share the same track this week as Webber races in the No. 17 Porsche 919 Hybrid in LMP1, with Evans looking to go two-for-two in his first two sports car races.