JM Littman Pic 1

Most race car drivers begin their careers at an early age. Race fans around the world know the stories of F1 superstars who first sat in go karts when their feet could barely reach the pedals, honing their skills against similarly aged kids before the cream rose to the top and where childhood battles were resumed in the top echelons of global motorsport.

British endurance sportscar racer, JM Littman, is the exception that proves that rule.

Littman was focused on an athletics career in his youth, and only discovered his love of cars and motorsport later in life. Indeed, Littman was at the age when many top global racers are beginning to think of retirement, when he first suited up for a race. His story is one of skill, passion, hard work, and—as he’s quick to point out—a little luck.

It’s also a story about how Project CARS 2 has given Littman a helping hand in his ongoing quest to keep improving his speed and unlock new opportunities in motorsport. We sat down for a chat with JM about his unusual route into racing.

 

How did you first become involved in motorsport?

I’ve always loved cars but I never got near a kart as a kid. Athletics was my focus back then. Of course, as soon as I was old enough, I took my road licence and I was pretending to be Jacques Villeneuve, bombing around the Essex countryside. The closest I actually got to a track was going to the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington! It wasn’t until I was 30 that I got into racing, after a chance conversation with a client at my job, who invited me to “have a go” in a small single seater called a Formula Jedi, with a young driver called Dillon Battistini, who went on to race in the IndyCar series in the USA.

 

 

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What led you to follow a career in sportscars specifically?

As you know, I came into racing far too old and too late to carve out any type of a career in single seaters. {I realized this at my} first race was at Knockhill, in the Formula Jedi, in the pouring rain. I quickly realised that single seaters are really for young kids coming up from karting, who have no fear, so the next season I joined a Caterham Roadsport team and basically got my butt kicked around the last of the runners at every race. I really had no idea what I was doing. Being able to operate a car and being able to race are two very different skills.

Luckily, I was introduced to the Rob Wilson. Rob’s probably the top driver coach in the world and works with the likes of Valtteri Bottas. He took me from last to first within a season. I did a few seasons in Caterhams. They are a lot of fun in the real world and I’ve had a few races on Project CARS 2 with them as well and the dynamics are spot on.

The cars move around a lot and the racing is super close. It doesn’t get much better. Checkout out the Caterham Academy if you want to get into racing. And get a driver coach! I’m available as a coach myself at very good rates.

I had to take several years out of racing after that for work commitments. But I came back in 2013 in the Porsche Boxster UK series. Most UK club racing is limited to 20 – 30 minutes races but I wanted to try something a bit different and 750MC & CSCC UK clubs had just started an Endurance Series. It was a 60-minute race and that seemed like a great idea. I won the inaugural race in my Porsche Boxster and loved racing against different cars and having the interclass battles. Slower cars, dealing with traffic and pit stop strategy. There was just more involved.

It was at the 750MC events that I met Patrick Mortell, who was a team owner and organiser of the Toyota MR2 series, which is another great place to start racing. Patrick had this crazy idea of putting a roll cage into a road going Toyota GT86 and entering it into the 24Series Silverstone 24-Hour race in 2016. I signed up before he could even finish his sentence. The cars were driven to the circuit. Raced 24 hours and then were driven home. And that was my first taste of real endurance racing. From there, I went straight into a SEAT TCR in the Zandvoort 12H and then a Porsche 991 Cup car at the Paul Ricard 24h. Which we won!

 

JM Littman Pic 2

How do you prepare differently for an endurance event, compared to a sprint race?

I do enjoy both types of racing. Both require the same commitment but the challenge is very different. I’ll do the same level of track preparation. Pre event fitness and diet is the same. But a 24-hour race isn’t 24 hours—it’s more like 96 hours. You’ll arrive at the circuit on a Wednesday. Thursday will be testing. Friday will be free practice sessions, qualifying and night practice. And then finally on Saturday we’ll start the actual 24-hour race. It’s an intense 4 days. It really does push you to your physical limits.

Physically and mentally it’s a challenge. The TCR cars get up to 60C/140F in the car. There’s no AC or cooling. It’s just really hot! Imagine doing a work out in a sauna wearing a helmet and 4 layers of Nomex. In a 2-hour stint, I’ll lose up to 3kgs in bodyweight. In the Misano 24H a few years back, I got to the point of complete heat exhaustion and had to be dragged out of the car and into a cold shower to bring my core temp’ down. Whilst we push ourselves to the limits, you have to have a mechanical sympathy for the car in a 24-hour race. Saving your tyres, brakes, and fuel whilst not losing too much time is a real skill.

I am a Bronze level driver in the FIA driver rankings at the moment. This is a real career advantage as there is now a requirement to have a Bronze driver in each team’s lineup for most GT/Endurance series. If you can be on the pace, be consistent and stay out of trouble, then you’ll get the teams interested in you.

The basic difference in sprint races is that we’re full on balls-out from the lights out to the flag. I’ll be a bit more aggressive. Take a few more risks. We don’t tend to need to worry about tyres or fuel and you will fight for every position, attack and defend. Whilst in a 24-hour race, you wouldn’t battle too hard for a position until the last few hours.

 

 

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You’ve driven a variety of different GT cars and prototypes in your career so far, but which ones have been your favourites?

Over the last few seasons I’ve raced so many cars and in many different championships: 24H series, British GT, ELMS, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Le Mans Cup, Mini Challenge, Porsche Cup, VLN. I really enjoy the challenge of getting into a new car and getting up to speed and doing a good job. One week I’m in a LMP3 in the ELMS, next I’m in a GT4 in the British GTs. And the cars: Aston Martin GT4, Audi TCR, BMW GT4, Ginetta GT55, Lamborghini Huracan, Ligier LMP3, Mercedes GT4, Mini JCW, Nissan GT4, Porsche Cayman GT4, Porsche 991 Cup, SEAT TCR. It’s a long list!

Three cars standout for different reasons though. The Porsche 991 Cup Car because I’ve always loved Porsches and the 991 is a unique race car. The Lamborghini Super Trofeo Evo because it’s this big, loud, powerful monster of a race car, and just fun to drive. The Ligier LMP3 is a true race car. Not built on anything that was even considered for the road, and it has aero. Up to 3G under braking. It’s very physical and it’s a massive challenge.

 

 

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We’ve been loving your Instagram posts about the VLN races on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, and we’ve heard that you’ve been using Project CARS 2 to practice. How has that helped your preparations?

Thank you! Project CARS 2 is an invaluable tool for me. I can’t always get to a factory simulator due to time and cost limitations, but I have a PS4 with a Playseat and a Logitech wheel at home which I use before every race I do. Even if it’s a track that I already know. It just sharpens you up and saves you maybe three or four laps of adjusting to the circuit when you arrive. Last year I raced at Portimao for the first time. I probably did 100 laps on Project CARS 2 before flying out. I was up to speed on the track immediately and put in one of my best laps ever in qualifying.

You can get a feel for most tracks in three or four laps. Portimao has 16 corners over 4.6km, it’s roughly a 2-minute lap. And in an hour of testing you can get in 30 laps. That’s plenty to understand the track and start to optimise your times. On the other hand, the Nürburgring Nordschleife has 73 corners and 20km including the GP circuit. In an hour, maybe you can get in 6 laps.

Without my many laps on Project CARS 2, there would have been no possible way for me to get up to speed in the very limited time we get in practice. We managed a fourth in the Cayman class in our first race and a podium in our second. The realism of the track is identical. Though you’re missing the portaloo before you join Döttinger Höhe, that I like to use as my turn in point!

 

JM Littman Pic 3

The most recent VLN race that you did was very wet, making the Green Hell even more hellish than usual! How did you change your driving to adapt to this, and was weather simulation in Project CARS 2 a useful tool to train with?

The weather and rain were certainly hellish. No simulator can give you that buttock clenching feeling as you start aquaplaning towards a barrier, but I knew we had a high chance of a wet race for VLN3, so I did do some laps in the heavy rain weather setting, on Project CARS 2, specifically so I could get used to the track with limited visibility. It gave me a different perspective and really helped in real life.


What is your favourite circuit in real-life, and in the game?

It has to be the Nordschleife. Though I’ve only raced there twice. I’m hooked. They call it Ring Fever! It’s the world’s longest track—breath-taking, challenging, exciting and crazy. Nothing else compares to that place. The atmosphere, the fans, and the organisation are superb. For the track you need another level of focus and concentration, and it’s the same on the game.


Where can our fans find you on social media?

My Instagram account is where I am most active and I like it more as it allows you to connect with more people, and I do answer my DMs.

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