Plenty of pace but little luck summed up OAK Racing’s performance at the 80th edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours, which also counted as round three of this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship, at Circuit de la Sarthe this weekend.
Having run 1-2 and held the LMP2 class lead by two-and-a-half minutes at midnight, the team was left to rue what might have been with a solitary seventh place finish for its Onroak Automotive designed and built #35 Morgan-Nissan 2012 LMP2 driven by Bas Leinders, Maxime Martin and David Heinemeier Hansson.
The trio had been fighting the team’s sister car for the class lead after a trouble-free first nine hours before three punctures in as many laps, not to mention a necessary change of electrics, saw it plummet down the order to as low as 13th at one stage.
On the other side of the garage the team’s #24 Judd-powered, WEC-registered Morgan had taken control of the class as midnight came and went after Olivier Pla, Jacques Nicolet and Matthieu Lahaye had all spent time at the wheel.
Unfortunately their race would be cut short when a sudden loss of oil pressure necessitated a pitstop. Despite the team’s desperate attempts to remedy the issue, it was a problem that ultimately proved terminal.
The team’s similarly WEC-entered #15 OAK/Pescarolo LMP1, driven by Franck Montagny, Bertrand Baguette and Dominik Kraihamer, was running ninth in class as dawn broke over Le Mans before also being forced into retirement following engine problems.
Sebastien Philippe, Team Principal: “Of course we are disappointed but I would prefer to think about the positives, one of which was the pace of the Morgan 2012 LMP2 regardless of whether it was running Judd or Nissan engines. The car was very quick. I’m also delighted with everyone at the team. They’ve been fantastic and have had a great mind-set from the start. We’ve never been so well prepared and there were no mistakes so the frustration at not scoring a better result is clear. #35 finished seventh but we were expecting much better than that. As for LMP1, I am very disappointed for the drivers who have worked so hard.”
Dominik Kraihamer, #15 OAK/Pescarolo LMP1: “Our goal was to finish the race but we couldn’t do that because of the engine. Our performance was quite good before the problem and I’ve gained a lot of experience from racing here, which personally is something positive to take away.”
Olivier Pla, #24 Morgan 2012 LMP2: “First of all I have to say a big thank you to my team OAK Racing who I know have prepared harder than ever. The pace was great and the car ran like clockwork until the oil pressure problem, which was a massive shame. But at the same time we have shown the car’s true pace and that’s something worth remembering even if the final result is not what we wanted, especially as we were in a position to fight for the victory. We did everything we could.”
Bas Leinders, #35 Morgan 2012 LMP2: “We had blinding pace, certainly enough to be on the podium and perhaps even to fight for the win, which we did until midnight. It was only bad luck that stopped us. Once all the issues were sorted the car was fine again. I was able to triple stint the same tyres and really enjoyed driving the car. Of course it’s good to finish at Le Mans but we know it could have been a lot better.”
Jacques Nicolet, Team Owner: “This year’s Le Mans 24 Hours has shown that OAK Racing’s manufacturer department Onroak Automotive is able to deliver a high level of competitiveness. We were leading LMP2, which is a very close-fought class, for nearly 10 hours. Unfortunately, for different reasons, we couldn’t achieve a strong result in LMP2. We will keep in mind OAK Racing’s ability to fight at the front but need to improve on reliability. Regarding LMP1, we thought the powerplant had found some reliability but unfortunately that wasn’t the case and the car retired with a broken engine. One car from three making the finish is better than none but it’s not good enough. The level we were able to operate the car at today was very interesting and the team demonstrated excellent spirit. We were faultless in our preparation. That will be the great satisfaction the team takes from this 80th edition.”
OAK Racing’s World Endurance Championship season continues at the 6 Hours of Silverstone on August 26.