Strakka Racing rockets from 56th to 7th at the Le Mans 24 Hours and scores vital WEC points, despite last minute disappointment
Strakka Racing came from 56th and last at the beginning of the Le Mans 24 Hours to fight back to 7th place with three hours remaining, before a water pressure problem forced its Honda Performance Development ARX-03a into the pit garage. But the supreme efforts of drivers Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane and the entire team did not go unrewarded, as they crossed the finish line to score 3rd placed points in the FIA World Endurance Championship for Privateers’.
Having enjoyed a completely trouble-free build-up to race day, dominating the top privateer category throughout Free Practice and Qualifying, an oil leak in the transmission system prevented the #21 HPD ARX-03a from taking its rightful 7th place on the grid. It took 22 minutes before Jonny was able to join the race, six laps behind the leaders – but it received a massive cheer from the 70,000 British spectators, as the fighting bulldog spirit began an astonishing comeback.
The HPD ARX-03a was consistently the fastest privateer car out on track, and in parts its lap times were only surpassed by those of the leading works Audis.
All three drivers drove exceptionally well. Nick took control for two of the most difficult parts of the race – the dusk and sunrise stints, where track temperature and visibility fluctuate – and moved the team up the field with fast, consistent and precise driving, despite the road course’s vibrations causing considerable discomfort to his left leg, during slow-moving periods behind the Safety Cars.
Jonny, using Danny’s seat in an attempt to prevent a repeat of his own leg problems experienced at Sebring, drove superbly. A spin and subsequent contact with the wall at the final corner at night, when a misunderstanding in communications saw him push harder than needed, was his only glitch in an otherwise truly outstanding performance.
Danny was particularly pleased with his very first and final stints, in which every lap was driven like a qualifying lap in an effort to get the car up the leaderboard – which was achieved with enormous success. His quadruple night time stint saw the team climb from 18th to 11th position – which was also a credit to the Michelin tyres, that were able to run for almost three hours without changing.
With five hours remaining, concerns began to grow about the car’s water pressure. Eventually there was a fear that the car may stop out on track and the team not finish the race, so in order to prevent a DNF the car was parked in the garage for much of the final three hours – only returning to the track for Jonny to take the chequered flag. It certainly wasn’t the way Strakka Racing wanted to finish the race, but it gave them valuable points in the WEC; made all the more important as double points were awarded at Le Mans.
Nick Leventis: “It’s heart-breaking that we drivers couldn’t give the boys the result they deserve, because we’ve been through so much together at Le Mans this year. To start six laps down, knowing that you have the pace to be the top privateer car and challenge the manufacturers, was a bitter blow, but we dug deep as a team and just got on with it. We were consistently the fastest privateer team and with a great team spirit we fought back to seventh overall. Even though we hit a hurdle we just couldn’t overcome three hours before the end, full credit should go to the engineering team who have done an exceptional job over the last three weeks. Everyone has shown unbelievable passion, talent and work ethic to qualify where we did, to show the true pace of the car in the race and to stick at it so professionally. It’s a real shame what happened towards the end, but such is a nature of Le Mans. It’s the world’s toughest race, we’ve still scored good points in the World Endurance Championship and our performance and spirit have once again proved why we are going to be one of the teams to beat in the future.”
Danny Watts: “The car had great pace all weekend and it’s a shame we lost six laps at the start because I think we’d have been right up there in the mix. But after what happened, you just have to change your mind-set so it becomes a fight-back and every lap is more like a qualifying lap. Forget a safe and consistent pace, all I was told on the radio was ‘right, push, push, push’. And that’s what I did on every lap of every stint, and on a quadruple stint that’s tough going. It’s a shame we got so far without completing the full twenty-four hours, but Lady Luck wasn’t on our side. It’s hard to describe what you go through emotionally and physically at Le Mans, and this year has been a rollercoaster. We had a few issues with the car during the race and the lads in the garage never give up, no matter what was thrown at them. A great spirit, a great fight and a true testimony to what team we are.”
Jonny Kane: “It’s been a tough Le Mans, for the lads more than for us drivers to be honest. We ran so many laps in practice without a problem, and it’s really cruel that we had to come off the grid because of a small oil leak. All credit to the team that we only lost six laps, which at Le Mans still keeps you in the hunt for a good result. It was even crueller to have a water pressure problem after we’d fought our way up from last to seventh overall. The car was running really well, handling brilliantly and all we had to do as drivers was push as hard as we could. Everything had been going well, although I had a bit of a mis-communication during the night with the pit wall. I heard on the radio that the gap to David Brabham was one minute and I thought I heard that he was catching me at 1.5 seconds per lap. In actual fact it was the other way around and I was catching him, but I upped my pace a bit to try and stop losing time! I did go faster, but I tried to be a little bit greedy at the final chicane, cut the corner too much and the floor of the car hit the kerbs and spat me off. I hit the tyre barrier very gently, but hard enough to have to come in for repairs, which must have cost us another lap. Every stint we did in the car was fast, so it’s such a shame to work so hard and get so far and then have a problem near the end.”
Piers Phillips, Team Principal and Technical Director: “Having detected an oil leak on the grid, lose over twenty minutes, start fifty-sixth and last and then to fight back to seventh was a fairy tale really. We had great pace, all three drivers drove magnificently and for a while it looked like a great finish was on the cards. All you can do at Le Mans is give it your best shot, which is what we did. The team was amazing in terms of the way it performed. Every pit stop was perfect, the small technical issues we had were dealt with and I’m very proud of the team; it’s just a shame we couldn’t give them the result they deserve. But we’ve taken the chequered flag – not in the way we wanted, but ironically it’s given us the same amount of World Endurance Championship Privateers’ Team points that we would have probably scored had we completed all twenty-four hours. We’re all devastated right now, but we take an awful lot of positives away with us that will put us in good stead for the rest of the season.”