on impressive Le Mans debutStrakka Racing went the distance in an impressive debut run in the Le Mans 24 Hours last weekend, covering a total of 4430 kilometres from start to finish after Nick Leventis took the chequered flag in 21st place, 14th in LMP1. Co-driven by Peter Hardman and Danny Watts, the team’s Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S had been one of the fastest petrol-powered cars in the race, and battled hard amongst the front-runners for several hours before three minor mechanical problems put them on the back foot. Despite this, they rallied repeatedly, and the team exhibited great professionalism, determination and spirit as they fought to keep the car in with a chance.
“I said our goal was to finish and we achieved that, but it’s the way we achieved it that is impressive. I’m very proud of everyone at Strakka Racing, all the crew, my team-mates Nick and Danny and all associated with us. To finish the biggest sportscar race in the world; the Le Mans 24 hours, is a huge a achievement,” said Peter Hardman, Driver and Team Principal at Strakka Racing.
“Although I do feel a certain sense of frustration, having looked so close to a top-ten finish earlier in the race, I am also immensely proud of what we’ve accomplished here as a team,” said Nick Leventis. “We’ve shown tremendous potential, and we’ve only been let down by small mechanical problems. However, we have successfully completed the Le Mans 24 Hours at the first attempt, and that in itself is a considerable achievement. For me personally, considering how far I’ve come in the last three or four years, I’m really delighted. We’ve certainly not disgraced ourselves, and I also believe we’ve demonstrated the enormous potential of the Ginetta-Zytek.”
The race had started with a gritty opening stint from Peter Hardman, who found himself embroiled in a tight-fought dispute between two of the Kolles Audi R10s (last year’s winning cars) and one of the new Lola Aston Martins. For 40 minutes they battled over ninth place until Peter made his first pitstop for fuel. Moments later, as others also pitted, an accident outside the Peugeot garage ultimately lead to a lengthy safety car period, and Peter was caught on the wrong side of the queue. Purely by mischance, the team lost an entire lap that would prove impossible to regain.
Peter pitted in 12th place and handed over to Nick, the second of the team’s three drivers to step aboard the #23 Ginetta-Zytek. From a low of 19th, he picked up three places before handing over to Danny Watts, but when Danny returned to the pits at the end of his double-stint, the rear-left wheel refused to budge. The car had to be hauled back into the garage, where the entire upright needed to be replaced. The repair cost the team some 40 minutes, and when Peter resumed racing, it was from a lowly 35th position overall.
Undaunted, the team pressed on through the night, with Danny Watts completing an impressive quadruple stint of over three hours. Peter then took the difficult dawn period and completed a resolute triple stint, and by the time the sun was up on Sunday morning Strakka Racing was running 17th. Nick Leventis returned to the cockpit for the first daylight run, and continued the recovery, taking 14th place just before handing over to Danny Watts at nine o’clock. Unfortunately, as Danny prepared to set off, the engine refused to fire up. This, and a succession of further minor issues over the remaining hours, saw the team’s position fluctuate between a low of 26th and an eventual high of 21st.
“Once you’ve had a taste of what it’s like to be up there near the top, it’s so disheartening when you get kicked back down 20 places or so, and then have to start fighting your way back up through the field, all over again,” said Nick.
“We had a tremendous car and great pace, but we simply encountered problems that were not related to what we were doing as a team, or as drivers,” suggested Peter. The Ginetta-Zytek itself impressed all three drivers. “We got out of the car on Thursday evening and gathered for a de-brief. When Piers (Phillips, Race Engineer) asked us how we might improve the car, we looked at each other, and then agreed. There was nothing!” smiled Peter. “It was frustrating to have prepared a car that was such a dream to drive, only to have these niggly little problems, but whenever the crew worked on the car to fix anything, and sent us out again afterwards, it felt exactly the same as it had before – perfect. That kind of support instils you with confidence, as a driver, and encourages you to do your best. The whole team has been highly professional throughout, and I’m proud of our achievements here at Le Mans,” said Peter.
Danny Watts is the newcomer to the squad this season, but relished his opportunity. “I’ve had a lot of fun this weekend, and I’ve learned a huge amount. I’m just very grateful to Strakka Racing for giving me this opportunity. They also placed great trust in me, which is gratifying, and to offer me a quadruple stint in the middle of the night was something very special. It’s the most I’ve ever driven in one go, but I enjoyed every second.”
Now in its fourth season, the team was nonetheless completely reshaped with almost all new crew earlier this year, and has gelled together very quickly. “What I have really appreciated this weekend has been the tremendous team spirit here at Strakka,” said Watts. “We’ve all pulled together as a unit towards a single goal, and we made it to the finish with significant credit. I’m proud of everyone involved in this project – Nick and Peter, the engineers, the managers and organisers, and Kate (Horan), of course, who’s kept us all under control and in the right place at the right time. Those are the guys who often don’t get the acknowledgement they deserve, while drivers like us just sit in the car and do what we love doing. We couldn’t do any of it without them.”
““Karl Patman, our Crew Chief, is such a clever guy, and he knew exactly what we needed to do to be fully prepared for this week,” agreed Peter and Nick. “He and Piers have done a tremendous job, as have all the members of the team. We were just so well prepared for this race, and it’s all credit to them. The bigger picture is very positive."
"The engine gave us plenty of power," added Nick. "We had good straight-line speed, and the Michelin tyres were fantastic. They lasted well enough for us to triple stint comfortably, and I tended to find that my quickest times came mid-way through my second stint.”
In conclusion, Nick said; “We had the opportunity here to drive an LMP1 car against the best sportscar drivers and teams in the world. Once we were out there on the track, we had a real race on our hands, and we were in with a chance from the start. We’ve raced the equivalent of a full season in Formula 1 in a single day. Well, you can’t beat that kind of feeling. And there’s a lot more to come yet!”
The team’s next outing will be at the start of August for the 1000 Kilometres of the Algarve.