Strakka Racing’s Peter Hardman and Nick Laventis set the pace for this season’s Endurance Touring Car Series with a dominant run to pole in the opening round at the Corsican circuit of Vallelunga in Italy last weekend.
The team’s BMW M3 GTR had been quickest throughout practice, and Peter Hardman had the blue-and-white liveried BMW topping the timing screens after his first flying lap in official qualifying. That provisional claim to pole stood the test of almost the entire hour-long session, with co-driver Nick Laventis enjoying most of the middle period, and setting a pace that demonstrated the strength in Strakka’s 2008 driver line-up. As the hour drew to a close, Peter Hardman went out again. Despite a flickering fuel-warning light, he came through in the dying moments to put pole beyond reach, setting a time of 1.39.535 that was a full half-second clear of the second-placed BMW of Venturi and Meloni. “The car had been spluttering on fuel,” explained Peter, “but I was able to switch onto the reserve. I took the next lap easy, so the tyres were probably cooling, but I still went for it on that last lap, and was delighted to improve my time and secure pole.”
Peter Hardman took the rolling start in what was scheduled as a four-hour race, holding the lead through the first corner, and then immediately easing out a significant advantage over the chasing pack. For the first hour and ten minutes the BMW’s 3.2 litre straight-six ran like clockwork, and Hardman was able to establish a strong overall lead. Nick Laventis was suited up in the garage and preparing for his first stint when the M3’s engine suddenly gave up. “There was no warning at all,” said Peter Hardman. “We were leading quite easily, and seemed to have the race in the bag, and then the engine just went.” The exact reason for the failure has yet to be ascertained, but a failed piston is suspected. The engine was the same one the team had employed to win the six-hour Vallelunga Silver Cup late last year, and “still have plenty more running in it.”
“That was very promising, yet bitterly disappointing at the same time,” said a crestfallen Nick Laventis. “The car showed that it easily had the pace, and ran really well for the first hour or so with no problems. I was just getting ready to get in when disaster struck.” Nick’s time in practice and qualifying had demonstrated that he also had excellent race pace, and that the pairing is one of the strongest in the championship. “Obviously we’re very disappointed not to have finished, but we can take the positives forward into the next round and be confident that we have the pace and the car to win these races. It would have been nice to have finished though.”
The next round is scheduled for May 24th-25th at Brno, in the Czech Republic.
About the SeriesThe Peroni Endurance Touring Car Series has been running for twelve years, but 2008 sees the championship moving up a notch with full FIA Board approval. Since its inauguration the status and popularity of the ETCS has grown steadily, and races regularly attract grids of fifty cars or more. Entrants adhere to the same basic regulations that apply to the Nurburgring 24 Hours, with some slight amendments to classes, tyres and overall weight to enable less powerful cars to remain competitive. Both petrol-engined and diesel-powered cars are eligible to compete. Teams run squads of two or three drivers, with all drivers required to complete a minimum of three laps in qualifying.
Although largely centred upon Italian circuits, this year’s 7-event ETCS calendar includes additional races in the Czech Republic (Brno), Portugal (Villareal), Croatia (Rijeka). The 2008 series is scheduled to include six four-hour races, and one six-hour event that will run through into the night. In addition to these seven ETCS races, Strakka Racing is also preparing entries for the Vallelunga Gold and Silver Cup events.