Strakka Racing made a very creditable debut in the highly competitive Le Mans Series at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on Sunday. The team’s driver pairing of Peter Hardman and Nick Leventis steered their Aston Martin DBR9 to a high of second in class before finally crossing the line to take fourth place in GT1.
An entry in Round 3 of the 2008 Le Mans Series at Spa was the first stage in major new endurance racing programme for the Silverstone-based outfit, and offered dress-rehearsal opportunities ahead of the two drivers’ participation in the Le Mans 24 Hours next month. The news that Peter Hardman and Nick Leventis will co-drive the Vitaphone-entered Aston Martin DBR9 in the 24 Hours was confirmed earlier today, and taking part in the Spa 1000 Kilometres was the perfect introduction to the level and intensity of competition they will face at Le Mans. “This weekend has been a fantastic experience for me,” said Nick Leventis. “It’s all part of the learning curve as a driver, and just getting used to this amount of traffic has been invaluable.”
With more than forty cars taking part in four different classes, the pressure on any driver is intense, with significant speed differentials and braking capabilities between one category and the next placing additional demands upon a driver’s awareness and resources. “The plus side is that the track conditions here [at Spa] are much more demanding than those at Le Mans, from the traffic point of view, and we’ve coped here very well,” said Peter Hardman. “After this, Le Mans might not even seem so challenging!”
In a demanding five-and-a-half hour race punctuated by safety car periods, typically initiated by driver error and contact, the Strakka Racing pair coped well with the difficult conditions. Peter Hardman took the rolling start from fifth in class, and moved through to fourth on lap twelve. By lap 22 he was up into third, and after the first driver change to Nick Leventis, the Aston briefly held second place in class under the pitstops. However, a couple of minor errors included a spin at Les Combes that ended in the gravel and cost valuable time, with Nick relying on assistance from the marshals to regain the track. “I just locked up under braking, simple as that,” he admitted. “I was stuck in the gravel for ages!” Peter, who has mentored Nick for the past four years, was sympathetic of his protégé's predicament. “The car wasn’t at its best today,” he conceded. “We were struggling to carry speed into the corners and there was no margin for error. Even the slightest mistake and the back end just snapped away from you.”
Despite the handling difficulties, the pair pressed on to the flag, with the car running faultlessly in every other respect. “I’m very proud that we’ve finished, but I know there’s a lot more to come,” said Nick Leventis. “It’s a great start for the team, and it sets us up well for the Le Mans 24 Hours next month.” Peter Hardman agreed. “In the end we just needed to keep going to the finish, stay out of trouble, and take fourth place. We know there’s so much more to come from this car, so to get a result under these conditions is quite an achievement.”
The team’s next challenge will be the official Le Mans test day, to be staged at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe on the 1st June.