Strakka in Misano for Six Hour ETCS

After two days of free practice during which they consistently topped the timing screens, Strakka Racing’s Nick Leventis and Peter Hardman contested round five of the 2008 Endurance Touring Car Championship in Misano, Italy,  Sunday. Sharing the team’s BMW M3 GTR, they were looking all-set for a podium finish until a freak wheel-nut seizure, combined with a puncture, cost them forty minutes in the pits with a tricky suspension rebuild. It was a frustrating end to what had been a very promising return to the ETCS.

The Strakka Racing BMW had been absent from the previous three rounds while Nick and Peter concentrated on the Le Mans 24 Hours with Vitaphone, followed by the Spa 12 Hours and then last weekend’s Le Mans Classic. Their return to the ETCS began with an imposing run in both of Friday’s free-practice sessions, with the Strakka M3 out-pacing the similar but highly-favoured Duller Motorsport BMWs by more than a second.

Peter Hardman was quietly confident of securing pole during Saturday’s hour-long qualifying session, and having set provisional pole in the first ten minutes, handed the car over to Nick. Peter’s earlier time had just been bettered by one-tenth when he returned to the cockpit for the closing ten minutes. “Having been fastest in both practice sessions, I think we could have had pole,” he suggested, “but I got held up through one of the flat-out sections. The data showed we were well up on time, but that delay cost me five tenths, so we had to be content with second.” It was a narrow margin, with Peter just seven-hundredths of a second shy of Cesare Cremonese’s best of 1'42.546 in the #36 Arsenio Corse BMW.

Anticipating stints of roughly ninety minutes between fuel-stops, the team’s race strategy saw Nick taking the opening stint. “I made a great start!” he said. “I knew it would be a challenge with Gollin driving the lead Duller car, so I kept out of trouble. He got me into the first corner, but I was content with that.” Nick settled into third, and was dicing with the #36 Arsenio Corse BMW when former FIA GT champion Fabrizio Gollin embarrassingly tangled with his team-mate, Marco Bonamico in the #30 Duller Motorsport BMW. Both cars suffered, but Gollin’s #34 BMW was left stranded on the barriers and the safety car was deployed. That left the race for the lead between the #35 Duller car, the #36, and Nick. “I was held up at the restart, but was able to hold onto third quite comfortably, and then move through to second by the time I handed over to Peter,” he said.

After the first round of pitstops the Strakka BMW resumed in an easy third place, but a strong push from Peter saw the blue and white M3 back through to second as the race entered its fourth hour. Shortly afterwards, and just before he handed back to Nick, Peter took the lead. The pitstop, however, did not go to plan. The front left wheelnut refused to budge, and valuable time was lost. “I had to go back out on the same tyre in the end,” said Nick. “We’d had a lead of more than a lap over the next car, so I rejoined fourth.” He was recovering some of that lost ground, and two-thirds of the way through his stint, when that same front-left tyre suffered a puncture. “Sod’s Law it would be the same wheel!” observed Nick. Unable to remove the wheelnut, the team resorted to a replacing the complete corner, suspension and all. It took nearly forty minutes. “The lads did a great job to get us going again. It was a huge job, and to have it turned round so quickly was impressive, but in a six-hour race, that put us right out of contention.”

“We ran for seven hours in the Spa 12 Hours without a any problems. The car was perfect,” said Peter. “Then here at Misano, we have the wheel nut stick and then the puncture on the same wheel. How unlucky is that? That definitely cost us a podium, if not a win.” Nick was especially disappointed. “I feel very frustrated,” he admitted. “We had a clear chance of a second, and we’ve been let down by nothing more than rough luck. It’s tough, but these things happen.”

The team’s efforts are now focused on running their Aston Martin DBR9 in the Le Mans Series, with the next outing planned for the Silverstone 1000 Kilometres on September 14th.