Finishing thirteenth in the Britcar Silverstone 24 Hours just about summed up the fortunes for Strakka Racing’s quartet of Nick Leventis, Peter Hardman, Allan Simonsen and Christian Vann. Despite setting the pace for much of the race, and leading overall for several hours, a succession of drive-train problems for the team’s BMW M3 GTR cost them more than twenty-five laps with pitstops and repairs. Despite the best efforts of all four drivers, luck never swung back their way again.
The race had started in the worst possible way. Within seconds of crossing the line three cars were involved in a major accident along the pit straight, leaving the first hour of the race to be run under the safety car. Peter Hardman, taking the rolling start for Strakka, was forced wide to avoid the spinning cars. “I was so lucky!” said Peter Hardman. “I remember thinking to myself; this is going to be a mess! It was split-second stuff, and I went left. Next moment, the TVR was slicing straight across in front of me and there was debris flying through the air and all across the track. I took to the grass. It looked like the biggest area of open space, but then realised how fast I was going, and I was drifting towards the wall. I thought I was going to be next! I threw in some opposite lock, then found some tarmac between two areas of grass, and bounced. More debris shot back in front of me, but somehow I managed to get through it all without collecting anyone else, being run into, or sustaining any serious damage. Perhaps those few seconds used up all our luck for the race.”
Peter was one of many drivers who chose to pit to have their cars checked over, but seven laps into the race the timing screens had briefly shown the #26 BMW as race leader. It was a quirk of having the safety car on track, and after Peter had also visited the pitlane three times the BMW was very nearly last. It would be a further hour and twenty minutes before he recovered the lead, but at 6:52 pm the #26 Strakka Racing BMW was once again topping the charts. For the next six hours a thrilling tussle ensued, with first the Strakka BMW, and then the #6 Paragon Motorsport Porsche 997 RSR, snatching back the lead, turn-by-turn, pitstop by pitstop. Nick Leventis completed an exemplary first double-stint, and so too did Christian Vann. At midnight, Allan Simonsen climbed into the black BMW for the first time, and once again, Strakka Racing led the race.
Half an hour later, and Simonsen had extended his lead to almost two laps, and then by nearly six laps shortly afterwards as the chasing #41 BMW hit problems. It was all going so well for Strakka, but that was as good as it got.
A sudden vibration grew rapidly worse, and Allan was forced to pit. A failed driveshaft component was suspected and the team effected a rapid repair. The BMW was on track again in a little over ten minutes, but Allan was back in the garage one lap later when it became evident that the problem was more deep-rooted. “Until then, everything had been going perfectly to plan,” said Peter. “The component that failed was one of those parts that has never failed before – they simply don’t! This one did, and the vibration then caused further damage to the differential.” It was close to an hour before the BMW emerged once more, in thirty-fifth position.
This heralded a spirited recovery that saw the Strakka Racing BMW consistently among the quickest cars on the track and successfully claiming fastest lap for the C2 class of 1:56.992 – a time set by Allan Simonsen at half-nine on Sunday morning. By then the team had recovered to an impressive 12th overall. By midday, and with four and a half hours remaining, the #26 BMW was lying eighth. The push continued apace, but each successive position was proving harder to gain. Finally, with the differential showing signs of imminent overheating once again, the decision was taken to ease back and concentrate on a finish. Nick completed the final laps, and crossed the line thirteenth.
“Full credit to the team; they did a fantastic job,” said Nick, “but I cannot deny that I’m very disappointed. To get back to within 20 laps of the leader was a great achievement, and we lead the race for four or five hours, which was stunning. As always, we’ve shown we’ve got a great team, a great car, and one of the best driver line-ups in the race. This time, it just wasn’t our lucky day.”
Allan Simonsen had never driven the BMW before arriving at Silverstone, but settled quickly into the team. “Every time we drove, we were on the pace, and among the quickest on the track,” he said. “I’m just very disappointed for the team, especially after we led the race and had six laps in hand. We clearly had the pace, but we’ve had to endure all these niggling problems. We never gave up though, and everyone worked so hard to keep the car going, but that’s twenty-four hour racing for you. Maybe this just wasn’t ‘our race’.”
Peter Hardman shared his co-drivers’ frustrations, but had praise for the way everyone within the Strakka Racing team had pulled together to keep the car going. “All the other three drivers performed exceptionally,” he said, “and the team did so well to get the car back out as quickly as they did. Everyone works together as a unit, and I believe we now have one of the most professional and best-prepared teams in the paddock. That’s very encouraging for us as we look forward to next season, but it would still have been good to finish this year with a win and, with better luck, I’m convinced that we could have achieved that today.”
Strakka Racing has now completed its calendar for the year, although Nick and Peter both have classic sportscar races scheduled for the coming weeks.