Strakka Racing’s driver pairing of Nick Leventis and Peter Hardman were in Spain last week for some early winter testing ahead of finalising plans for next season. The two drivers have shared the team’s Aston Martin DBR9 this year in the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Le Mans Series, as well as raced their BMW M3 GTR in ETCS and Britcar events. With all the scheduled races for 2008 now completed, the team has a number of key decisions to make in preparation for 2009.
Strakka Racing booked the private test for Wednesday and Thursday at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo, just outside the city of Valencia in Spain. As well as an opportunity to fit different tyre compounds to the Aston Martin, Strakka also invited a number of other teams to participate in the test, including Zytek Automotive and AF Corse.
Peter Hardman has been mentoring Nick Leventis ever since the younger driver entered into sportscar racing, and has been delighted by Nick’s development over the past four seasons. “We fitted a second seat into the Aston for the Valencia test,” explained Peter. ”That enabled us to drive the track together, share feedback in real-time, and for me to give Nick some pointers. Seeing is believing, and Nick made tremendous progress yet again. I’ve always said that the closer you get, the harder it becomes, and Nick’s now getting very close to the pace and, more importantly, is also very consistent.”
The crux of the test, however, was to get the team’s new Chief Race Engineer, Piers Phillips, in tune with the car. Piers has joined the team from SEAT after seeing former champion Jason Plato through another impressive season in British Touring Cars. The Valencia test enabled Piers to gain insight into the team and how it works, and specifically, the car’s handling on different tyres and compounds. “We had some issues this year,” admits Peter Hardman. “We need to sort those out before we commit to a full season in the Le Mans Series with the Aston. The bottom line is, we do not have a competitive tyre deal agreed as yet, and without that we shall not run the DBR9 in 2009. We need to be confident that we can challenge regularly for wins, but we’re in the fortunate position of having a good budget in place for next season. That means we’re able to look seriously at the alternatives, and one of those is to step up to prototypes; either LMP2 or even LMP1. It’s just a year earlier than we’d originally planned.”
Having Zytek on hand sharing the circuit was the perfect opportunity for both the Strakka drivers to sample a taste of prototype driving. Peter’s first reaction on stepping out of the Ginetta-Zytek 07S after his first run was “That was great! I’ll have one of those please!” The car in question had recently returned from the eight-hour Petit Le Mans event at Road Atlanta in America, where it finished fourth in LMP1 in the hands of Danny Watts and Olivier Pla. “It really works as a racing car should, and all you need to do is drive!” enthused Peter. “It’s easier and more comfortable than the Aston in many ways, with nice gearchange paddles on the steering wheel, excellent visibility and a lighter touch.”
Nick Leventis (left) considered the Zytek a revelation. “I couldn’t believe how easy it was compared to the Aston. I felt able to push, right from the start, and that gave me the confidence to go quicker. I was very close to Peter's times in the Zytek, and that suggests we could be a very competitive pairing. Having never driven a car like that before, to be on the pace so soon was very encouraging. It has certainly opened doors that we might not have considered before.” Also testing the Zytek at Valencia were Nigel Mansell and his son Leo.
“Testing the Zytek has left us with a quandary,” concedes Peter Hardman, whose best lap in the Aston had been within a few tenths of the GT1 pole from 2007. “We’d still really like to run the Aston next year, but something like the Zytek is enormously appealing – as is the competitiveness of the prototype categories in the Le Mans Series.”
It is a dilemma both drivers share. “I’d never have even considered a prototype drive a few weeks ago,” says Nick, “We now have to assess our options in detail in the light of this test. It may depend largely on who’s going to give us the most support, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out a move into prototypes. In every respect, it has been a very productive two days, and that’s a nice way to end what’s otherwise been a frustrating season. Roll on 2009!”