Newcomers to the top echelon of prototype sportscar racing, Silverstone-based Strakka Racing rounded off an impressive debut weekend with a strong run to fifth overall in the opening round of the 2009 Le Mans Series at the Barcelona Grand Prix circuit in Spain.
A remarkable lap on Saturday afternoon from Danny Watts qualified the team’s Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S on pole for the 1,000 kilometre event. After running a touring car in endurance races just three seasons ago, and then an Aston Martin DBR9 in GT1 in 2008, this single achievement generated a sense of pride in every member of the Strakka Racing team that they will certainly never forget. “I had a kind of vision five or six weeks ago, and imagined myself starting a race from pole this season,” admitted Peter Hardman, co-driver and Team Principal at Strakka, “Even so, it’s still an enormous surprise when something like that actually happens. I can still hardly believe it.”
Peter took the opening stint, but by his own admission, "didn't make the best possible start. I came up to the line at a steady speed, waiting for my moment to accelerate. I wanted to keep everyone bunched tightly,” he said, "but two of the others jumped the start, so I was fourth into Turn 1. I was actually quite happy with that, under the circumstances." Peter set off in hot pursuit. “I wanted to stay with them but was also conscious of the need to look after the tyres,” he added.
Half an hour into the race, and the first Safety Car was deployed. It worked well for Peter, who was the first to pit and held fifth on the restart. The next yellow-flag period fell less favourably, and an incident with some backmarkers cost Peter three more positions about an hour into the race. He handed over to Nick Leventis in eighth place. “I completed two solid stints, kept out of trouble, and stayed with them,” said Nick. “I took over in eighth and handed back in ninth, and set Danny up for the finish. I’m pleased with that.”
Danny Watts was swiftly into his stride, setting the car’s fastest lap of the race, second quickest overall. As others hit problems, a fighting double-stint saw Danny back to fifth at the chequered flag. "We had some mixed luck earlier in the race," said Peter, "but it came back to us at the end. That's the way it pans out sometimes." Danny was pleased with the result. “Pole, good points from the finish, and a great weekend for the squad,” he said. “We’ve proved the car in qualifying, we’ve demonstrated great pace in the race, and we’re working together really well as a team. It’s an excellent start to the season.”
Despite feeling mildly aggrieved by his treatment at the start, Peter Hardman was delighted by the final result. “Sometimes you get the luck of the draw, but we finished, and we finished well. The car is reliable, the Michelin tyres were exceptional, and we made no mistakes. This has been a great beginning for us in prototypes.”
“We’re new to LMP1, and still learning how endurance racing at this level works,” concluded Nick Leventis. “Claiming pole and then going on to finish fifth is excellent, and it’s exactly where we need to be. You only have to look at the other teams we’re up against – Prodrive and Aston Martin, Oreca, Pescarolo – and you can see we’re in very esteemed company. It’s a privilege to be racing at this level.”
The squad can now look forward to the next round at the classic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium in five weeks’ time with some confidence. It is a track the drivers all know well, and now that foundations are in place, Strakka Racing is looking to build on this early success and continue to challenge for podium finishes as their preparation for the epic Le Mans 24 Hours in June continues.