OAK Racing begins its 2012 World Endurance Championship assault in America this weekend (Saturday 17 March) at the 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring hoping to make an instant impression in both the LMP1 and LMP2 classes.
A crown jewel of the sportscar racing calendar, and one that in terms of prestige ranks second only to Le Mans itself, signals the re-launch of an FIA-ratified global endurance series after 20 years of hibernation.
And with no less than 60+ WEC/ALMS entries confirmed, this year’s race is sure to be one of the most congested in its 60-year history. The 5.95km 17-turn Sebring International Raceway in Florida is also the most physically demanding on the calendar with the former US Air Force base’s combination of high humidity and part-asphalt, part concrete surface taking its toll on car and driver alike.
OAK Racing has responded to the challenge of taking on the world’s top LMP manufacturers, teams and drivers with typical gusto by entering a brace of its all-new Onroak Automotive-designed and built prototypes for the full WEC season.
Familiar face and highly regarded Frenchman Guillaume Moreau returns to the OAK Racing fold for a fourth consecutive season to lead the #15 OAK-Pescarolo LMP1 line-up that includes 2009 Formula Renault 3.5 champion and IndyCar driver Bertrand Baguette (Belgium) and young Austrian prototype ace Dominik Kraihamer.
In a premier class expected to be headed by Audi’s all-conquering diesel contingent, OAK Racing has high hopes of spearheading the petrol-powered attack just as it did to score an overall podium finish at the 6 Hours of Silverstone last year. Since then the 2012-spec car, which features a significantly revised aero package and chassis, as well as the now mandatory shark fin and front wing cut outs, has completed over 1000 kilometres of mileage and shown great promise during winter testing.
Meanwhile, expectations for OAK Racing’s similarly all-new Morgan 2012 LMP2 have been set even higher following last weekend’s fastest time during European Le Mans Series pre-season testing at Paul Ricard in France, which validated the team’s initial confidence over the winter. Those hopes remain high despite Monday’s open test accident that will ensure the car remains sidelined until Thursday.
Aiming for class victory at Sebring is Team Owner and ‘Silver’ grade gentleman racer Jacques Nicolet who is joined at the wheel of the #24 machine by rapid French duo Matthieu Lahaye and Oliver Pla. This will be Lahaye’s fifth straight season with the squad while 2009 LMS champion Pla returns following his successful part-2011 campaign.
A second Onroak Automotive-designed and built Morgan 2012 LMP2 is also scheduled to line-up on Saturday courtesy of Conquest Endurance through their capacity as OAK Racing’s official US importer and distributor. Certainly then this weekend provides an ideal opportunity to showcase the Morgan 2012 LMP2’s credentials.
As part of its official technical partnership with Dunlop, OAK Racing is also excited to see the benefits of improved tyre performance at Sebring where the team helped develop a new range of endurance rubber during the winter.
Sebastien Philippe, Team Principal: “Our objective for the #15 OAK Pescarolo LMP1 is to find a good race set-up as we are looking for performance and consistency during long stints. Qualifying is not our priority. It is important that our drivers gain experience of the circuit. That’s especially true of Bertrand, who has never driven at Sebring, and Dominik.
“Unfortunately, following the LMP2 car’s accident, we do not have one of the necessary spare parts with us. It is being dispatched and will be here by the middle of the week. It is always frustrating to miss out on track time but the performance already demonstrated has been positive. We are fast and the crew knows the circuit well. Come this weekend I’m sure we will be fighting at the front of the pack.”
Bertrand Baguette, #15 OAK-Pescarolo LMP1:“This is the first time that I will have raced at Sebring. It is a great circuit with lots of bumps but quite difficult to learn, especially the last corner which is very fast. It must be taken perfectly and for that it’s important to have a lot of confidence in the car. Happily the initial signs are good. It’s stable despite more work needing to be done.
“The biggest difficulty we’re experiencing involves the heavy traffic, especially as there is a significant difference between the prototype and GT classes. It’s something that we are still getting used to.”
Matthieu Lahaye, #24 Morgan 2012 LMP2: “It was great to get back in the car and out on-track at Sebring. We were on the pace right away and that bodes well for what promises to be a challenging weekend. Between the heat here in Florida and the number of cars competing we’ve got our work cut out, but at least we know that the performance is already there.”
Jean-Felix Bazelin, Dunlop Motorsport Competition Director: “Mutual trust and fluid information exchange between Dunlop’s engineers and those at OAK Racing helped us to continue working effectively together as early as the end of last season. Working closely at the first Sebring test after the final round in Zhuhai, they were able to very quickly define a new range of products that improve both outright performance and consistency over long distances. As this was conducted at the same circuit as the World Championship’s opening round, we have every reason to feel optimistic about how the OAK/Dunlop package will behave at the legendary Sebring circuit. We have worked hard with OAK Racing and are excited to see the tangible results of our three-year technical partnership bear fruit.”
The week-long event begins with open testing on Monday and Tuesday ahead of Thursday and Friday’s Free Practice and Qualifying. The race itself begins at 10:30 local time on Saturday morning.
60th Anniversary Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida timetable (local time):
Monday 12: Open Test
Tuesday 13: Open Test
10:00 – 11:00: Free Practice 1
14:50 – 15:50: Free Practice 2
19:35 – 21:00: Free Practice 3
09:55 – 10:55: Free Practice 4
15:20 – 16:25: Qualifying
08:00 – 08:25: Warm-Up
10:30 – 22:30: Twelve Hours of Sebring