Strakka Racing rounded off their 2009 Le Mans Series season with a strong run to ninth place overall, eighth in LMP1, for the final 1000 Kilometre race at Silverstone on Sunday. The weekend concluded a debut season that has seen the team pitched from the highs of pole position, to the lows of two non-finishes. Throughout this rollercoaster ride, the team has displayed a level of professionalism and enthusiasm that has impressed rival competitors and race organisers alike, firmly establishing the name of Strakka Racing as one to be reckoned with for the future.
The season finalé got off to a challenging start for the Silverstone-based outfit. Being unable to participate in qualifying on Saturday resulted in a back-row start for the six-hour race. Danny Watts joined two other prototypes at the rear of the forty-car field, knowing he had to overtake three-quarters of those cars in order to reach his rightful position in the ranks. He set about it with a will, and was knocking on the door of the top-ten within the first hour.
“The car was very nimble through traffic, and that made my life a lot easier, but I wasn’t prepared to take too many risks. I strung together some decent times, and made it through to the fringes of LMP1 before the end of my stint. I was pleased with that, but from then on, it was much harder to gain ground.” Piers Phillips, Team Manager at Strakka, was suitably impressed. “In a situation like that, it’s critical that you work through traffic as quickly as you can, but when the speed differentials are as huge as they are in this series, you also have to be very careful. Danny’s opening stints were excellent. He handed over in tenth, and I couldn’t have asked, or expected, more from him. He did a stellar job – very quick, and trouble-free.”
Nick Leventis took over for the middle hours, and consolidated the team’s hold on ninth overall with a consistent and measured double-stint. “Traffic was a serious problem, and you either had to be very aggressive or extremely cautious. Under the circumstances I felt that a strong finish was more important, so I chose to err on the cautious side. Even so, towards the end of my second stint I had an unfortunate incident with one of the GT2 cars – which I’ve been assured was entirely his fault! – and that cost us valuable time.” It also cost the team a couple of places, and when Danny took over again the #23 Ginetta-Zytek was lying in eleventh place.
“The car felt better than it had been first time round for my final stints,” said Danny, “and the fresh tyres meant I was able to push a little harder for the first half-hour or so.” During that period he was one of the fastest on track, and gaining ground on all those ahead of him. “The car was easy and consistent to drive, despite a tendency towards understeer, and I could certainly reel off the laps.” Unfortunately, the lap lost as a result of starting from the back was compounded by a problem with Danny’s harness at the start of his final stint, when he was forced to make another pitstop. These two lost laps could never be regained, but a solid finish was certainly on the cards.
The fast pace at Silverstone resulted in one of the quickest 1000 Kilometre races on record, at less than five and a half hours, yet this also demanded a sixth scheduled stop for fuel. “We thought we’d put the boss back in for the last half-hour,” said Piers. “We decided he deserved to take the chequered flag.” So Nick Leventis climbed in for the final stint.
“I was delighted to see that flag,” said Nick, “but I’m disappointed that I couldn’t reward the team with something better. This year has been an extremely steep learning curve for everyone at Strakka, but we’ve proved that we can compete very effectively at this level, and we’ve certainly not disgraced ourselves. It’s an excellent feeling to know that we have such a dedicated, tight knit and strong-willed group to help carry us through to even bigger and better things in 2010.”
“It may have been a tough year but we’ve enjoyed working closely with Zytek and are proud to have scored competitive finishes both here at Silverstone this weekend, and also at Le Mans at our first attempt,” said James Turner, Commercial Director at Strakka Racing.”It is only right that we thank all the team at Zytek for their unstinting efforts to build reliability and pace throughout the season.”
“This has been a very exciting year for Strakka,” admitted Piers Phillips. “Moving up to LMP1 was a big step for us, a very brave decision, but I believe we’ve acquitted ourselves well, and set in place the foundations to move forwards with confidence. Our aim next season is to be ready to challenge for podium finishes at every race.”
Strakka now enters the closed season, confident that it can challenge the best and enthused for the challenges and opportunities to come.