In a dramatic race, the only all-British driver line-up of Nick Leventis (London), Danny Watts (Buckingham) and Jonny Kane (Thame) came from 36th on the starting grid to finish a magnificent 6th overall in their Honda Performance Development ARX-03c, boosting its title challenge by scoring double points in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
This is the second major victory for the Silverstone-based team at Le Mans. In 2010, Strakka Racing won LMP2 and finished 5th overall – which is still the highest overall finishing position for an LMP2 car in the 90-year history of the race.
A similar strategy of keeping the car circulating around the 8.468 mile (13.629km) Circuit de la Sarthe and out of the pits again paid dividends – and the HPD ARX-03c ran faultlessly throughout, despite zero water pressure for the majority of the race.
Constantly changing weather and track conditions, low temperatures and more than 10 Safety Car periods made it a tricky race, yet the team managed to turn around a troublesome practice and qualifying build-up to enjoy a largely problem-free race in its Relentless Energy Drink supported prototype.
Danny started the race and moved from 36th to 13th in three laps, before quickly settling into 8th place – the same position the team had qualified in before a grid penalty was imposed. His first stint lasted three and three-quarter hours, during which Danny sustained sore hips that developed into very painful welts, which required medical treatment during the remainder of the event. But his speed and textbook quadruple stint in the hours after midnight were also significant.
Nick took on the most challenging of race conditions – long runs when the temperatures were at their coldest and the track had the least amount of grip. His faultless performance immediately after darkness and during sunrise was the backbone of the team’s success.
Jonny showed no side effects of his 128.6mph (207kph) impact with a crash barrier in qualifying to put in another stunning performance on his tenth appearance at Le Mans. His experience ensured Strakka made no mistakes in the incredibly difficult closing stages of the race, where torrential showers of rain caused havoc. He eventually had the honour of taking the chequered flag.
Strakka Racing’s success was overshadowed by the tragic accident that claimed the life of Aston Martin Racing Team driver Allan Simonsen. The 34-year old Dane had raced a BMW M3 GTR with Strakka Racing in various races in 2008, including the Britcar 24 Hours. Strakka wishes to express its great sadness and extends its deepest condolences to Allan’s family and close friends.
Nick Leventis: “It wasn’t an easy run up to the race by any means, but such is the spirit of the Strakka team that we never give up. We stuck to our game plan of staying out of trouble and we’ve won the LMP1 Privateers’ award – meaning that for Strakka Racing stands on the top step of the podium at Le Mans for the second time in four years. It was a tremendous effort by everyone in the team. Both Jonny and Danny showed once again why they are top level drivers and whilst we’re not a factory team, we certainly try to operate at a factory standard. Fair play to Rebellion, they had the pace on us this weekend, but in a twenty-four hour race you have to be there at the end, so we’ll take this victory away with us and enjoy it. To race at Le Mans in LMP1 and be the first privateer team home is a monumental mark in the history of Strakka Racing. It’s been a very emotional weekend for all sorts of reasons. I am deeply saddened to hear the news about Allan Simonsen and send my condolences to his family. I was fortunate enough to know him well and am proud to have been a former team-mate of his in 2008 at the 24 Hours of Silverstone, he will be dearly missed by all.”
Danny Watts: “It’s not really sunk in that I’ve been on the podium at Le Mans, because I’m so tired. I have to apologise to Jonny, because I missed his last race-finishing stint, because I was asleep in the back of the truck! My side hurts a little, but I’m not so much physically whacked as mentally drained. It’s also been a very emotional twenty-four hours with what happened to Allan Simonsen. I had to take the start from thirty-sixth on the grid, so there was a bit of pressure on me to stay out of trouble – which I managed to do. I went on and had a really good three hour forty-five minute stint which got us threw all the GT and LMP2 cars. My second stint was at night and the car was consistent and fairly easy to drive. It’s great to won the LMP1 Privateers’ award, but what’s most important is that we get double points for the WEC.”
Jonny Kane: “That was the most changeable conditions of any of the ten Le Mans I’ve done before by a long way. It was very tricky, lots of people were spinning in front of you and trying to choose the right tyre was all very difficult. So this really feels like a brilliant win, because we had to work very hard for it. Victory in LMP1 Privateers’ certainly didn’t come easy, so it makes the win all the more special. Crashing in qualifying was a big set back for us and it was a bit unfortunate. I don’t make many mistakes and it really upsets me when I do – plus it took a lot of our spares out of action. If we had pretty much any problems in the race, with any damage to the front or the rear bodywork, it would have probably been a race stopper. So it was nice for me to redeem myself within a few days, rather than have to wait until the next race weekend! Winning LMP1 Privateers’ at Le Mans is a fantastic result and an achievement I’m very proud of.”
Dan Walmsley, Strakka Racing Team Manager: “It’s been a very challenging race weekend and a compete contradiction between what we experience in the run up to the race, none of which related to the team’s level of preparation, and the race itself – which produced such a very satisfying result. The issues we had in practice and qualifying really didn’t show the true performance we had in the car or our true standard of work. So to start a race fairly blind, with drivers who hadn’t had enough track time, and with a big grid penalty, and to still come out the other end with victory in the LMP1 Privateers’ category – and being the top non-factory car – exceeded all our expectations. Because of the constantly changing weather, we had to change our strategy and react to things on a minute-by-minute basis, and I think we called all the key decisions correctly. I’m really delighted for the entire team, as each person has contributed so much on so many different levels – even though we are missing our chief mechanic, Paul Stephens, who is recovering from a back problem. The result stands out as a reward for everyone in the team for all their hard work and commitment to the Strakka cause and to what we hope is becoming a well recognised and respected motorsport brand.”
(Image: Gerlach Delissen)