A new era for Strakka Racing will begin at the 12 Hours of Sebring (17 March) in Florida where it will commence its assault on the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). It may be starting a new championship, running a brand new P1 race car - the Honda Performance Development ARX-03a - making its American race debut and returning to LMP1 for the first time in three years, yet the team will arrive in the US better prepared than it has been for the start of any racing season in its history.
A significant part of Strakka's strength comes from its continuity, as it retains the formidable driver line-up that it's had for the past three years in Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane, together with a largely unchanged technical team. The past two months has seen the Silverstone-based team work tirelessly to build its Wirth Research-designed 3.4-litre normally aspirated V8 engined HPD ARX-03a. Initial shakedown test results of the stunning blue and white liveried car at Snetterton last month exceeded all expectations, and whilst the mechanical package is strong, rigorous winter fitness training and an on-going driver development programme ensures that the human element is working at peak performance too, as all three drivers start the new season in top physical shape.
Steeped in history, the 12 Hours of Sebring is one of the world's great sportscar races and an event that every endurance racing driver dreams of winning. Celebrating its 60th anniversary, the race also plays host to the American Le Mans Series and a grid of over 60 cars is expected. The 3.74 mile (6.02km) tight, twisty and bumpy circuit is laid out on a former USA Air Force base and some parts of the circuit still facilitate the old runways.
Out of Strakka's driving trio, only Jonny has raced at Sebring before (the first of three previous races coming on St. Patrick's Day in 2002, exactly 10 years ago), while Danny and Nick have only tested at the Florida circuit late last year.
Nick Leventis: "The wait is finally over and we're so excited to be going to Sebring. Following a really successful shakedown at Snetterton, Danny and I spent some time in South Africa gaining good mileage in a World Series Renault single-seater, so we're heading to Sebring better prepared than we've ever been for any season. Final preparations at the simulator have gone really well, so everything in our control in the build up to the race has gone well and we've had the perfect start to the year. There's a lot of tough competition in LMP1 and the field is very strong, but we've got every faith that we can spring some surprises. A podium would be a realistic target."
Jonny Kane: "I'm really looking forward to Sebring. Preparations for the season ahead have gone well and we're all really looking forward to getting started now. Sebring's going to be our first proper run in the new car and we'll be doing a lot of work to build up valuable information which will put us in a good position to challenge for the rest of the year. It would be amazing to finish on the podium in the first race, and throughout the season that's certainly going to be our goal. I don't know if that's maybe too much to ask from the first race but we'll see, it's a long tough race so anything can happen."
Danny Watts: "It's been a long time since our last race at Silverstone last year so I can't wait to get in the car. This year brings a new championship, new car and a new challenge, so there's a whole world of things to get used to and learn. I was with Strakka when the team was first in LMP1 three years ago so we're used to this level of racing and it's just a case of getting up to speed quickly. We'll have a decent amount of running in Florida before the race, which will give Jonny, Nick and myself a chance to dial ourselves into the new car. I'm really looking forward to the first race of the year, cracking on and seeing how we fare."
The 12 Hours of Sebring begins with two 60-minute practice sessions on Thursday 15 March (starting at 10.00 and 14.50 local time) followed by a third one hour and 45-minute night session at 19.35. A final 60-minute practice begins at 09.55 on Friday 16 March followed by a 15-minute qualifying session (15.55 - 16.10). Race day on Saturday 17 March starts with a 25-minute warm-up at 08.00, before the start of the race at 10.30.