Strakka Racing leads LMP2 in the Le Mans Series, after drivers Jonny Kane, Danny Watts and Nick Leventis took the team's HPD ARX-01d to a second consecutive 3rd place finish this year, this time at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, and scored an extra point for qualifying on pole in Belgium.
The HPD (Honda Performance Development) car had received a 1.2mm restrictor break since the opening round at Circuit Paul Ricard in France, but it was still slower than its more powerful class rivals on the fastest sections of the Spa-Francorchamps 4.352 mile (7.004km) track. Success would depend on the reliability of the car, good strategy, faultless driving by all three drivers, exceptional pit crew work, the superb performance of the Michelin tyres and rivals hitting trouble to give Strakka Racing a chance of finishing on the podium.
Jonny was the star of the team, starting the race safely and being tremendously disciplined when pole became 5th place within the first three laps, as faster LMP2 cars behind were able to quickly overtake in traffic when the HPD ARX-01d couldn't.
The 37-year old Thame-based Northern Irish driver completed a 49 minute / 22 lap opening stint before handing over to Danny. Jonny then drove the car for the final two hours, completing a further 54 laps to take the chequered flag. In total, he drove for 169 minutes and did 76 laps - and to put this sporting feat into perspective, Lewis Hamilton raced for 89 minutes and completed 44 laps when he won the Belgian Grand Prix last year at the same circuit!
There was a minor scare right at the end of the race when debris embedded itself into the front of the HPD ARX-01d and this accelerated front tyre wear and caused a vibration. The car then temporarily came to a halt before the chequered flag owing to a sensor malfunction, but this was quickly rectified when Jonny implemented a system reset. After crossing the finish line in 3rd, the front left tyre then deflated!
Danny did a fantastic middle stint, with the 31-year old driver from Buckingham completing a flawless 48 laps in 97 minutes. He handed the car over to Nick, but before he could exit the pits the lane was closed and the Safety Car deployed following an accident to the #33 Level 5 Motorsport car that had crashed at the bottom of Eau Rouge. Nick was stopped at the pit lane exit for almost 40 seconds, before it re-opened and he was able to join the convoy. This would prove significant, because at the end of the race Strakka Racing would finish 3rd in LMP2, 10.306 seconds behind the 2nd placed #45 Boutsen Energy Racing car.
After 20 minutes running behind the Safety Car, carefully trying to keep the tyres and brakes at a reasonable temperature, the 30-year old London-based driver drove magnificently for well over an hour, completing a further 38 trouble-free laps, before handing over to Jonny for the final double stinted race to the finish.
Nick Leventis: "This is another fantastic result for the team. It's all about grinding out results for the championship and that's exactly what we've done today. It is evident from the opening stint of the race that we're well underpowered; we got swamped in the first few laps and from then on we were on the back foot. We were also very unlucky with the Safety Car and I got stuck in the pit lane and lost thirty-five or forty seconds - and the difference between us and P2 at the end of the race was just over ten seconds. Jonny drove exceptionally well today, Danny did a fantastic stint to put us back to where we should be and I thought I did pretty well and kept us in the mix. It's been another great team performance and we're feeling confident and happy heading into Le Mans. That's a nice position to be in, and after Le Mans we'll return to the LMS leading the championship and with everything to play for."
Danny Watts: "We knew before we arrived at Spa that pace was going to be difficult, but we were also very unlucky with the Safety Car situation that kept Nick in the pit lane. My double stint was fine, I had no issues, no moments and no problems; the car was consistent and easy to drive throughout - it was all very free flowing. We were quick in sector two, sector one and three, where you need the top speed, we were down and I was struggling to overtake some people. It was important to stay calm in the car and reel off the laps consistently, and don't get involved in anyone else's dramas, and there were a lot of dramas going on out there today! The bigger picture is that we are leading the championship because we've scored decent points with two thirds and a pole position in the first two rounds. Given the situation we're in, that's the best we can do."
Jonny Kane: "It's fantastic that we're leading the championship and it's obvious, even with our restrictor break, that we haven't got the top end speed that we need. The car was working really well in the fast and flowing middle sector, so that meant we could just about be competitive lap time-wise, but it was very very difficult in traffic - much more so for us than our faster rivals who have that extra horsepower and straight line speed. The whole team has done a very good job and we've come away with a good haul of points by finishing third again; it shows the team spirit we have at Strakka Racing."
Piers Phillips, Team Principal and Technical Director: "We had a game plan and we stuck to it, but we didn't have any option because we knew we'd suffer compared to some of the LMP2 opposition which are simply faster than us in a straight line. It was a case of having to run as hard as we could for all six hours, just to keep up. Once again it was fantastic pit work from the guys - the pits stops were exceptional and the driver changes were slick - and the drivers in their own performance were superb. It was a very busy race track, but we had no incidents with anyone. Nick was fantastic; there won't be many drivers that drive like that for over an hour and not win a race. Danny did a great job with his double stint and Jonny got us underway and brought us home. The car ran faultlessly. With HPD you get in, press the start button and off you go and when the chequered flag falls you turn it off and park it up again - it's unbelievable! Running trouble-free is also a testimony to the way it's maintained and the way Karl [Patman] and the guys look after it, both at our Silverstone workshop and at the track. It's a new engine development programme and it's already proven to be super reliable, and that will stand us in very good stead when we get to Le Mans."