Strakka Racing will be aiming for a podium finish at the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, according to team principal Dan Walmsley.
Walmsley’s team is preparing one of 11 entries for the 6 Hours of Silverstone on April 17, which kicks off the nine race series. Last year’s driver lineup of Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane will reunite to pilot the #42 Gibson 015S Nissan.
“Winning is the target every time we hit the track, but we’ve got to try and get through the six hour races,” Walmsley tells The Checkered Flag. “It’s always a race of attrition, especially at Silverstone, but it’s a circuit that suits the Gibson. Our car is forgiving on the tyres, has a good downforce setup, and although it has a little more drag than other cars it should lend itself to this circuit.”
“There are challenges across the board in LMP2,” he adds. “The Oreca 05 [entered by Manor and G-Drive Racing], for instance, looks like a very impressive car over one lap although we believe its tyre degradation is a bit of an issue, so I think you’ll see the ebb and flow of a phenomenally quick car that struggles for pace towards the end.”
“Equally you’ve got some fantastic driver lineups with some big names coming in from Formula 1 like Will Stevens, plus teams like G-Drive who have got a particularly strong lineup this year. I believe ESM also, now working with Oak Racing, have got a well-funded, competitive driver lineup.”
No pressure to get the desired result, then!
In March, Strakka Racing joined 28 other entries for the Prologue open test at Paul Ricard. The Gibson ran well in the south of France, recording the second quickest time of the weekend in LMP2. No major problems were encountered, setting a high precedent for the team’s home race at Silverstone.
“It was an encouraging test for us, on the first day we threw some new tyres on the car and the pace was very good,” Walmsley explains. “We ended up with the fastest time of the day and the second fastest time of the test, just a couple of thousandths off the fastest lap in class. On new tyres the car is good, which is great for us because that’s never been the strength of the Gibson.”
“This chassis has always been more about looking after the tyres and we normally expect to see the performance of the car build in the second stint when they have developed some wear. We got all the drivers through the car and in terms of our own program we were very happy.”
“The problem with testing is you can never really know what the other people are running in terms of fuel burn and fuel mixes, so there is still quite a lot of performance that can be masked, unlike in Formula 1. We don’t really know where everyone is and I don’t think we’ll know until the first race but it was certainly good to get the cobwebs blown off and get things underway.”
Despite the difficulty in gauging where the Strakka car lies in terms of comparative performance, Walmsley acknowledges the importance of the Prologue as a step towards the first race of the season.
“One of the hardest things to manage with endurance racing is the evolution of the track,” he says. “That evolution comes from multiple cars running on different tyre manufacturers. If you go to a private test, for example, you don’t necessarily get to see that evolution so I think you can find yourself in a position where you’re not really sure where you are.”
“But when you’re out there with other people the track evolution across the test is much more akin to what you’d see at a normal race weekend, so I think it’s very valuable being out with the other people. It also gets the drivers into that mindset of dealing with GT and LMP1 traffic, which has the threat of compromising lap times if not dealt with effectively. It’s a nice initiative of the FIA WEC to make the Prologue an ‘informal’ round of the series so you get lots of fans there. It was great to be out and running.”
After a post-season chassis rebuild and a positive winter testing schedule, Walmsley is now ready for his team to take on the most competitive LMP2 field the FIA WEC has seen.
“If we can get on the podium we would be delighted but to start the campaign with a good, solid result is the main thing we need to do. We always believe in building momentum across a campaign so I want us to start that at Silverstone and see how we do.”
“It’s going to be really challenging, but it’s also healthy to see that LMP2 is ‘in’ – we only have to look back two years to see when there were only four cars on the grid and the series was in crisis. It’s very satisfying to see such a strong competition and I think you’d count against anyone at your peril because they’re all very good outfits. It’ll be a challenge across the board so I’m looking forward to it!”
The FIA WEC season kicks off at Silverstone on Sunday, April 17 at 12:00 local time.