Honda-powered Strakka Racing will field the only all-British driver line up in the 56 car entry at this year’s 80th Le Mans 24 Hours (16-17 June), with Nick Leventis (London), Danny Watts (Buckingham) and Jonny Kane (Thame) racing a Honda Performance Development ARX-03a in the world’s most gruelling motor race.
In honour of both the occasion and the 70,000 British fans that annually make the pilgrimage to the famous Circuit La Sarthe, the Silverstone-based team’s LMP1 prototype will run with a Union Flag on the shark fin (the obligatory vertical aerodynamic device which runs down the spine of the car).
The HPD ARX-03a will reach a maximum speed of 200mph (321kph) along the Mulsanne Straight – propelled by a 600bhp, 3.4-litre normally aspirated AR6-LMV8 engine, developed and built by HPD in Santa Clarita, California.
Strakka Racing has a good record at Le Mans. In 2010, the same three drivers finished 5th overall – the highest finishing position for a LMP2 car. That celebrated HPD ARX-01d (a predecessor of the current ARX-03a) race car now sits on display in the Honda Collection Hall – the official Honda museum, located at the Twin Ring Motegi racing circuit complex in the rural Haga District of the Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo.
This year, whilst outright victory is not out of the question, the team’s main aim is to challenge for the top petrol engine car position as well as best privateer team. Indeed, after strong performances in the opening rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship (the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps), Strakka Racing is lying 2nd in the 2012 FIA Endurance Trophy for the best private LMP1 team.
The team drivers know the 8.468 mile (13.629km) Le Mans track well – a circuit which has changed little from its original 10.68 mile (17.2km) layout raced on for the first time in 1923. Much of today’s track is made up of roads normally open to the public, with grooves carved by weighty trucks on the Route Nationale 138, heading towards the village of Mulsanne and beyond, one of the many unique characteristics.
Nick Leventis has stood on the Le Mans podium twice before, having finished 3rd in the 2007 Le Mans Classic support race (his maiden visit to the track) and 1st in LMP2 in the 24 Hour race in 2010. This will be the 31-year old driver’s fifth appearance at Le Mans, as he aims for another podium and double points in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
This will also be Danny Watts’ fifth attempt at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Regarded as one of the fastest and bravest drivers in sportscar racing, the 32-year old will once again be task with qualifying the HPD ARX-03a as far up the grid as possible – having claimed LMP2 pole in the past.
Jonny Kane is the most experienced Le Mans racer in the squad, as this will be the 39-year old’s ninth appearance at the great race. A former McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year award winner and British Formula 3 champion, the Ulsterman (originally from Comber in Northern Ireland) will drive the most hazardous parts of the race, taking the rolling start and long nighttime stints.
Nick Leventis: “With experience of racing both classic and modern cars at Le Mans, I’m looking forward to going there this year with the aim of scoring an outright podium result and challenging to be top privateer in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Le Mans is a very special race, and the Mulsanne Straight moves me emotionally every time I drive down it. I love the challenge in that the race is not held on a purpose-built race track; half of it is on normal roads which are used every day throughout the year before it’s transformed into this incredibly long, quite demanding, physical circuit that runs for twenty-four hours. Everything about Le Mans is unique and it’s a very special place – and we return this year with an excellent chance of challenging for a top position.”
Danny Watts: “We go to Le Mans this year with a very competitive car, an experienced team and a lot of confidence. Le Mans is such a high-speed circuit, we’ll hit two hundred miles per hour four or five times each lap. To be successful you have to be consistent, so the pace doesn’t drop at night. At four o’clock in the morning and your body is in sleep mode, you rely a lot on adrenalin to keep you going – but if you lack half a second’s worth of concentration and crash into another car, drop a wheel onto the grass or hit a barrier, that’s it – the whole team effort has gone out of the window. The final stint of the race is very difficult. It’s Sunday afternoon, you’ve had very little sleep, your body’s all over the place physically and mentally – that’s the hardest part.”
Jonny Kane: “I’m hoping we’re going to be strong at Le Mans again this year. We’ve got quite a few upgrades for the car; a different aero package specifically for Le Mans which, going by the Le Mans aero kit we’ve had on the HPD the last two years, should be really good. We’re a very professional team with a lot of experience. We’ve had the same guys in the team for several seasons now, so there is consistency and stability and we all know each other very well, so the longer the race is the better it is for us. I’ve no doubt we’ll be up there fighting to be top privateer and top petrol car, and we’ve got a great chance to succeed.”
Piers Phillips, Team Principal and Technical Director: “The key to success at Le Mans is keeping the car out of the pits and on the race track for as long as possible. In terms of strategy, you have to play to your own strengths to survive. We had a fantastic Le Mans in 2010, dominating the LMP2 class, and we head to Le Mans this year with a new LMP1 prototype and the same optimism and self-belief. I honestly believe we have the best team in the paddock, and our professionalism and team-work will once again be of enormous benefit.”
80th Le Mans 24 Hours timetable
Sunday 3 June: Test Day (09.00-13.00 & 14.00-18.00)
Sunday 10 June: Scrutineering & admin checks (14.30-19.00)
Monday 11 June: Scrutineering & admin checks (10.00-18.00)
Wednesday 13 June: Free Practice (16.00-20.00) and Qualifying 1 (22.00-00.00)
Thursday 14 June: Qualifying 1 & 2 (19.00-21.00 & 22.00-00.00)
Saturday 16 June: Start of the 80th Le Mans 24 Hours (15.00)