Le Mans: Whittlebury team narrowly miss out on memorable podium

Danny Watts led Strakka Racing to a fourth place finish in the LMP2 class (Photo James Beckett)
Danny Watts led Strakka Racing to a fourth place finish in the LMP2 class (Photo James Beckett)

Whittlebury’s Strakka Racing narrowly missed out on a podium finish in the LMP2 class of the Le Mans 24-Hour Race in France on Sunday.

After 24 hours of racing, the team crossed the finish line fourth in LMP2 and eighth overall.

The team’s performance was the best from a competing open-top prototype in a year that marked the final appearance for the type of car in the Le Mans race.

Thornborough’s Danny Watts, Stowe’s Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane were the men tasked with racing the Strakka Gibson 015S-Nissan in the 84th-running of the Grand Prix d’Endurance.

The trio all have strong Le Mans experience, and that showed as they drove their car into contention for a top finish as the race progressed.

During the final hours of the race, the number 42 Strakka became embroiled in a battle with the number 37 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan of Vitaly Petrov, Victor Shaytar and Kirill Ladygin.

However, the SMP car managed to maintain its own strong pace, and hold off Strakka’s challenge as the clock ticked towards 3pm and the end of the race.

Watts said: “That was a great race! The team did an amazing job and we all just pushed as hard as possible to get a strong result.

“It would have been amazing to finish on the podium. Sadly we were unable to catch the SMP Racing car in the final hour, but fourth for an open-top LMP2 is an amazing result. The whole team can feel very proud.”

Leventis echoed Watts’ comments, saying: “This has been a great team effort by everyone at Strakka. We look forward to coming back in the future and trying to finish on the podium again.”

The race may have ended in beautiful sunshine but it started under the Safety Car due to torrential rain just 30 minutes before the off.

The rain made for difficult conditions, and one car that started the race in the spray of others was the Silverstone-based Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03-Nissan.

Sporting a new colour scheme for the race, and an all-new driver line-up, the Number 48 car, like its Strakka Racing LMP2 rival, was making a final appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe in open-top trim.

With Ben Keating, Marc Goossens and Jeroen Bleekemolen the drivers, the number 48 struggled as numerous small problems caused team some issues, but at the end of the race the car – unlike many others -–was still circulating.

Passing the chequered flag, the Murphy car was 34th overall, 15th in LMP2.

Speaking after, Goossens said: “This has been a difficult race, but the Le Mans 24-Hour Race is never easy! Murphy Prototypes did a great job throughout, and provided us, the drivers, with a good car to drive.

“Yes, we had some problems but we made it to the end and we were still running at the chequered flag and really for any Le Mans racer, that is the aim.”

The LMP2 class was won by the Signatech-Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Richelmi and Gustavo Menezes while another driver to reach the finish was Aaron Scott. Driving a Ferrari 458 Italia for the AF Corse team, the former Silverstone Walter Hayes Trophy competitor raced to 44th overall.

Scott said: “I really enjoyed my Le Mans experience. Ten years ago Neil Cunningham raced in his final Le Mans 24-Hours, and following his passing recently this was very poignant for many reasons.

“I’m pleased with my performance and I am keen to come back and give the race another crack next year!”