Aylesbury and Thame racers will start Le Mans 24 Hours as top privateer petrol team

Nick Leventis, Aylesbury's Danny Watts and Thame's Jonny Kane are ready for Le Mans 24 Hours
Nick Leventis, Aylesbury's Danny Watts and Thame's Jonny Kane are ready for Le Mans 24 Hours

ENDURANCE racing duo Danny Watts of Aylesbury and Jonny Kane from Thame will go into Saturday’s world famous Le Mans 24 Hour race as part of an historical all-British Strakka Racing team and in top privateer petrol position.

Strakka Racing will start the 80th Le Mans 24 Hours on Saturday in the top privateer petrol position, after a sensational qualifying session put the Silverstone-based team’s Honda Performance Development ARX-03a in 7th position overall (out of 56 cars) on the P1 prototype car’s first visit to la Sarthe – immediately behind the four works Audis and two works Toyotas and in front of all its main rivals.

Over the course of one Free Practice and three Qualifying sessions, Strakka Racing drivers Nick Leventis, Watts and Kane completed 115 trouble-free laps of the famous 8.468 mile (13.629km) circuit – a total distance of 973.82 miles (1,567.33kms).

During the second Qualifying session, Danny undertook a five flying lap stint in which the aim was to set the best time possible on low fuel tanks and new Michelin tyres. Four of these laps, at the time, were fast enough for the top privateer petrol time, despite slight delays in traffic. Having recorded a maximum speed of 200mph (321kph), the team’s best lap time of 3:29.622 was a full two seconds quicker than the team’s previous best (3:31.651) and remained the fastest privateer time.

Having met all of its key objectives in terms of signing off its new aero package, confirming its race set-up and managing its tyre programme within target, Strakka Racing returned its 600bhp, 3.4-litre normally aspirated V8 engined HPD ARX-03a to the pit garage with 30 minutes of final Qualifying remaining – happy in the knowledge that its best time was unlikely to be beaten by its main rivals.

There was no track action at Le Mans on Friday, allowing Strakka Racing time to completely rebuild its HPD ARX-03a today, installing a brand new engine, gearbox, suspension and brakes in preparation for the start of the race at 3pm on Saturday. As well as the prestige of doing well at Le Mans, it’s an important FIA World Endurance Championship qualifying round, with double points on offer. The drivers were busy with technical and race briefings on Friday, as well as meeting some of the 250,000 fans who annually attend the Le Mans 24 Hour race, with the famous Drivers’ Parade in Le Mans town centre taking place this afternoon.

Watts said: “I’m delighted for the whole team, because to get privateer pole after all the work that everyone has done in the build up to Le Mans is very rewarding. Qualifying’s only a very small part of this race, but it’s nice to know first hand that our car is fast.

“I really enjoyed my fastest lap. I was thoroughly in the zone, focused and concentrated – and it was one of those balls on the line laps which came off. Having low fuel tanks and new tyres is the best thing a team can give to a racing driver, and I was fairly lucky that I didn’t hit any traffic, except at the final chicane, which to be fair didn’t cost me hardly any time.

“We’re fairly confident for the race; we’ve ticked a lot of boxes in terms of car set-up and tyre management for the race, we’ve all had some good night running to pick our braking points, because it all feels very different at night, and we’ve come out of qualifying in a strong position and are really looking forward to the race. Happy days!”

Watts’ teammate Kane, who hails from Thame, said: “We’ve done a lot of laps in preparation for the start of Le Mans and all three of us have had good time in the car. I was struggling at first with my seating position; within 25 minutes my foot was going numb, like it did at Sebring, and come the race I need to drive for two or three hours at a time.

“I tried Danny’s seat, because we’re a similar size, and had no problems at all when I ran for over an hour in the final qualifying session, so I’m relieved and pleased that I’ll be able to use his seat throughout the race.

“My priority until now has been sorting out my seat problem, so I’ve only run on full fuel tanks and worn tyres, so I’m looking forward to starting the race for the team on new Michelins. Personally I feel in good shape and the car is handling very well, so we’re all looking forward to the start.”