The final round of the 2013 FIA WEC saw the end of an era – The final race for the LMP1 version of the Lola Coupe as Rebellion Racing move over to their Oreca designed and built Rebellion R1 for the 2014 season.
The DSC Ed took the opportunity to catch up with Team Boss Bart Hayden pre race to reflect on the Lola era for the team, and to look forward to the potential for 2014.
So just how many years has it been since the team started with the Lola?
“Six years with the LMP2 car, 2008 was our first year with that car, 2009 was the first year with the P1 (the 2008 spec LMP2 is shown below)
And how many different chassis have been through the team’s hands since then?
“We have three that we are using and one that has been put out of commission after being crash damaged at Bugatti in 2009. So four chassis have been through our workshop and three are still on the go.”
And of late there has been some really remarkable reliabilty?
“That’s true, I think in 2008 when we first went in to P2 it was a new car for Lola and for us too and together we got through the initial teething problems.
“The first race we did was in Barcelona and we came second and very nearly won it. I can remember standing on the pit wall with Dad and saying to him “If we win this it’s bloody easy,” and us both being just a little bit relieved that we didn’t thereby leaving us thinking – Where do we go from here, but it was a season that started very well and then went rapidly downhill because we had all those teething problems with things like the door coming open electronics glitches and so on.
“So ’08 started high and ended low. I went to New Zealand for a month for a holiday and to spend some time with extended family fully believing, well that’s probably going to be it!
“Then while we were away I got a message from Dad, which I picked up late because of the time difference, which said “Alex has only gone and bought a P1 car!” So I asked Dad what Alex wanted to do with the P2 car and was told that he wanted to run that as well!
“The car that we bought was the Aston Martin chassis and that is actually the same chassis that is doing the race today in Bahrain, the first, and the last!”
“After that there were evolutions, development, a switch to Judd power and then later of course the TMG customer V8.” (Here’s one of the team cars in 2011, and with the change in livery in 2012)
You’ve taken the title in LMP1 Privateers but it must have been difficult to motivate yourselves for the second half of the season?
“Well 2013 has been a tough year in terms of relative performance. We have gone a second and a half quicker in qualifying than we did last year, we’ve tended to go quicker at all of the tracks that we have gone back to. I don’t think the 2% rule has really been enforced. The difference (in performance between the Rebellion Lola and the factory cars) was 3.6% in Shanghai and we are disappointed that that’s been the case. We can’t help the fact that we don’t have any immediate competition here in the Privateer ranks and it is a bit disheartening to see that there is a 4 second gap to the factories and with us being about 4 seconds clear of the P2s we are just racing on our own.
“We have though used the races of late to try some things that we would have been nervous to try if we had had direct competition and some things, predominantly engine and fuel management related things, are being tried and tested with a view towards using them for next year because we aren’t going to get a lot of time for testing when the new car arrives.
But there have been some real highlights with the Lolas too?
“Yes, of course, the obvious ones are the Championship wins, the podiums at Le Mans and the two outright victories at Petit Le Mans.
“It’s been a really fantastic ride and it started to go well when we formed the relationship with TMG for the engine supply. It’s amazing how having such a reliable and competitive engine in the car means that it’s not placing high demands on the parts needed to keep it running and it has made our lives just so much more easy.
“I think bringing Ian Smith on board with his wealth of experience, particularly from the Creation days, has also helped us to adjust the little tweaky bits that are needed to improve reliability. And with folks like James Robinson on board too as the Race Engineer, to extract the best we can from the package that’s presented and that’s on top of course of the strength in depth of the driver line-up that we have had this year – All in all we have been very fortunate that we’ve had a great pool of people. People talk about a team being only as good as the people within it and I think that’s very true, and in our case it shows through.
“It’s a great product that we have had and we have been able to use it well.”
What happens now to the cars? I know there has been some interest from at least one other team in seeing whether there’s an option to run one as a grandfathered P1 next year?
“There are three chassis that are runnable. Alexander Pesci owns all three and wants to keep one of them, that will probably be the Petit Le Mans winner from this year.
“The car is still in as raced condition, with a few battle scars and Neel’s (Jani) signature on the sidepod and will be displayed at the annual party in Switzerland that is held for the team our backers and supporters at Speedy Garage.
“The other two cars are potentially available for sale. One of them, at the moment, we are planning to put an engine in it that will have enough mileage on it to do demonstration events, Goodwood Festival etc.
“If though somebody want to buy the cars to race then that’s a slightly different kettle of fish. They’d need to get an engine lease agreement, we don’t have an exclusive deal with TMG but they would need to decide what they wanted to do.
“There is a spares package here, when we scaled back slightly on our 2013 programme we have left ourselves with parts that we’d otherwise have used and there are other spares available with decent mileage on them.
“The third car could be fitted with a dummy engine as a show car or could be sold as part of a spares package. There is no grand plan, there is some interest from collectors but nothing firm as yet.
“I’m not sure there’s that much interest in grandfathering, there has been some but it’s gone away.
“Could it be used in ten years time in historic racing? Well I hope so, I think that we are, to some extent, in a bit of a golden age for sportscars and I guess the opportunity is there for an investment in what is undoubtedly a significant, quick and reliable car.
You’ve clearly been disappointed with the lack of Privateer competition in 2013, are you aware of anything likely to come forward to add to the effort from yourselves, and from OAK in 2014?
“No, I have heard about a possible effort from (name of team redacted at Bart’s request) but that looks likely to be in LMP2 if anywhere.
“If the ACO have got the 2014 regulations correct, or rather if they have the spirit of the regulations correct and they apply the spirit of their regulations then we should be mixing it with at least one of the factory boys so we don’t really worry ourselves too much about whether there will be more Privateer competition.
“We only really fell back onto the Privateer way of looking at the WEC because of the large, and lately rapidly growing, gap to the factories. If that gap isn’t there then you don’t really need to think about a Manufacturer/ Privateer split.
“We don’t expect, with the limited resources that we have, to be giving all of the factories a hard time. We’d like to think that on any given day we might have a chance of even a victory and perhaps with the advent of some of the newer technology there might be the prospect of more reliability issues for some of the factory guys than we currently see and there’s just the possibility too that somebody may have just got it wrong!
“But the spirit of the regulations MUST be applied, because if they aren’t then two things will happen: The first is that no other Privateers will come and the second is that we will find it very hard to justify being there.”
I get the sense from talking to you, and talking to the drivers, that what really rankles at present is that the factories, with the additional pace they have, can afford to have a bad race, even with multiple problems, and still beat you even though you might have had a faultless run?
“Absolutely, look at Brazil this year for instance. The factory guys had a very bad day and still put laps on us, that is not right.
“I will admit that at Shanghai I struggled to sit and watch the race accepting the fact that in every stint we were going to get lapped! How can that possibly be any kind of motivation. It isn’t like we have sat on our heels and rolled out the same car we ran in 2012. We put the cars through a winter update programme with the modest resources that we had available. The cars are visually different and they have found pace. So we have tried to up our game but realistically we are bouncing along our own glass ceiling as the factory car’s pace accelerates away and nothing has been done about it.
So into 2014 and the new car is coming (more on this on DSC in the coming weeks). Nico (Prost) is confirmed for next season we know – Is there anything more you can tell us on driver line-up?
“Not at the moment no, we have quite a lot of interest from a lot of drivers and, of course, from the point of view of drivers looking for an LMP1 drive, there aren’t many around! In fact we probably have the only seats available. We want to end up making the right choices, that doesn’t mean to say that we’ll see wholesale change but at the moment we are focussing more on getting the car ready on time rather than making any public announcements about other parts of the package.