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Danny Watts, "It's Been A Long Time Coming"

The time has finally arrived for Strakka Racing, they’re back on the scene after almost 18 months away from the WEC circus, and nobody within the team is more excited to be back competing than Danny Watts. Partnered with team founder Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane once again, the formidable British trio will be looking to fight for wins in the LMP2 class right off the bat.

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DSC had a sit down with Watts before the start of the weekend’s festivities at Silverstone, the first round of the 2015 season, to get his thoughts on the new DOME S103 and Strakka Racing’s return to sportscar racing.

‘It’s been a long time coming, getting together this new project with the DOME,’ said Watts. ‘Finally after having done a fair bit of testing with the car, which feels very different compared to the LMP1 we used before, weight wise, speed wise etc, we feel ready. It’s just so good to be back out racing,’ he added.

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‘Silverstone is home to the team, and it’s home to me too. It’s only a stone’s throw down the road for us all so it’s really important weekend. There’s a lot of people here supporting us, but it won’t put any more pressure on us as a team. The only pressure we feel, no matter where we are, is the pressure we put on ourselves to do well.’

Despite the extensive and extended period of development for the S103, it’s still early days for the car. The field of LMP2 cars at Silverstone features eight runners, crammed with some of the most elite driving talent in prototype racing. Adapting to the new car in a racing environment surrounded by tough competition won’t be easy for Danny and the boys, but it’s a challenge they’ve been waiting with baited breath for.

‘We don’t know what to expect, to be perfectly honest,’ he admitted. ‘Putting points on the board and challenging for a podium is what we hope for in the first race of the year, so we can build on it during the European leg of the season before the fly-aways.’

‘From a driver’s point of view, the DOME has come on leaps and bounds in the last six months, it’s far more comfortable to drive. Because us three drivers have known each other for so long, we all know what we like and how we want the car to feel. It makes setting up the car easier anyway. The car is great on a short stint, and also great with a heavy tank. It’s important all on a double-stint for instance, to have the car able to adapt well to the circuit as it evolves over the course of a race, so we should be competitive all weekend.’

Strakka Racing has had plenty of success at Silverstone in the past, with class wins and podiums in LMP2 back with the HPD chassis. But for the drivers, all their previous visits have come in open-top prototypes.

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It’s a different feeling being in an closed-cockpit, fighting through traffic on such a high-speed circuit, but Watts explains that it hasn’t taken long to adapt to driving a coupé.

‘It took about 10 laps to get used to being in a closed-top prototype, not long at all. The biggest change is going from having your visor down and feeling the wind through your eyes and the air coming through because you’re out in the open, to being fully enclosed,’ explains Watts. ‘I’ve driven GTs, but it’s different in a prototype, because it’s like a single-seater with a roof on. You’ve got to get used to the ‘A-Pillars’ which come down the screen and restrict your view a little when you look to an apex or exit to a corner. You naturally change your vision slightly.

‘Oh, and really having to climb through a door just to get in is new of course!’

After doing a lot of testing, with mainly just a single car on track at once, another aspect for Danny and the team to gain or regain confidence in is running alongside cars with varying speeds.

‘Paul Ricard was good for us, getting back used to running with a lot of cars on track,’ he told DSC. ‘We jumped straight in and it felt very natural. As a driver, you never lose it because it becomes inbuilt in you to have one eye in your mirror, looking for the faster car coming up behind you.’

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It’s almost a perfect way for the team to ease back into the series, competing at their home track Silverstone, and for Danny Watts in particular, Northampton’s main sporting venue is just that little bit more special on a personal level. Growing up, he was no stranger to the ‘home of British motorsport.’

‘Silverstone is my first home. I worked up here for eight or nine years at the driving school. I remember passing my GCSEs before then and immediately starting work at the indoor kart track at the main entrance too as I lived at Buckingham at the time just down the road back then. This place is a part of me, and I’ve done millions of laps round here.

‘It’s a place close to my heart, so even though we are returning as a team, it’s like I never left.’

Stephen Kilbey