The 2015 season posed a series of technical challenges for the Strakka Racing that would have tested the sternest of teams; the development of the S103 DOME, then the switch to Dunlop tyres ahead of Le Mans and ultimately the transition to the venerable Gibson 015S meant a hectic season for the Silverstone squad.
It was an exhausting roller coaster for the Northants team but whilst for some it would have meant throwing in the towel, for Strakka, it just wants to come back stronger.
In an exclusive Q&Q with DSC, Strakka Racing’s technical director discusses last year and looks ahead to the new season:
2015 was tough, have you had a chance to review and look at what happened?
“Yes, it was certainly a tough year. We started with the need to homologate late changes to the S103. There were a few changes we needed to make to the door and it meant the lads had some long days and nights but we got to Silverstone and actually gained a fortuitous podium.
“The car was quick in the wet but we lacked speed and we didn’t really get a chance to get to the bottom of it. Testing was minimal mid-season and we tried what we could, such as the switch to Dunlop but the 2017 regulation changes meant the car was always going to have a short life. This led to the switch with the Gibson 015S and we had to start over to learn all about that car.
How was the pace of the car?
“Actually the car was quick and if you dissect the data, you’ll see that we had more than our fair share of bad luck that doesn’t really reflect the car’s speed. At the car’s debut, we just lost too much time in the pits. We had a couple of penalties as the drivers had to get to grips with the pit limiter that was very different to the S103.
“The lads were learning too; the wheel nuts are threaded the other way on the Gibson compared to the S103, so we had to look at pit stop practice and how to deal with that. We learnt that the fuel fill that is slower than some of the other cars by a substantial amount too. By Fuji, we fixed what we could and by our reckoning, we were then the fastest in the pits.
“On track we struggled at Austin; both the engineering and driver sides of the team lacked experience at that track and we didn’t have the right set up, hands up. We also had a few component failures and we needed to change the ECU in order to solve another issue in one of the races. If we take out of the equation those issues that were out of our hands, we really could have got a few more points on the board!”
Did it take long to understand the Gibson?
“We got a good baseline from Gibson and we tried changing a lot of set up but we’ve come back to somewhere close to that original point. It’s a well understood car but we found the car was quite sensitive to the low ride height. We didn’t get a chance to get the car on the rig before racing it and so we were chasing the damper settings and defining bump rubber stiffness. In some areas it was just too soft and this made the car unsettled at certain places, such as Turn One in Bahrain. We made a few changes at the Rookie test and I think we may have got to the bottom of that.
“This year we’ll have the chance to get on the rig and put in place solutions for the tracks we are running at.
“In terms of other changes, we’ve looked at the diff and we think we’ve now got the viscous-coupling settings that work for both the platinum and silver drivers. We appear to be in good shape but we’ll have a fuller picture at Silverstone. There are quite a few more cars out there. It’s going to be a good season of racing.
Tyres are always critical in sports car racing. How has this played out with the Gibson?
“The Gibson is a car that is really gentle on its tyres and that brings positives and negatives. On one hand we get good tyre wear with lower degradation but because the car doesn’t work its tyres so hard, we tend to find it harder in quali. We are definitely stronger when we run the softer compounds; look at Nürburgring and you’ll see we were closer to the pace than at some of the tracks where the medium plus is used.
“We’ve learnt this and will have improvements to the aero and set up to get more out of the harder rubber in 2016.
What changes are planned for 2016 with the car?
We’ve got very little this year in terms of technical updates. There is a new ACO logger that means we have updated the bf1systems wiring loom. Other changes are on the regulatory side; drivers now have to do six hours at Le Mans and the number of personnel allowed ‘over the line’ during pitstops is going to be different. We’ve not got to the bottom of the impact of the pit stop rules but we’ve got some tyre testing planned for March and can try different strategies then.
“Our guys are some of the fastest out there, you’ve probably seen we are one of the teams that spends a lot of time after quali to get that right so no fear for us to get on top of this. We’ll also use up our mileage on the 2015 engine during that test and the Prologue so we’ll have a fresh, sealed unit for Silverstone.”